This week, the Wikipedia Signpost examines criticism of the ArbCom and the proposed reforms.
The Wikipedia Arbitration Committee has been criticized from its beginnings, and the discussion regarding reforms is ongoing.
A major criticism of the ArbCom centers around the speed and efficiency of the proceedings. The multi-step process, described in detail last week, elongates the process. A typical case takes weeks, if not months, from the time it is brought to the conclusion of the case. Often the delay in closing the case results in justice being denied for that period of time. In addition, disputes taken to the ArbCom are often aggravated during the time the ArbCom is considering the case.
Most cases, in fact, take months to conclude. The recently concluded ArbCom case involving Cool Cat, Davenbelle, and Stereotek, took exactly three months to finish. The case was first brought to the ArbCom on 5 July, 2005, and was closed on 5 October, 2005. The case is not an exception; the vast majority of arbitration cases are extended over multiple months.
Because of the length of the cases, backlogs often develop at requests for arbitration. Multiple requests are listed, but weeks often pass before the cases are either accepted or rejected. Currently, several cases have stalled at the requests page, lacking the adequate number of votes to accept or reject the case. For example, the case filed against Willmcw and SlimVirgin by Rangerdude has been listed since the middle of August, but with only three votes to accept the case, cannot move on to the evidence stage. The last vote by an Arbitrator was nearly a month ago, and no further discussion has taken place since that vote.
The backlogs at the requests page contribute to the amount of work each Arbitrator is required to do. Many have criticised the current system as being inadequate; the critics claim that the ArbCom is overworked. With disputes often skipping steps in the dispute resolution process, such as mediation and requests for comments, the ArbCom is burdened with a large number of cases. With less than ten active Arbitrators usually, the ArbCom becomes inefficient and risks "burning out" Arbitrators. The high rate of resignations or inactivity is pointed to as evidence that the workload is too high for the ArbCom.
In addition, many have criticised the twelve member Arbitration Committee, claiming that it resembles a cabal. Despite advocates of the ArbCom claiming that there is no cabal, critics point to the temporary appointments of Fennec, JayJG, and Jdforrester as proof that an "elite society" exists. The three temporary appointments were made by Jimbo after many members of the ArbCom resigned earlier this year. The three Wikipedians were not the next three in terms of the number of votes in the 2004 elections, so questions were raised by critics about the appointments. "I remember the [December 2004] election perfectly well. In fact, I myself was a candidate. If [the temporary appointments are] just about votes, why don't we have another vote? Or we should go straight down the line and appoint the next two, who were Mirv and Cecropia. I thought the idea was that uncontroversial people were supposed to be appointed as placeholders until the next election," commented Everyking. Echoing Everyking, -Ril- stated, "Jimbo Wales has publicly announced that he doesn't support democratic elections, and would rather have arbitrators that he is friends with, than those with popular support in elections. He has also, in the announcement, stated that his appointment of (temporary) arbitrators has more to do with his favouring of their judgements in preference to those that might be made by editors such as User:Mirv (the next in line in the prior election)."
However, many others supported Jimbo's decision. "The arbitration committee made a short list of people we thought would make good arbitrators (based on our previous experiences with them), and Jimbo took our recommendation and appointed arbitrators from our short list," said Raul654, in response to -Ril-'s statement. "So no, he did not appoint them because he is friends with them; as Jimbo put it so succintly, he appointed them because we told him we think they would make good arbitrators (and he trust our judgement)." Pcb21 also voiced his approval of the process, commenting that he wished "best of luck to all new arbitrators. I am sure you will all easily prove why this trust has been placed in you." In addition, Jimbo defended his actions, saying, "The fundamental job of the ArbCom is to defend the community so that we can get our work done. This is a touchy and difficult job requiring difficult judgments."
More criticism has also been voiced regarding the process and jurisdiction of the ArbCom. Currently, the ArbCom "primarily investigate(s) interpersonal disputes", according to the Arbitration policy. This effectively means that most pure content disputes are rejected by the ArbCom, though cases involving point of view pushing have been accepted recently. 172 states, "The Arbcom still focuses too much on personality instead of the merit of the edits, and too much on process instead of product."
Next week — An in-depth look at the current members of the ArbCom, and their opinions of it.
Note: Reforms of the ArbCom will be written about at a later date.