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Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements

Following discussion, a number of proposals are being mooted by the Arbitration Committee, to address some frustrating issues. This page is lengthy, as complex matters such as these are hard to write in a few lines.

Indicative schedule

Further to FT2's posting up of a selection of proposals, ArbCom discussion has added several more (N1, N2, N3), and pulled into shape an outline for implementation. Here it is, intended to show our current thinking. Some updates can be expected and further details as we get to grips with what needs to be done. In other words this is the practical part of the bigger picture.

I Current for working up, review and action
  • (A) Appeal Review Committee - integrate with existing proposals and the most recent discussion
  • (D) BLP clarification - get a timely decision from the Committee whether to recommend to the community in this or tweaked form
  • (N1) Configure AC list membership for current needs
  • (N2) Define list coordinator role and rota, and appoint
II Current for discussion, will deal with in the near future
  • (B) Checkuser appointments
  • (C) RFAR format
  • (F) Role of the Committee
  • (N3) Make a formal protocol for onwiki announcements by ArbCom
III On hold
  • (E) Consensus
  • (F) view-deleted-pages
  • (F) Skilled edit-warring

Charles Matthews (talk) 14:30, 30 June 2008 (UTC)

Update: "(B) Checkuser appointments" is now proceeding well, and should be counted in under I. Charles Matthews (talk) 09:57, 7 July 2008 (UTC)



The top priority has been to address systemic issues affecting our work and the work of others. In particular, two main areas where the Arbitration Committee historically suffers from lack of scaling are being addressed:

  • Appeals - All bans, all appeals, all "I was blocked by an abusive admin" complaints we get... we're setting up an appeals committee (Arbcom supervised, under Arbcom auspices, to protect its integrity, with a number of safeguards, and noticing this may create a slight "separation of power" effect for review of our own bans). That one we hope can scale, and will.
  • CheckUser - We are also expanding significantly (as a one-time action) the non-Arbcom checkuser team, to bring that up to strength.
A number of other areas where dispute resolution is consistently not fully up to the task of enforcement, are also considered.

Areas of concern

The main areas of improvement that interest us in this post as Arbitrators are:

  1. Committee throughput, workload, and time. We are not designed to be a large committee, and the workload is demanding; thought has gone into speeding up some of the areas we cover, to free up our time from the lag that has become commonplace over the years. Caveat - so long as our role of supervision (where needed), final resort/final recourse (disputes/appeals), and handling of privacy/sensitive issues, is met.
  2. Areas where the community needs help, where many disputes consistently arise, and yet no viable answer has emerged from the community. There are three of these on our immediate horizon as more serious: BLP enforcement, serious content disputes (sourcing etc), and the scaling of consensus finding as our primary model for decision-making, with a project of this size, and especially on contentious and other serious issues where disputes readily arise. (The latter tends to lead to people hesitant to innovate, or stifled or frustrated at the difficulty of gaining a resolution or agreement over potentially productive change in some areas.)

    These all share the following features:

    • seriousness: each is a serious issue in terms of content production, community collaboration, and perennial dispute,
    • not easily avoided: can be non-trivial, when a problem arises,
    • disruptive: when problems do arise, can be exceedingly disruptive (or at the least, exceedingly frustrating),
    • frequent factor in serious disputes: regularly a reason disputes end up not being resolved (a distraction from content work),
    • long standing unresolved: long standing concerns where solutions have never reached agreement, and
    • no obvious and real change apparent: unlikely in any reasonably foreseeable time frame to be resolved.
  3. CheckUser access.
  4. Arbitration cases, and their handling.
  5. Expectations of quality - whether of content, editorial conduct, or conduct of users with additional rights on their accounts. Whilst quality per se is not necessarily our primary remit, the consequences, endemic disputes, and byproducts of not having enough of it, repeatedly are. They also affect many good editors and harm the community.

Specifics follow

FT2 (Talk | email) 14:41, 27 June 2008 (UTC)

For and on behalf of the Arbitration Committee

A. Appeals and "admin abuse" complaints handling

A new Appeals Review Committee (or Panel - styling to be confirmed) is created, subordinate to and supervised by the Arbitration Committee. Details are posted at Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Appeals Review List.

Rationale - A large - and steadily increasing - part of the Committee's work is ban appeals, including allegations of the form "I was banned by admin X who was following an agenda or otherwise abusive". Ban appeals in the aggregate are time consuming given other areas covered, and the last appeal route (given the wider number of bans and "admin abuse" allegations) has not scaled well with a committee intended to handle "last resort".

Action - A post at Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Appeals Review List covers the creation of a panel, which will address much of this. Care has been taken to ensure that this does not compromise the Committee's role and involvement as "last route of appeal", or access to CheckUser information and the like, which will be preserved in full. Some process details remain to be finalized.

B. CheckUser appointments

A significant expansion of the non-Arbcom CheckUser team is anticipated. Expressions of interest from seasoned users are accepted during a six day window. Users should note the usual standard to be a credible candidate is high. See Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Checkuser appointments.

Rationale - A second very large part of the Committee's work relates to Checkuser requests, prolific and habitual sock-puppeteers, and complex or contentious sock-puppetry investigations.

  • Checkuser and sock-puppetry work draws more than one active Arbitrator away from arbitration pages, often for several days at a time, on many occasions.
  • It is also apparent that a small number of checkusers are doing high levels of work and may benefit from help.
  • Finally we would like extra coverage in order that admin and OTRS requests for Checkuser are always able to be met, and capacity to have some specific focus on handling perennial sockers and proxy abusers.
(For information; There is no foreseeable capacity issue with Oversight that we are aware of.)

Action - We anticipate creating potentially up to four or five checkuser positions in order to make a very sizeable impact on these issues. Users who believe they may have the exceptional qualities needed should read the post at Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Checkuser appointments, which gives exact details. This is unlikely to be necessary on this scale in future, and should be seen in the nature of a one-time exceptional correction to a gradual disparity between workload and available users, also making it possible for Arbitrators to focus more on other areas.

(Note - it should be clarified that at any time, Checkuser appointments are the user(s) we feel most likely to be best for the flag. There is no "queue" and no "getting there early", and there is no "precedence" or "preferred users". It is purely done on the basis of ab initio and intense discussion at the time. While we have a list based on past inquiries by users, and our own existing discussions, there are already a few more credible, seasoned names than appointments (around 10), and further names of comparable credibility that meet the appropriate standard will be considered completely on a par. The strongest candidates from the resulting list will be taken further.)

C. RFAR case management and format

Some changes are likely, both internal to the Committee, and possibly to the way case pages are used. Some experimentation may take place. Nothing definite is set in stone yet, nor are any specific imminent changes planned; this is advance notice only.

Background - Our own case handling and case structure method, as with many such wiki approaches, was largely inherited over time. We are reviewing possible better ways to manage and operate cases both internally and on the wiki, and may trial likely candidate approaches to see if they work. One likely area of explicit change may include refactoring the workshop and discussion pages to make them more productive, and more helpful for users wishing to contribute views to the case. Another may be looking at changing how the evidence in a case is analyzed internally.

Action - changes to the way cases run internally (case management) and their structure and format on-wiki, will be attempted on a trial-basis, towards future improvement. The workshop and talk pages are likely to be worked on since on contentious cases, the kind the Committee has more of now, these pages tend to be less helpful to the community than they might be.

The workflow covering collation of evidence into a case, that are looked into and result in Findings of Fact, which are then voted upon, is another area we are likely to look into. No specific changes are yet proposed; when they are, they will be attempted on a trial basis for a number of cases, and the changes noted prominently on the case pages and linked to information. The impact will be considered, and the approach and case feedback on the trial evaluated after the case concludes.

D. BLP standards enforcement and content disputes

The promised updated guidance for BLP policy and for the new enforcement remedy is being finalized and will be posted up by midnight Tuesday July 1 (5 days) at Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/BLP enforcement guidance.
Content dispute handling for certain content issues (notably Sourcing Adjudication) is still under discussion at this time; if passed, a further announcement will be made at the appropriate time.

Background/rationale - Two significant remedies have been noted at Requests for Arbitration. The first covers BLP policy enforcement and interpretation, where guidance has been committed to. The second is a proposal at this time, which if passed would aim to provide a form of dispute resolution appropriate to serious and long standing content disputes, such as sourcing and representation of sources.

Some form of enhanced provision for serious content disputes has been under discussion for a number of months, whereas enhanced provision for BLP enforcement is more recently considered. In these areas, waiting an indefinite period is not an option, and we have aimed to use our traditional authority to provide administrators patrolling such pages with support for stricter enforcement and additional means of dispute resolution. Clarification has been promised for the first and (if enacted) for the second.

Action - Both of these are innovations, and come with the note that they will be updated in the light of experience, if needed.

  • BLP enforcement - The promised guidance will be provided for Biographical articles of living people ("BLP"s) and the recent BLP policy enforcement remedy. It is being finalized at present. This is our best explanation of how BLP is intended to work; its aims and goals; the issues that arise; how editors and administrators may make higher quality decisions on BLP problems/BLP-violations and better avoid disruption; the areas where a higher self awareness and quality of conduct and comport may be needed, and the standards we will apply to cases that come to us based upon the special enforcement provisions we have enacted.
  • Sourcing and other serious content disputes - The proposals for other areas that can become major dispute problems and have no good current solution (primarily but not limited to sourcing and NPOV disputes) are still under discussion at this time. As and when a workable proposal is agreed at RFAR or otherwise, it will be announced. (Worth noting - a dispute resolution remedy for these disputes has been under consideration for some months now, separately from the actual case concerned.)

E. Consensus

An analysis of the state of play on consensus seeking, and a strong recommendation to the community that two very common issues can be easily addressed. See Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Consensus seeking processes

Rationale - Consensus is central to the community, the Wiki ethos, and our project. Wikipedia is a "grass roots" organization, where within reason, any user who edits well and gains a modicum of repute, has equal say on content matters, and is encouraged to conduct themselves to a high standard as an administrator, or to seek RFA if they wish it.

We decline to go the route of allowing that to be dismantled, or users disenfranchised beyond the limits of "is there trust". We decline to take the mantle of "executive body" or "legislature" for some kind of different wiki where only a select few get a say. This is not what is required. We intend instead, so far as it is within our ability, to use our place as resolver of dificult and contentious disputes, to affirm and empower consensus as the community's primary decision-making process for day-to-day matters, and to use our authority of dispute resolution to suggest (and not "legislate") to the community, our most serious advice on this.

We hope this will be enough to motivate effective and significant improvement in one direction or another - it's clear many users care and the frustration levels at times are a concern.

Action - A post at Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Consensus seeking processes covers an outline of our thinking and a viable approach that would be relatively easy to operate, which are submitted to the community for discussion.

F. Other matters

Separate from the above, four other matters are included in this thread.

Role of Committee

A clarification of the role of the Arbitration Committee has been sketched out and posted. See Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Clarifying the role of the Committee.

Based on discussion on the mailing list, a clarification of the Committee's current remit may be useful. This has been posted previously (in a draft form) on the mailing list, and is at Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Clarifying the role of the Committee.

Summary RFAR case

Request to community to consider activating a MediaWiki user right

The activation of the passive "can view deleted" right, and a policy allowing its grant for good cause, would allow non-administrator users to gain wider participation in the English Wikipedia community. For details and discussion, see Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Activation of view-deleted-pages.

Developer Werdna confirms that the ability to see (but not undelete) deleted material as a user flag already exists in MediaWiki, and can be activated given policy and a consensus. We would like to ask the community to consider approving the activation of this feature, for reasons given in this section.

We are concerned that as the community grows, non-administrators risk being marginalized from some kinds of wider involvement, because more and more, pages like Wikipedia:Suspected sock puppets, the Mediation Committee and Cabals, and now the new Appeals List/Committee are problematic purely because of the need for users to be able to see deleted contributions and revisions. It also to a lesser extent handicaps non-administrator users who are routinely involved in commenting on disputes, disruption and block/unblock discussions (which non-admins may be active in as well), and where some cases involve deleted contributions as evidence. It is a core principle of the project that users, whether admins or not, should be able to participate to the limits of trust (see 1), and this is an obstacle.

We note that admin tools are of two kinds - passive and active. This is a passive tool. It does not allow the user access to change anything (eg delete/undelete), but merely the passive ability to see deleted contributions. We also note that at least one other passive admin tool is available separately - IP block exemption, given to non-administrators on good cause, which has worked well.

A request to users in the community to activate this user right, so that non-administrators of good standing can participate in these areas of the community, can be found at Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Activation of view-deleted-pages.

Skilled edit warring and gaming disruption

A particular kind of dispute caused by some forms of disruptive user (who may also be editing in covert bad faith, POV pushing, or socking), can prove intractable to all but Arbitration. Such cases should be able to be handled much sooner. A different kind of dispute resolution approach is proposed that may help greatly in a wide range of disputes, and comments solicited, at Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Skilled content warriors.

A particular kind of dispute caused by some forms of disruptive user (who may also be editing in covert bad faith, POV pushing, or socking), can prove intractable to all but Arbitration. A number of these have distressed users and swallowed up topics for a year or more, often with some users discouraged and even driven away in tears, before finally the one or two survivors seeks Arbitration. Such cases should be able to be handled much sooner and by administrators, in a manner similar to existing general sanctions.

Better tools are needed for users dealing with borderline, subtle gaming, tendentious or other kinds of pov/edit warrior, where the traditional handling is frustrated by the difficulty of proving to an uninvolved administrator that the user is doing wrong, or where an uninvolved administrator may themselves not feel able to address the case properly.

This kind of dispute is poisonous, and a perennial class of gamesmanship, favored by (subtle and not so subtle) pov warriors and (frequently the same people) sock warriors, that the community and its good-faith content creators have endured too long. We propose an outline approach to a new Arbitration or community dispute resolution tool, for addressing these.

This alternate approach proposed focusses on demanding high standards of conduct and editing, which is a different approach than present approaches sanctioning overt problematic activities. Input is sought at an early stage. If deemed viable, the approach may be attempted on a trial basis. See Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/June 2008 announcements/Skilled content warriors for the full outline.

Closing (and personal) note

The Committee has spent a lot of time considering various matters and Wikipedia principles. We have posted this all "at one time", since we are not a legislative body, and do not wish to become one. One good way to achieve that is to not let this be a regular occurrance (by identifying a fairly complete set of measures and issues, considering necessity and remedies, and doing it once, hopefully to good effect). Another way is to use it to empower others (several non-Arbcom-related checkusers; better access to non-admin participation; appeals panel made considerably independent; etc).

We have tried to find ways to do both of these. We have also tried to find ways to achieve them that strengthen the traditional ethos and open community of the project. Deliberately seeking to encourage wider participation outside any narrow circles, facilitating wider adoption of good know-how, and facilitating better consensus seeking for our current size of wiki, being three ways we have done this; an ethos we commend to be adopted wider, and ourselves use routinely.

The measures enacted should help a wide range of problems affecting us (as a Committee) and the community (especially its dispute areas) particularly, and help the community past the apparent log-jam it has hit the last few months in moving itself forward, as well as providing strong impetus for higher quality content and editor interaction.

If these pay off, we hope to also benefit, by being better able to focus on our primary on-wiki role of RFAR cases, rather than other demands and one-time matters like this taking up our time. As in most things, there are no guarantees, but after honest reflection, our decision.

Lastly, our apologies for those who have seen stagnation the last while - we've had some exceptional cases to handle with priority in the background. Some we would have had to deal with, even with measures like these in place. Others we wouldn't have. The main difference would have been, other matters such as ban appeals and RFAR would not have frozen as badly, as a result. We still have considerable work to do, but getting the decisions made and drafted, has been a significant use of time for several active arbitrators.

Thank you.

FT2 (Talk | email) 14:41, 27 June 2008 (UTC)

For and on behalf of the Arbitration Committee.

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