Arbitration Committee

This article is about the Arbitration Committee of the English Wikipedia. For the general topic of arbitration committees, see arbitration and Arbitral tribunal.
Arbitration Committee

Screenshot of the Arbitration Committee description page in 2009
Abbreviation Arbcom
Formation December 4, 2003 (2003-12-04)[1]
Region served
Website Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee

The Arbitration Committee of the English Wikipedia is a panel of editors responsible for conducting arbitration to resolve serious disputes between editors of the encyclopedia. The committee has the authority to impose binding sanctions, and also determines which users have access to special permissions.

It was created by Jimmy Wales on December 4, 2003, as an extension of the decision-making power he formerly held as owner of the site.[1][2] The committee acts as a court of last resort (described in the media variously as 'quasi-judicial' or a Wikipedian 'High/Supreme Court', though the Committee makes it clear that it is not, nor pretends to be, a court of law in the formal sense) for disputes among editors. It has decided several hundred cases in its history.[3] Members of the Committee are appointed by Wales either in person or email following advisory elections; Wales generally chooses to appoint arbitrators who were among those who received the most votes.[4]

The Committee has been examined by academics researching dispute resolution, and also reported in public media in connection with various case decisions and Wikipedia-related controversies.[2][5][6]


In October 2003, as part of an etiquette discussion on Wikipedia, Alex T. Roshuk, then legal adviser to the Wikimedia Foundation, drafted a 1,300 word outline of mediation and arbitration. This outline evolved into the twin Mediation Committee and Arbitration Committee, formally announced by Jimmy Wales on December 4, 2003.[2][7] Over time the concept of an "Arbitration Committee" was adopted by other communities within the Wikimedia Foundation's hosted projects.

When founded, the Committee consisted of 12 arbitrators divided into three groups of four members each.[1][8] As of 2008, it had decided around 371 conduct cases, with remedies varying from warnings to bans.[9][10]

Attention and controversies

A statistical study published in the Emory Law Journal in 2010 indicated that the Committee has generally adhered to the principles of ignoring the content of user disputes and focusing on user conduct.[2] The same study also found that despite every case being assessed on its own merits, a correlation emerged between the types of conduct found to have occurred and the remedies and decisions imposed by the Committee.

In 2007, an arbitrator using the username Essjay resigned from the Committee after it was found that he had made false claims about his academic qualifications and professional experiences in a New York Times interview.[11][12][13] Also in 2007, the committee banned Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Carl Hewitt from editing the online encyclopedia.[14] In May 2009, an arbitrator who edited under the username Sam Blacketer resigned from the Committee after it became known that he had concealed his past editing in obtaining the role.[5]

In 2009, the Committee was brought to media attention as a result of its decision to ban "all IP addresses owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates, broadly interpreted", as part of the fourth Scientology-related case.[3][15] Such an action had "little precedent"[3] in the eight-year history of Wikipedia and was reported on several major news services such as The New York Times, ABC News, and The Guardian.[3][15][16] Satirical news-show host Stephen Colbert ran a segment on The Colbert Report parodying the ban.[17]

In 2015, the Committee received attention for its ruling pertaining to Gamergate, in which one editor was banned from the site indefinitely and several others were banned from topics relating to Gamergate or gender.[18]

In June 2015, the committee removed advanced permissions from Richard Symonds, an activist for the Liberal Democrats.[19] Symonds had improperly blocked a Wikipedia account, and associated its edits with former Chairman of the Conservative Party Grant Shapps,[20] and leaked this to The Guardian.[19] Shapps denied ownership of the account, calling the allegations "categorically false and defamatory".[21] Symonds said in an interview that he stands by his actions.[22]

Arbitration Committees on sister projects

Further information: meta:Arbitration Committee

In 2004 an Arbitration Committee was founded on the French Wikipedia,[23] and in 2007, on the German[24] and Polish Wikipedias.[25]


  1. 1 2 3 Wales, Jimmy (2003-12-04). "WikiEN-l Wikiquette committee appointments". Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Hoffman, David A.; Salil Mehra (2010). "Wikitruth Through Wikiorder". Emory Law Journal. 59 (2010). SSRN 1354424Freely accessible.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Cohen, Noam (2009-06-07). "The Wars of Words on Wikipedia's Outskirts". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 28, 2014. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  4. Broughton, John (2008). Wikipedia: The Missing Manual. O'Reilly Media. pp. 208–209.
  5. 1 2 Welham, Jamie; Nina Lakhan (2009-06-08). "Wikipedia sentinel quits after 'sock-puppeting' scandal". The New Zealand Herald. APN Holdings NZ Limited. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  6. Moore, Matthew (2009-05-30). "Church of Scientology members banned from editing Wikipedia". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Ltd. Archived from the original on 2 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  7. Roshuk, Alex T. (2008). "Law office of Alex T. Roshuk". Archived from the original on 29 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-14.
  8. Hyatt, Josh (2006-06-01). "Secrets of Greatness: Great Teams". Fortune. Time Warner. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
  9. Lamb, Gregory M. (2006-01-05). "Online Wikipedia is not Britannica - but it's close". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
  10. Williams, Sam (2004-04-27). "Everyone is an editor". Salon Media Group. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  11. Cohen, Noam (2007-03-12). "After False Claim, Wikipedia to Check Degrees". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-14.
  12. Hafner, Katie (2006-06-17). "Growing Wikipedia Refines Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  13. Cohen, Noam (2007-03-05). "A Contributor to Wikipedia Has His Fictional Side". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  14. Kleeman, Jenny (9 December 2007). "Wikipedia ban for disruptive professor". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  15. 1 2 Fitzsimmons, Caitlin (2009-05-29). "Wikipedia bans Church of Scientology from editing". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 11 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-14.
  16. Heussner, Ki Mae; Ned Potter (2009-05-29). "Wikipedia Blocks Church of Scientology From Editing Entries". ABC News. Archived from the original on 2 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-14.
  17. Colbert, Stephen (2009-06-04). "Wikipedia Bans Scientologists" (Flash Player). Comedy Central. MTV Networks. Retrieved 2009-06-14.
  18. Dewey, Caitlin (29 January 2015). "Gamergate, Wikipedia and the limits of 'human knowledge'". Washington Post. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  19. 1 2 "Censure for Grant Shapps' Wikipedia accuser - BBC News". 8 June 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  20. "Andy McSmith's Diary: Ed Balls and Jack Straw off the Labour peerage list". 8 June 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  21. Randeep Ramesh. "Nick Clegg mocks Grant Shapps over Wikipedia affair". the Guardian.
  22. Randeep Ramesh. "Wikipedia volunteer who blocked 'Grant Shapps' account: I stand by my decision". the Guardian.
  23. Florence Millerand; Serge Proulx; Julien Rueff (2010). Web Social: Mutation de la Communication (in French). PUQ. p. 66.
  24. Kleinz, Torsten (2007-04-30). "Wikipedia sucht Schiedsrichter" (in German). Heise Online. Archived from the original on 1 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  25. "Komitet arbitrażowy oraz mediatorzy w Wikipedii" (in Polish). Blog wikipedystyczny. 2007-08-31. Retrieved 2012-02-01.
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