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In a comment, Moderator Philipp declares that SE's own policies of secrecy and censorship have no political content that meta.Politics.SE should be bound to respect:

I'm closing this question (Does preventing a controversial user from reviewing their statistics prior to Suspensions and Bans have a political effect?) as off-topic because it is not about politics stack exchange but about the stack exchange network as a whole. I do not know why you got banned from the general stack exchange meta, but whatever it was, it is not an excuse to bring your topics here where they are clearly off-topic.

First let's assume as a given the topic of the original dispute is off-topic.

Still, it's puzzling why anyone would think a network policy of secrecy and censorship is not inherently political. If we were discussing the secrecy and censorship of China, or the US, or Germany, or some multi-national corporation, surely those would be politically on-topic.

What makes SE an exception to the rule?


Note: please avoid conflating political discussions of policies and their effects in the world, versus the means by which those policies are modified.

For example, on Politics.SE we might consider the reasons for censorship in China without being able to do much about it, since we're not the Chinese government. In the same way, Politics.SE might discuss the political ramifications and rationale behind censorship on SE in general, without being able to do much about it. "A cat may look at a king."

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    I could see a generalized version of the question in question being on topic here (albeit perhaps a bit open ended for my taste). However, I feel Muze's question is too specific to their activities on Meta Stack Exchange and I agree with Phillip that Meta Stack Exchange is the more appropriate venue for it. – yannis Aug 7 at 19:43
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    From various discussions we've had, it seems like you use a different, broader definition of politics from the one I'm used to. I'm not saying it's a wrong definition; I'm not sure there is such a thing. But I think most users here have a different idea of what politics is, and the very fact that policy and politics are in fact two separate words (admittedly, not in Spanish!) suggests that distinction. I think this site should deal with local, regional, and national governments, and the issues and organizations that are directly related to them. – Obie 2.0 Aug 8 at 9:45
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    Everything interacts with the government at some point, but that doesn't make everything politics. – Obie 2.0 Aug 8 at 9:47
  • @Obie2.0, Please consider posting those last two useful comments as an answer. – agc Aug 8 at 16:29
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it's puzzling why anyone would think a network policy of secrecy and censorship is not inherently political. If we were discussing the secrecy and censorship of China, or the US, or Germany, or some multi-national corporation, surely those would be politically on-topic.

Respectfully disagree. China, the US, or Germany would be on topic. Some multi-national corporation would probably not be.

What makes SE an exception to the rule?

The debate at the moment on this topic is as follows give or take:

  • You have a group of people screaming first amendment in some shape or form at any sign of exercising editorial control on community driven websites. But that doesn't pass a sniff test. At the end of the day it's not public space. It's a space that belongs to the company who is running the website. If you were running a bar and someone came in screaming something you take offense with, you'd sure as hell kick that person out.

  • There's section 230 that shields community-based content websites from liability. Not much to see here, it's the law. Or it is in the US anyway; you'll see a different version of that story if you try to sell Nazi artifacts in Continental Europe. Still, in general you can say that you can write whatever you want on community-driven websites, and it only becomes a problem when the website's owner takes offense (see the point above) or should legally do so (which is why the bulk of Facebook's moderation costs are related to Germany).

  • For a select few companies there's an argument to be made that they are the public sphere and as such ought to be regulated differently. In particular Facebook, Twitter, and a few others that may very well include Google and perhaps even StackOverflow. But until the regulator shows any sign of being alive (which with Mitch McConnell at the helm of the Senate is not going to happen anytime soon), then refer to the above two points.

  • Good pragmatic property-based answer. In a nutshell "because we can!", or rather "because we don't have to". The premise that something with a wide and general civic impact becomes political only after it is regulated, (or after regulations are actually enforced), might be putting the cart before the horse -- if a given object lacked sufficient valid political impact prior to regulation, there'd be nothing in it worth regulating. – agc Aug 8 at 16:04
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I don't think the policies of Stack Exchange, or other businesses, fall under this sites scope, or should fall under this site's scope, except insofar as they relate to broader policies related to the actions of governments. For instance, if we take a look at the Help Center:

Politics Stack Exchange is for objective questions about governments, policies and political processes.

It is not a place to advance opinions or debate, but rather for exchanging objective information about the policies, processes, and personalities that comprise the political arena. If you can't back it up, it's subjective.

For purposes of this site, we define politics as:

The end result of conflicting egos working themselves out through matters of policy. This means, the following items are on topic:

Matters of Policy:

Central to the idea of this site are the nuts and bolts of policies introduced by governments, presumably for the welfare of their citizens. As such, asking about the tangible benefits and costs of legislation is on topic

Working Themselves Out:

Processes are central to legislation is made. Questions seeking to understand the rules and processes by which policy is made in various legislatures or ruling bodies (inside and outside of the United States!) are wholly on topic

Just to clarify, Macroeconomics is specifically on-topic. Most public policy questions involve economic matters, so if you just need to understand how an economic principle works, ask away!

Conflicting Egos:

In just about any policy of substance, there are particular personalities that are central to its understanding, as well as demographic data about supporters and opponents of legislation. Asking “Why is [insert person here] such a jerk?” is clearly off-topic - the answer is highly subjective, but asking “What groups of people tend to support X in her implementation of policy Y?” is answerable using polls, punditry, and other verifiable and reproducible sources.

Although the bit about conflicting egos might seem extremly broad, it's clear that the following clauses are meant to restrict it.

Central to the idea of this site are the nuts and bolts of policies introduced by governments, presumably for the welfare of their citizens.

To my mind this clarifies what kinds of policies the site is for. It explicitly mentions governments, not corporations of any scope. If we look further, we see another on-topic theme:

Questions seeking to understand the rules and processes by which policy is made in various legislatures or ruling bodies (inside and outside of the United States!) are wholly on topic.

Again, this is about legislatures. The term "ruling body" would, I think, be a stretch applied to Stack Exchange CMs as much as to university committees.

And finally:

In just about any policy of substance, there are particular personalities that are central to its understanding, as well as demographic data about supporters and opponents of legislation.

This is, again, about legislation. All of these on-topic items relate specifically to goverments, not just to politics in the sense of "office politics," for instance.

Certain questions are allowed due to their direct link with a specific policy. For instace, How easy is it to get a gun illegally in the United States? is clearly asking about a point related to gun laws in the US. How do Americans perceive slavery? has a direct link to past government policies involving slavery and more recent government policies involving discrimination, equality of opportunity and outcome, or racism generally (or that are themselves racist) as well as being related to opinion polls, a common political instrument.

Taking all of the above into account, I think that questions about SE policy generally don't fall within the site scope. That said, a question about how Stack Exchange privacy policies interact with GDPR, for instance, might be on-topic. Or a question about SE's corporate position on queer rights.

Now, obviously, the fact that something has always been done a certain way doesn't mean it should be done a certain way. So here's why I think this scope is a good idea:

Virtually everything comes into contact with governments at some point or another. But that doesn't make everything politics. For instance, LBGTQ rights are certainly political, such that asking a question about which states allow religious discrimination against gay people is clearly on-topic; but asking about how to deal with a friend who's homophobic isn't a question about politics, and asking what costumes people usually wear to Pride Week definitely isn't. Religious and gender issues are certainly often political, and a question about how female Orthodox Jews vote is on-topic, but whether your rabbi is right that women shouldn't count in a minyan is not.

The point of restricting site scopes is twofold: to ensure that a site is engaging to people with a certain common set of interests, and to ensure that people with a certain common skillset can answer questions effectively. My impression is that the people on this site know a lot about laws, macroeconomics, political processes, and aspects of many issues related directly to politics, but are less knowledgeable, as a whole, about things outside that scope. I don't think that most people here necessarily have a great deal of knowledge about the inner workings of Stack Exchange, how its policy is made, what its goals are, what complaints people have made against it, and so forth. I think we would be poorly equipped to answer such questions in an objective and accurate manner, even if they were asked that way. Further, I don't think most people interested in politics are interested in questions about Stack Exchange policy disputes. Some people might see a clear line between larger political issues, such as freedom of speech, and Stack Exchange policies, but I think most people on the site aren't necessarily interested in SE's internal decision-making process, just because they're interested in the decision-making process of the Lok Sabha.

I would also note some more pragmatic, even cynical reasons not to declare such questions on-topic. First, Meta Stack Exchange and Meta Stack Overflow get a lot of these types of questions. Creating a situation where people could be encouraged to direct them here has the potential to overwhelm this site in questions that are not very interesting to the majority of users, and possibly repetitive. Second, the community managers are often a little harsh on these types of questions, or criticism of policy on Meta sites generally. If these questions constituted a lot of our site, that could be bad for its longevity.

  • A thoughtful answer. Could you clarify the distinction you implied between SE's policy on queer rights versus plain old speech rights? That is, what makes speech rights something to discard, (not a corporate problem), but queer rights not so much? (As you've correctly inferred elsewhere, my view is with those who consider the press, and all kindred journalistic enterprises shaping public opinion, as comprising a virtual Fourth Estate and that a sufficiently large multinational corporation is politically interesting, unlike a lemonade stand.) – agc Aug 8 at 23:59
  • (parenthetical continuation... so therefore where corporations act with the power of states, or sometimes control states, they're political. But we agree that not everything is political; and more generally, any category becomes uselessly vague if overextended.) – agc Aug 9 at 0:03
  • @agc - It doesn't have anything to do with LBGTQ rights vs speech per se, but rather with political vs. internal. That is, SE's public statements about gay rights (during Pride Month or in response to Trump or whatever) are directly tied into the greater political picture, whereas SE's efforts to make the site more welcoming for gay users (for instance), or their rainbow banners etc, aren't so much. – Obie 2.0 Aug 9 at 0:48
  • The question of SE's official position on some freedom of expression issue (if actually about that, and not just an excuse to criticize the quality of moderation) should, I think be equally on-topic, but not just discussion of their moderation. We do have Meta SE for that though. I don't actually entirely disagree with your position re:very large corporations wrt legislation or their moral duties regarding moderation, but I'm not prepared to declare their actions automatically politics in the same way that those of Angela Merkel in her public capacity are. – Obie 2.0 Aug 9 at 0:52

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