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Arbitration report

Slamming shut the GamerGate

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By Harry Mitchell

I had hoped to ease into this new role, but alas I seem to have picked the worst time of year to start reporting on the Arbitration Committee's business! I thought I had a good appreciation of the arbitrators' workload, but I now have an entirely new grasp of just how many pages they have to monitor and how closely. There are case requests, clarification requests, and motions—at least two of which are permanently near the top of my watchlist (a watchlist which includes plenty of busy pages)—the committee noticeboard and its talk page, and then there are the open cases—each with their evidence and workshop pages (and their respective talk pages!). That's before we even consider the various private mailing lists to which we mere mortals are not privy. The number of rabbits of which to keep track is dizzying.

This has been another busy fortnight for the committee. At the time of writing, one case has been closed, two cases remain open, another is undergoing a review, and four clarification or amendment requests remain open. Additionally, the committee has been attending to various other business including housekeeping motions and the beginning of a round of functionary appointments.

This fortnight's business



After two months, the GamerGate case, the largest and most complex in recent memory finally reached its conclusion shortly before the publication of last week's Signpost. That issue's "In focus" covered the case in detail, but to summarise: ArbCom has authorised discretionary sanctions for the broad topic area of "(a) GamerGate, (b) any gender-related dispute or controversy, [or] (c) any persons associated with (a) or (b), all broadly construed." The intent of this is to prevent disruption from this dispute spreading to similar topics. It also gives administrators broad powers to impose blocks, topic bans, or other restrictions on any editor who does not behave appropriately after being made aware of the discretionary sanctions. In addition, 13 individual editors were sanctioned, with sanctions ranging from admonishments to topic bans (with the same scope as the discretionary sanctions) and a single siteban (passed at the last moment due to continuing disruption).

The case attracted media attention in its final stages, and since its closure has been the subject of lengthy and heated discussion on the talk page of the committee's noticeboard. According to the Washington Post, "when Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee (basically the site's Supreme Court), issued a final ruling on Gamergate on Wednesday, they weren't merely slapping the wrists of the bickering few still obsessed with 'ethics in video games'; rather, the decision was a highly visible test of whether the Web site that millions of people turn to for facts can actually present facts in a fair and neutral way." The Post article, which was illustrated with a screenshot of the warning notices at the top of the GamerGate talk page, accurately pointed out that ArbCom's ruling were not on GamerGate itself or the content of the relevant Wikipedia article, but rather on the behaviour of the editors involved and likened arbitrators to "referees at a particularly brutal soccer game: They can dish out red cards and penalties to individual players, but they don't actually decide which side should win". (For more on the Post's article, please see In the media.)

Meanwhile, the article is being heavily edited, its lengthy spell of full protection (locking so that only administrators can edit) having recently come to an end. Arbitrator Roger Davies told the Signpost last week that he expected it would be a "week or two" before the effects of the decision started to be fully felt. Further developments will be reported in the "News and Notes" and "In the media" sections in coming weeks.


At press time, the arbitrators' proposed decision in this case was expected imminently. The workshop phase officially concluded on 30 January, though some discussion is still going on. This is not nearly so large a case as GamerGate, so arbitrators and clerks seem less concerned with closing off discussions (in the GamerGate case, parties added evidence and workshop proposals minutes before the deadline, forcing the deadlines to be extended to allow other parties to respond to allegations against them, and the pages had to be fully protected to enforce the revised deadlines). The case concerns allegation which have been floating around for a year now, namely that Wifione has been conducting a subtle but persistent campaign to promote an Indian business school and to denigrate its competitors, including by manipulating biographical articles of people associated with the institutions. Extensive evidence has been presented by half a dozen editors, and Wifione has presented a five-thousand-word rebuttal. In the workshop, several editors have made proposals, all of which revolve around different levels of restrictions and sanctions for Wifione, with the exception of Wifione's own proposals, which advocate for sanctions against several editors making the allegations. The target date for the proposed decision is 5 February.

Christianity and Sexuality

This is another large case regarding sexuality, which appears to be the hot-button topic on the wiki at the moment. Although a dozen parties are listed, the evidence phase was due to close at the time of writing, yet only five editors had presented evidence. Despite the apparently broad scope of the case, the parties appear to be primarily concerned with litigating on a long-running edit war on the Homosexuality and Roman Catholicism article, although the issues appear to have spread to some extent to similar articles about other denominations. The workshop is open until 11 February, and the proposed decision is due on 18 February.

Infoboxes (review)

This is a slightly unorthodox case. The original Infoboxes case was litigated in the middle of 2013 and closed in September of that year. The main party to the case, Pigsonthewing was prohibited from "adding or removing infoboxes". Since then, there have been multiple enforcement requests surrounding Pingsonthewing's participation at Templates for Discussion and in other fora regarding the technical implementation of infoboxes; these in turn have led to multiple clarification requests due to what many editors felt was the ambiguous wording of the remedy. The latest request suggested resolving the perceived ambiguity by adding the word "to articles" to the end of the remedy, but arbitrators failed to reach a decision on this request. To break the stalemate, a review has been opened to answer the question of whether the remedy is fit for purpose. Evidence is being accepted until 10 February.

Clarifications and amendments

Four request for clarification or amendment were open at the time of writing:

Other business

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  • Thanks for a comprehensive review H J Mitchell. It is I think a pleasing situation that more measured responses are coming out of the main Arbitration process these days. Gamergate is a somewhat complex issue, and it is good that the Committee avoided the trap of trying legislate ideology so cleanly, after struggling a little in the Gender Gap case. I still regret that such sweeping discretionary sanctions were imposed, even having removed a significant number of outdated DS in 2014, the percentage of the encyclopaedia that is under DS is continuing to grow. It would surely indicate community success if we were able to roll back the DS frontier a little. All the best: Rich Farmbrough00:53, 6 February 2015 (UTC).
    • Now we have the central log, it's much easier to see which DS provisions are being used and which aren't—the sanctions under GamerGate, BLPs, and Israel-Palestine are well-used, but some of them haven't yet been used this year. I think they were absolutely necessary in this case, and it was necessary to have such a broad scope—we'll probably need a tidying-up motion at some point to centralise them instead of having half a dozen sets of sanctions on overlapping topics—but if some of the quieter ones haven't been used as the year goes on I'd certainly support removing them. HJ Mitchell | Penny for your thoughts? 01:44, 6 February 2015 (UTC)[reply]
      • Wouldn't the lack of enforcement actions be evidence that the sanctions are working, not that they're unneeded? Powers T 14:09, 10 February 2015 (UTC)[reply]


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