Saturday, June 28, 2008

Request for comment on the Arbitration Committee

Was wondering how to start this post, about to head over to Commons to search for a portrait of Kafka, and happened to notice that one of the restorations I did a few months ago is on Wikipedia's main page: buffalo soldiers. Quite a bit of work went into that one. I had worried that people would complain about the quality when the nomiation opened, but there's something about the personalities of these men that shines through. First it's the big knife one rests on his knee front and center, then the pipe-chomping fellow at his side with a shovel on a shoulder. A whiskey flask makes its rounds, a couple of men brandish guns, and another peers shyly behind a tree. Somebody even decided to take a nap during the photo session--it's the most informal group military portrait from the nineteenth century I've ever seen. Also the most down to earth. I like these guys and want to talk to them, want to ask that one fellow why he's holding up a frying pan.

The whole scene says We're rowdy and disorganized but we get stuff done, and don't mess with us. A lot more than Kafka that's the spirit today.

Speculation has floated around about why this request for comment went live when it did. The people who were present for yesterday's Not the Wikipedia Weekly recording can confirm this chain of events: we got to talking about what was developing on the Administrators' Noticeboard and decided to do a breaking episode. Not the Wikipedia Weekly isn't quite journalism--some of us participate in the issues we discuss. It's a little bit like a group blog: we sensed that important developments were happening and wanted to document the experience of the events unfolding. That often gets lost after the fact on page archives.

Until Mbisanz joined our discussion I had been saying that Lawrence Cohen's draft request for comment on the Arbitration Committee was looking a lot more likely to go live, but I'd been saying not yet, not now. I wanted to wait for events to sort themselves out better. Then Matt announced he Lawrence's retirement and Lawrence's parting request to move the page into Wikipedia namespace and bring it live. Lawrence's wish was going to be fulfilled and soon; the only question was how. I asked Matt to let me do it at the end of our recording. When the wikidrama is running high even a short delay helps. That bought two hours, and what's more important it was an opportunity to start on productive terms: process, not individual grievance. I really hope that outlining procedural issues sets the right tone. One of the biggest dangers with opening this discussion is that people may try to hijack it to rehear their own cases. Yeah, we can rise above that. It's what's best for the site that counts.

Of course a few people interpreted the timing in the wrong light. So we wind up with this. I invited both Jimbo Wales and the Committee to participate. So far, the only current or former member of the Arbitration Committee to come to the page has not inspired confidence.

Concur with Cool Hand Luke. A cock-up (which this appears to be) is a terrible foundation for a discussion of reform. Hard cases make bad law. Mackensen (talk) 01:45, 28 June 2008 (UTC)

My understanding of history indicates otherwise... Exceptional cases make for bad laws in the general case... But it's long been evident that exceptional cases in regard to people in positions of authority make for some very good laws indeed. Many of the fundamental laws of modern society were born in such cases. Ask William of Orange. --Barberio (talk) 01:55, 28 June 2008 (UTC)

However, it is by no means clear what the authority is. Until and when the committee clarifies what's going on this is premature. Mackensen (talk) 01:59, 28 June 2008 (UTC)

With all due respect to the committee, clarification was asked for, the result was not compelling. Even assuming that the committee is too slow and over burdened to explain themselves, I think it's not appropriate to expect the community to let the arbitrators 'wait out the clock' till the next round of elections. As has tended to happen when issues of Arbitration Policy have been raised. --Barberio (talk) 02:06, 28 June 2008 (UTC)
The cock-up surmise was posted by a former arbitrator who still has access to the arbitration mailing list and whose input may affect current decisions. He appears not to have noticed either the introductory statement or the page history that demonstrates the request for comment could not have been structured around recent decisions: the page went unedited from March 14, 2008 until June 28, 2008 when I brought it live. With the Committee's own performance under scrutiny he posts this way; I wonder how this person evaluates case evidence.
Image credit

1 comment:

Filll said...

With all due respect to former arbitrator Mackensen, I think that it is clear that Mackensen does not quite "get it". The community has had a growing sense of unease about Arbcomm's performance for at least the last few months. Voting before there is any evidence present or any chance for a defense? Complete denial of the right to present a defense? Totally ignoring some lines of evidence? Dragging out some cases for months on end? Insulting the general community, and then neglecting to issue an apology or even acknowledge that something inappropriate has taken place? Unresponsiveness? Violations of Arbcomm's own rules, or the principles of Wikipedia? Giving favored editors with a lot of featured content a pass to abuse the system or their fellow editors? The list of problems seems to just keep growing.

Arbcomm exists to perform functions for the community, not the other way around. The only reason for Arbcomm to exist at all is to provide services to the community. Arbcomm is supposed to protect the volunteer editing community that Wikipedia depends on. It has no other function or value. It is not a sinecure. Those who hold (or held) Arbcomm positions are not infallible, and are not beyond criticism or reproach. However, there seems to be a growing sense of entitlement and privilege associated with Arbcomm, and frankly, this is quite unattractive.

Perhaps a strong message from the community needs to be sent, reasserting the community's authority. After all, if there was no community, there would be no Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a relatively fragile thing, dependent on the goodwill of volunteers. Wikipedia should not gratuitously attack and abuse those it depends on for its very existence.

Mackensen's post suggests that Mackensen has forgotten these basic facts. Mackensen's post seems to indicate that he is out of touch with what is going on. My advice to Mackensen, and others who think like Mackensen, is to recognize that their views appear to be out of step with those of most of the Wikipedia community. In a communal consensual volunteer atmosphere, this is a bad sign. Take some time to engage in self-reflection, and realign your attitudes with those of your fellow editors. If you are unable or unwilling to do so, then realize that you will be increasingly marginalized and treated accordingly.