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Arbitration report

Ban Appeals Subcommittee goes up in smoke; 21 candidates running

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By GamerPro64

In this week's Arbitration Report: one long-running case is finally put to rest, a Subcommittee is disbanded, and candidate-nominations are closed for the Arbitration Committee Elections, with voting for up to nine new arbitrators to begin 23 November.

E-cigs case

On 17 November, over three months after the case was accepted by the committee, the E-cigs case has been closed. In the committee's findings, despite application of general sanctions to the Electronic cigarettes topic, disruption still continued. Thus, the first remedy in the case is that general sanctions are rescinded, to be replaced with discretionary sanctions going forward. Furthermore, some discretionary sanction extensions were added, with one extension specifying that uninvolved administrators may topic-ban or block (up to indefinitely) single-purpose accounts in the topic area. The other extension encourages uninvolved administrators to monitor articles that are covered under the sanction. A warning for QuackGuru covered topic bans and restrictions from alternative medicine. Also, a warning for CFCF covered participation in multiple edit wars, leading to a 72-hour one-revert Restriction in the topic area.

End of the BASC

The committee made an 8–4 decision to disband the Ban Appeals Subcommittee. Formerly, this subcommittee (BASC) handled appeals via email, from users who had been community-banned (or blocks of long to indefinite duration). However, BASC was only intended for use in certain "last resort" circumstances, for users who had already appealed their block (via {{unblock}} on their talk page), and usually also via the UTRS interface. That was the primary function; BASC was not utilized for appeals of short blocks, topic bans (and other sorts of non-site-wide restrictions), nor ArbCom rulings.

The decision to disband BASC was actually arrived at during a discussion of how to reform BASC, which ended in a split 6-6 decision. The intent of the reform-proposal was to reduce the workload BASC was responsible for (one arbitrator estimated that BASC had received nearly 100 appeals in 2015 so far), by limiting the types of appeals that BASC would consider. Specifically, the reform proposal was for BASC to henceforth only hear appeals from editors who were subjects to an {{OversightBlock}}, a {{Checkuserblock}}, or other bans/blocks involving material "unsuitable for public discussion" (for instance privacy issues, harassment, and legal issues). Other appeals, not specifically needing such discretion, would henceforth be handled via UTRS, AN/I, or {{unblock}} reviews, should the proposed BASC reform succeed. In the end, rather than keep the separate BASC mailing list for handling this more limited set of appeals to BASC, it was decided to have the full ArbCom consider such appeals (along with their existing work hearing appeals to AE blocks and ArbCom remedies), and disband BASC outright. As of 16 November, all pages having to do with BASC have been marked historical, and the mailing list has been shut down.

Arbitration Committee Elections 2015

Finally, self-nominations for this year's Arbitration Committee elections were closed as of 17 November (at 23:59 UTC). There are currently nine open seats, due to the unexpected retirement of one sitting arbitrator. Wikipedia has 21 candidates standing for election at this time; one candidate withdrew during the nominations-phase, then two more withdrew 20 and 21 November. Eligible voters (requires 150+ mainspace edits and must not be blocked at the time) are invited to review the statements of candidacy by the hopefuls, and discuss the election. Several voter-guides by individual Wikipedians have been categorized, and in some cases advertised. Candidates are taking 'official' questions throughout the election-period; voting begins 23 November (at 00:00 UTC), and ends 6 December (at 23:59 UTC). Best of luck to all the candidates running this year. During 2016, those elected will join six sitting arbitrators who are not up for re-election this cycle: Courcelles, DeltaQuad, DGG, Doug Weller, Guerillero, and Salvio giuliano.

Editor's note: In the interest of disclosure, one of the 21 candidates in the election is a co-editor-in-chief of the Signpost. They are temporarily inactive with regard to their election-related editorial duties at the Signpost and will remain so for at least the remaining duration of the election. As of 16 November, Go Phightins! has taken the reins as sole editor-in-chief.
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I'm rather concerned about the manner in which Arbcom has handled the BASC issue. Or rather, I'm concerned that the way in which they've handled the BASC issue is probably about come down like a ton of bricks on the unsuspecting UTRS system and its users. Community consensus in a recent discussion was in line with "disband BASC, pass appeals to UTRS", but noted that there needed to be further discussion about "if/what conditions may be applied by the UTRS-reviewing admin." UTRS currently has no workflow for handling appeals of community bans, long-term indefs where no admin has been willing to unblock, cases where the user has been banned from UTRS for misusing the system, etc. In fact, their current workflow for these consists of "redirect user to BASC".

Arbcom, rather than waiting for community discussion to happen after the RfC close (the motions to disband/modify BASC were begun literally one day after the community RfC was closed with a requirement for further discussion), apparently decided to just take the opportunity to divest itself of BASC without waiting around for the community to sort out how it would do that work instead. It's entirely possible that eliminating BASC was the right call, but I have to question the haste with which Arbcom did it and the apparent lack of concern they showed for the fact that they were leaving the community, particularly UTRS, in the lurch. The result of this rushed motion, I suspect, is going to be a period in which UTRS and the community scramble madly to figure out some way to handle these cases, and quite likely a period in which the users who are under this type of now-the-community's-problem ban/block will simply slip through the cracks and have no functional route of appeal. We're all volunteers, balls sometimes, get dropped, I get it. But in this case Arbcom seems to have decided it was tired of holding the ball and just chucked it at the community's face. A fluffernutter is a sandwich! (talk) 00:24, 22 November 2015 (UTC)[reply]

  • Good riddance. More transparency is needed. At least in a typical ArbCom proceding, the discussion, including accusation, evidence, and rebuttal, is laid before the appellate decision, unlike the BASC ban appeal procedure as I knew it. Which is extremely important when we have incompetent CheckUsers. Int21h (talk) 01:20, 22 November 2015 (UTC)[reply]
But you are not gaining any transparency but sending ban appeals through UTRS rather than BASC. It's just shifting the workload without consulting the UTRS admins about whether the system can handle another 100 ban appeals a year. Liz Read! Talk! 08:21, 22 November 2015 (UTC)[reply]
As I understand the change, there are now two classes of block-n-ban-appeals: the non-public sort, which are non-transparent by necessity (checkuser blocks / oversight-related blocks / and other "not suitable for public consumption" stuff), are handled either by UTRS via email, which is like the {{unblock}} thing in that a single admin, or by appeal to the full arbcom via email (but instead of using the now-historical BASC mailing list these will now go through the main arbcom mailing list and be considered by all arbs rather than a subset thereof). So just like in the past, it is still the case that in a checkuser-block, for instance, the blocked wikipedian can appeal via UTRS email, and then get a "last resort" appeal to the full-arbcom-fka-BASC email, and then get a "godking deux ex machina" appeal to Jimbo via email.
  There *is* slightly more transparency, though, in theory, because now arbcom has reached consensus that the full committee ought to consider such checkuser-related appeals, which means that a checkuser appeal which formerly would have gone to utrsEmail/bascEmail/JimboEmail -- and from the comments by Beeblebrox and Courcelles were treated somewhat haphazardly in terms of participation-per-BASC-case by the sitting arbs -- will now go to utrsEmail/arbcomEmail/JimboEmail, and presumably the appeals will get treated to a broader (amongst arbs! but still broader) procedure with respect to gathering evidence, asking for rebuttals, and all that sort of stuff. So yes, it just shifts responsibility from BASC to the full arbcom, but that does mean that checkuser unblocks that go through arbcom *will* be considered (at least in theory) by all sitting arbs, from now on, not just the subset that happened to be participating in BASC at the time of the appeal.
  So that's the non-transparent-all-done-by-email class of block-n-ban-appeals. As for the second category, the public kind where on-wiki transparency is not problematic, that are presumably the majority of the 100 appeals per year guesstimate. Since there is (by definition) purely "suitable for the public" stuff involved in this kind of appeal-category-two, the procedures are slightly different for block-n-ban appeals: {{unblock}} on usertalk, followed by a request at WP:AN or WP:AN/I, followed by a "last resort" request to arbcom (but performed by filing an on-wiki request for an arbcom case or an on-wiki request for an arbcom clarification to the full committee -- as opposed to the former mechanism which was sometimes utilized, namely contacting BASC via email), and then finally the "godking deux ex machina" appeal to User_talk:Jimbo_Wales. Now, because of WP:NOTBURO, it is still *possible* for wikipedians who are under a category-two 'public' block to use the category-one 'private' infrastructure for their appeal-requests. Instead of talkUnblock/AN[I]/arbcomCase/Jimbotalk, it is also permissible for such a "suitable for the public" appeal to still go through the email channel, if the wikipedian in question prefers that for whatever reason. So really, what can happen in category-two 'public' appeals is talkUnblock_or_utrsEmail, AN[I], arbcomCase_or_arbcomEmail, Jimbotalk_or_JimboEmail.
  And that's the normally-transparent-and-done-on-wiki-but-sometimes-also-by-email class of block-n-ban-appeals. In the end, note that there is no shifting-of-workload here, away from the arbcom-infrastructure: if a category-two-appeal fails at the talkUnblock_or_utrsEmail, then fails at AN_or_AN/I, that wikipedian can still seek their "last resort" appeal at arbcom... but instead of opening an arb-case or emailing BASC, they now must open an arb-case or email the full ARBCOM. After which, Jimbo is the last-last-resort, as always. Now, although it is not explicitly stated, in the decision to disband BASC, the vibe I got was that arbcom *may* reply to category-two emails about suitable-for-the-public last-resort-appeals, with instructions to open an arb-case. In which case, there *is* a shifting of workload, from the arbs to the arb-clerks! Hi, Liz.  :-)
  Nutshell: in the case of category-one 'private' appeals, there is a shift in workload from the BASC-subset-of-arbs, to the full arbcom. In the case of category-two appeals, there is a shift in workload from the BASC-subset-of-arbs, to the full arbcom (and if they wish to reject some or all of the email-based appeals which can be handled perfectly well via on-wiki arb-cases... then some additional workload is shifted from the full arbcom to the arb clerks). Long story short, I do not believe the arbs are shifting the workload onto UTRS or the noticeboards: as I understand it the arbs are shifting the workload from email-the-BASC to either file-an-on-wiki-arb-case-or-in-special-cases-only-email-the-full-arbcom. Hopes this makes sense, sorry it took so long to explain. (talk) 10:27, 22 November 2015 (UTC)[reply]
You're overlooking couple things in the case of "suitable for the public" blocks, First is that these users are blocked, and by definition cannot open a discussion on, say, AN, or ARCA, or Jimbotalk. Second is that many - I would venture a majority of - people under community bans or long-term indef blocks do not have access to their talk pages, access having been revoked at some point in the past for anything from abusing other editors to posting too many block appeals.

Let's assume the best-case scenario for a user who would be relying on this previously-BASC-but-now-not workflow, a scenario in which they still have access to their talk page: if this person wanted to appeal their block/ban, this would mean posting a request on their talk page and hoping a sympathetic user is willing to open a discussion on AN. This is an unreliable strategy, because:

  • In general few people are going to open a discussion saying "Let's discuss unblocking user:X" if they don't support, or at least have some interest in, user:X getting unblocked.
  • The user is relying on the hope that anyone is even going to see a request on their talk page for a discussion to be opened (success rate would increase if they thought to use the {{admin help}} template, but my guess is that a minority would)
  • People watching the user's talk page are likely to be the ones who were aware of or involved in the events that led to their block/ban; as a result, the first people to any appeal discussion - or talk page discussion about appeal discussion - will be the most involved
Now let's take the somewhat-more-likely (to my mind) case where the user does not still have access to their talk page. They therefore can't post on their talk requesting an AN review. So what are their options?
  1. They can submit an appeal to UTRS. Currently UTRS has no process for handling "I'd like my community ban lifted", however.
    • Best case scenario for a UTRS appeal of one of these blocks is that a sympathetic and proactive admin happens to pick up their appeal there and proxies an appeal to AN
    • Worst case scenario is that because UTRS is a single-admin review system, a single admin reads their appeal, goes "nah, not convinced" and declines it out of hand. The user now has two choices:
      • Accept that their appeal has been declined despite not having been heard by the community, or even multiple administrators
      • Submit another appeal - and continue to submit appeals - to UTRS until one of two things happens: they are lucky enough to find an admin who is sympathetic and willing to proxy an appeal to AN for them, or the list of their continued appeals to UTRS becomes so long that they are temporarily banned from that system for flooding it
    • The most likely scenario currently is probably neither of these, though; it's that the admin who happens to pick up their appeal is unaware that BASC is not an option anymore, and they simply reply to the user with what has been, until now, the standard for these cases: an informational template declining to handle their appeal and explaining how to send a request to BASC. They now have the same two choices as above: either accept that they've been directed into the circular file, or continue re-submitting appeals until they get lucky or get banned from UTRS
  2. If they don't want to use UTRS, their only remaining option with BASC out of the picture is to privately contact one or more administrators off-wiki (email, IRC, etc).
    • Best case scenario for off-wiki contact: They know of a friendly admin, contact only that admin, and that admin opens a discussion on AN for them. This has happened in a few cases in the past; it's not an impossibility.
    • Worst case scenario for off-wiki contact: They mass-mail a number of admins requesting appeal and become known as "that guy who's spamming admins". Someone removes their access to email because they're using it to "be disruptive".
    • Most likely scenario for off-wiki contact: They email a couple of admins and either get no response or a "no, I'm not comfortable opening that discussion". Their appeal has now been quasi-declined, but there is no public record of that and no on-wiki discussion of how the decision was made. The user is still indeffed and has no clear idea of what to do next to change that.
So in short, (too late, I know!) almost all routes of appeal now open to community-banned or long-term indeffed users lead to either their situation worsening (banned from UTRS, known as "that blocked guy who spams admins") or their appeal never being even seen, let alone discussed, by the community that Arbcom claims to be passing this responsibility back to (talk page request goes nowhere, single-admin UTRS decline, directed to nonexistent BASC, multiple email declines). The routes that don't lead there are entirely dependent upon the existence of a single sympathetic and extremely up-to-date editor/admin who knows that BASC no longer handles appeals and is willing to go out of their way to open an AN proposal they may not support personally, or might even personally oppose. Some days, one of those admins will happen to be around when the blocked user needs them. Most days, I venture to say, one won't be in the right place at the right time and the blocked user will be worse off than they were until now.

These aren't insurmountable issues - I don't think it would be too much work for the community to put together a workflow for how UTRS appeals of community bans, etc should be handled - but the fact is that right now they haven't been surmounted, because the community hasn't even had time to realize they're pressing issues, let alone to reach consensus on how to fix them. And until they do get discussed and consensus reached, most people who want to appeal this type of block are going to find themselves out of luck. A fluffernutter is a sandwich! (talk) 16:10, 22 November 2015 (UTC)[reply]

I don't know enough to disagree with you substantively.  :-)     My belief is that you are incorrect, that the UTRS people will tell the person to try BASC, and since there is no BASC, the person is thus stuck in a kafkaesque bureaucratic limbo. Instead, I think what is now supposed to happen is that the UTRS admin will direct the person to 1) email the main arbcom list with their appeal, which is specifically for checkuser and oversight and other sensitive types of matters, or 2) file an on-wiki request with the arbs via the usual channels, which is specifically for non-checkuser non-oversight not-particularly-unsuitable-for-the-public types of matters. Now obviously, if the username in question *is* indef-blocked, hard-blocked, etc, or has had usertalk-access revoked, they will have to go through some hoops to actually *get* their on-wiki request to the arbs filed. Maybe the UTRS admin will grant a temporary conditional unblock, for the purpose of filing the arb-case? Or maybe the person will email the main arbcom list, an an arb-clerk will help them file the on-wiki stuff, without anybody needing to resort to evasion? Not clear to me. Mayhap one of the arbs, or the arb-candidates, will comment here on what the new procedural expectations are.
  p.s. I do agree that for folks that are stuck in the wheels of the byzantine bureaucracy related to appeals, things are NOT simple, and sometimes any action seems filled with perilous unknowns. So on that count, we are on the same page -- it would be nicer if there was a simple straightforward set of easy to follow steps, plus a nice AJAX dashboard giving the wikipedian's current position in the queue and such, at WP:FriendlySanctionsDeEscalationPage. But I think that eliminating BASC, and replacing it with the full arbcom (via email or via on-wiki arb-request), is neither a huge mis-step, nor a giant leap for wiki-kindness. It *is* one less thing for folks to worry about, which is good; the transition might be a little rocky, though, since it was fairly abrupt. With luck, most of the UTRS volunteers are reading this conversation.  ;-) (talk) 17:16, 22 November 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • I guess I'm the one who got the ball rolling on this, but this was not exactly the result I had hoped for. Although it doesn't seem to be happening just yet, I share Fluffernutter's concern about UTRS getting overwhelmed and would encourage my fellow admins to sign up for it. If you can review on-wiki unblock requests you can do this, in fact I find the process is actually simpler, often involving only a single click in less complicated cases. Beeblebrox (talk) 00:26, 25 November 2015 (UTC)[reply]


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