Slamming shut the GamerGate
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.
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.
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.
Four request for clarification or amendment were open at the time of writing:
- A request from Lightbreather for an interaction ban with Hell in a Bucket, arising from the Interactions at GGTF case,
- A clarification request regarding arbitration enforcement arising from the Arbitration Enforcement sanction handling case (specifically on the extent to which administrators can act unilaterally in imposing sanctions); this appears to have become bogged down in the minutiae of enforcement procedures and the difference between the enforcement of specific remedies (e.g., topic bans, imposed by ArbCom as a direct result of a case) and discretionary sanctions (authorised by ArbCom but imposed by any uninvolved administrator),
- A request from Cambalachero for several articles to be exempted from their topic ban from Latin American subjects (imposed in the Argentine History case; arbitrators appear to be receptive to the request, and a motion has been proposed that would allow the exemption but allow it to be revoked by an uninvolved administrator in the event of misconduct; the motion has 13 arbitrators in support and none in opposition and so is likely to be enacted before the next "Arbitration report";
- A request from Mythdon to lift restrictions imposed in the 2009 Ryulong case (unrelated to the GamerGate case, to which Ryulong was also a party).
- Cases renamed: "Dbachmann" has been renamed to Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Ancient Egyptian race controversy in order to fit the convention that cases with active discretionary sanction provisions are not named after an individual editor; and "Footnoted quotes" has been renamed to Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Editing of Biographies of Living Persons for clarity, given that the previous title belied the fact that the case authorises the broadest set of discretionary sanctions so far authorised.
- Landmark Worldwide sanctions: The Landmark Worldwide case was amended by motion to authorise discretionary sanctions for the topic area.
- BASC RfC: A request for comment has been opened regarding the Ban Appeals Subcommittee (BASC) and includes various proposals, including removing responsibility for ban appeals from ArbCom and placing it with a panel of administrators.
- Fancy becoming a clerk? The Arbitration Committee clerks are still seeking new recruits; interested editors are asked to email the clerks' mailing list (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Functionary appointments: For the first time since 2013, ArbCom is inviting applications for checkuser and oversight access; because of the nature of the information such tools give access to, candidates must (inter alia) be over the age of 18, provide proof of identity to the Wikimedia Foundation, and be an administrator. Expressions of interest are currently being sought, and candidates will be required to complete a questionnaire and return it by the end of 17 February (UTC), after which there will be an extensive vetting process with the aim of appointing successful candidates by the end of March.