Conflict arbitration at the Wikipedia

Details about an important aspect of peer governance, from an interview of Jonathan Hochman by Tisch Shute:

(Known as Jehochman on Wikipedia, the interviewee serves as an administrator and as a leader in addressing online harassment, disruption and sock puppetry.)

“One of the things I did was to try and clear people out who were being disruptive. We actually had to go to arbitration over that article. It is like the supreme court of Wikipedia. There is a panel of 15 arbitrators. They hear the case. There is evidence, arguments and decisions. It is really like a simulated law suit. You get all the experience of a simulated law suit with the real threat that you could be banned. If they don’t like what you are doing they can actually ban you or restrict you from topics.

So it is really fascinating how this social space Wikipedia becomes a very real platform though it is in a virtual world for real world disputes. Most disputes are over the definition of things. If you have a you suit most disputes are about how things are defined. And Wikipedia has become the defacto definition of things in the real world. People want to know what are “The Troubles.” If you go to Wikipedia you find out The Troubles are a dispute over Northern Ireland. What the article says has a profound impact on public opinion.

Tish: So who is on the court of Wikipedia?

Jonathan: They are volunteers. these people work two or three hours a day to run this court. There are all kinds of projects. There is a WikiProject Spam which has people who can write computer programs to statistically analyze Wikipedia projects – not only Wikipedia. But all of them are looking at the links and reporting them and banning those people who are abusing or gaming the system.

Tish: You were on the Stopping Virtual Blight Panel at Web 2.0 Summit – what are the most important things to think about on this topic?

Jonathan: Yes we were talking about how to defend the web against virtual blight. The thing I find interesting about Wikipedia is that because it is the eighth largest web site and possibly the second largest web site comprised of user generated content after YouTube. The problems that exist in Wikipedia are larger and more detailed than any other site. For whatever problem someone has for their social media site or their Web 2.0 site these problems already exist in Wikipedia and the solutions are there and they are transparent. You can actually see the history of what’s been done.

If there is, for example, a problem on Digg – some problem with sock puppetry or vote stacking – it happens, it goes away. You don’t get full disclosure. With Wikipedia you can actually go in and look at a dispute and watch it unfold. You can watch the arbitration cases that are filed, the arguments, the decisions, the logic, the rationale. You can see the successes and the failures and the different things people have tried to control blight. For example, we tried to resolve this dispute one way but it was a disaster, so we have tried something else and that worked.”

However, this arbitration process is in fact very flawed and controversial, as the Second Thoughts blog explains:

“No, Tish. I don’t want “a small community of volunteers” who bring “global change”. I and others want democratic participation, fair procedures, real openness — and I will get it, and we all will, because Second Life and things like it will make all this better, and totalitarianism and Wikitarianism will not win. That’s the revolution Web 2.0 will bring about in spite of itself. And Second Life, where logic and common sense and fairness can even prevail on the JIRA at times, may be the killer app that achieves this, in spite of evil Wikipedia.”

“So, let me get this straight. It’s not 150,000 volunteers. It’s not even 615 editors who do 50 percent of the editing in 2006. It’s only 15 abitrators. Like the Politburo of the Soviet Union (Wikipedia calls the Soviet Union a “constitutionally socialist state” lol), those 24 or so men who used to rule over one fifth of the earth’s surface, with 293 million people as their subjects.

“Like” a simulated lawsuit? Oh, no. Oh, nothing of the kind. It’s much more like a simulated troika. Lawsuits in real life in a democratic country involve adversarial defense by an independent bar; appointed or elected judges who have the checks of legislative and executive bodies to prevent abuses; public records; discovery procedures — everything that makes an independent and credible and unbiased judiciary. 15 Wikinistas aren’t a arbitrarion board; they are executioners.

As for “clearing out those who are disruptive”? What does it mean to be disruptive, in these feted and overheated orthodox chambers of horrid orthodoxy? It means to question the very fairness of the system — which of course, you must do, if you love freedom and respect justice.”

But would the proposed voting be any sound solution to these problems of governance?

I have my doubts, but here’s the quote with a proposed solution:

“What if the Wikinistas’ arbitrarion committee were put to a vote; what if you had to campaign and run for office, as in a normal representative democracy; what if you could see what the deliberations were and vote on them. What if you could *vote on* whether you think Wikipedia’s entry on Hamas or Chechnya or Waterboarding or Zimbabwe were good research and fair coverage or not. Imagine if Wikipedia got dug like Digg! Funny, isn’t it, that Wikinistas are huge boosters of Web 2.0 and voting on Digg…but they never, ever, ever apply it to themselves.

What if you could not only vote, as you can anonymously on Digg (which is why, actually, I hate Digg, because it is the same sort of Wiki-terror run by a handful of aggressive fucktards), or better yet, on, which is more credible and transparent, but you could hold discussions and events, and put out content and text to display like a website, to which people could come and interact in real time.”

3 Comments Conflict arbitration at the Wikipedia

  1. AvatarZbigniew Lukasiak

    Sorry – this was the description of election process I’ve got from a friendly wikipedista – but after some more digging it seems that the rules for voting are not that clear and change constantly.

  2. AvatarMoulton

    Disruption is one of those vague and slippery terms that is easy to invoke abusively. In “the sum of all knowledge” the advent of new scientific ideas, insights, and theoretical models disrupts and eventually overthrows older myths and misconceptions that eventually land on the rubbish heap of anachronistic points of view. At all times in the history of science, there are prevailing misconceptions that are in turmoil as scientific research undermines them. Probably the most famous historical example is the conflict between Pope Urban and Galileo over the advent of the Copernican Model. More recently, the brouhaha over Darwin’s disruptive theories are still reverberating both in the public eye and in Wikipedia. It is convenient and tempting to label the proponents of nascent scientific research as “tendentious and disruptive PoV pushers” and block or ban them from Wikipedia and sister projects.

    The Wikipedia Arbitration Committee does not handle content disputes. Rather it handles cases where individual conduct is at issue. A year and a half ago, I asked a group of Wikipedians to answer a question about Due Process in WikiCulture. The astonishing response (which came from three well-respected officials) was that Wikipedia doesn’t do Due Process, full stop. A sufficiently powerful Admin can unilaterally block or ban an adversarial editor without just cause, for a specious, vacuous, and unprovable reason, and the community will thereafter go along with an unjustified block or ban without giving the case a second thought.

    As a result, arbitrary and capricious blocks and bans, executed without judicially responsible oversight, have become increasingly commonplace in WikiCulture.

    This disturbing observation may not yet be widely appreciated, but it was the subject of a P2P blog discussion a few months ago.

    That discussion has not yet been addressed by responsible officials at Wikipedia.

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