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I just noticed the two following question posts:

  • Why is there a curfew for students in Academy City? (2019-08-14)

    In A Certain Scientific Railgun, it's mentioned several times that there is a curfew for students in Academy City. Why is this so? Is this ever explained?

  • Curfew in Academy City (2020-01-31)

    In A Certain Scientific Railgun, it's mentioned several times that there is a curfew for students in Academy City. Why is this so? Can someone explain to me please.

The newer one has a worse title, the first sentence in the body is the exact same (which leads me to believe it is a copy-paste), and the second sentence is the same question with wrong grammar and punctuation.

But the newer one got an answer post and the original didn't.

If this wasn't such a blatant copy, I'd strongly consider voting the older as a dup of the newer on the basis that it would help future users find the one with the answer. But in this scenario, I don't like the idea of sign-posting to a post that shows poor etiquette: If I assume good faith, then either they just didn't know what to do when they see a question they have that doesn't have an answer yet (follow and upvote), or they failed to research. If I assume bad faith, then that's even worse and it would feel quite wrong to me to "enshrine" a bad-faith post as the more canonical Q&A.

How should I decide which to close as a duplicate of which?

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  • I wanted to tag this with "duplicate-questions", but no such tag exists yet- only "exact-duplicates", and while the posts are virtually exactly the same, they are not literally exactly the same, so I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to use that tag. Would someone consider adding the tag "duplicate-questions" (like the tag on MSE)?
    – starball
    Jan 16, 2023 at 23:31
  • given the newer question got answered, i'd update the question title and close the older question as duplicate because there is a redirect that get sets up. ideally we should have caught the newer question before it got answered
    – Memor-X
    Jan 17, 2023 at 3:39

2 Answers 2

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Before I go into the core of the issue, let's step back first on how a new 1-rep user experiencing this: A 1-rep user wants to ask a question. They found the same question they want to ask, but it doesn't have any answer. What can they do?

The discussion on the main meta As a new user without much rep, what should I do if someone else has already asked a question I have, but it has no answers? explained some suggestions:

  1. Put a bounty: nope, needs 75 reps in the first place.
  2. Mention it in chat: still nope, needs 20 reps.
  3. Edit to bump: ideally this, better if they can also add more details to the question, but not many new users know about this mechanism.
  4. Post a new question: similar to 3, and ideally the community notices that it's a dupe so that it can be linked and/or closed as duped. Possibly also invite downvotes if it's an exact dupe.
  5. Promote on other sites: I've rarely seen this working for new users. Nothing prevents them from asking the same question on other sites instead and forgetting this site. Also, needs 50 reps if they want to post a comment for related links as a courtesy... or abuse a hidden feature to comment.

In addition to the above, some other possible approaches:

  1. Post an "I have the same question" answer: the answer will be deleted and the poster may receive a comment on follow and upvote features, but the question will be bumped.
  2. Follow the question: one of the canned comments from the review queue suggests following and upvoting the question instead, but both actions don't really help in increasing the visibility of the original question, and thus the original question may still not be noticed or answered at all (for a long time, until someone else with the answer stumble upon it).

You may have realized that there are very few options for them to get answers to the same unanswered question on Stack Exchange. In this case, I may also blame the system for failing the Related links: the original question is not even listed! This also reduced the chance for anyone else (except probably for the OP of the original question) to notice if it's actually a dupe.


Now, back to the core issue. I honestly can't see this as bad faith; the new user just wanted to get an answer, and the community also failed to notice the original question. The user has even abandoned the site since then. So, for this specific case, I'd be okay to merge the question with the older question.

But in general, unless there's a clear pattern of abusive behavior, just flag/vote to close the unanswered question as a dupe to the answered question because that's the only possible action regular users can do. Whether a mod may also merge it or not is their prerogative.

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I had heard of question merging before but didn't know much about it. I just did some reading and I think this might be an appropriate scenario for merging because it fits the guideline for the newer one being an "exact duplicate", and I don't think it's fair for the newer question post to be rewarded with more views and opportunity for upvotes because of how blatant it was and how it managed to be worse than the original.

Is that a good route forward? I've never mod flagged requesting a merge so I'm cautious as to whether it's a good action to take here.

From the MSE FAQ post What is a "merged" question? :

What is a merged question?

A merged question is a question where a moderator has chosen to move its answers to another question, because it is an exact duplicate of another and has good answers that would be useful on the target. Merged questions are also locked to prevent edits.

When should questions be merged?

Questions should be merged if one question is an exact duplicate of another (i.e., when its answers would make perfect sense on the other question), and its answers are high-quality and valuable enough to be included on the other question itself, so that good answers aren't forked across multiple copies of the same question.

In order to merge a question, the question to be merged must first be closed as a duplicate of the intended merge target.

Note that the only significant benefit that merging offers over just closing a question as a duplicate is that it moves the answers from the merged question over to the main question. If there are no useful or valuable answers to be preserved, there is no point in merging the question, and requests to do so will likely be declined.

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