User:Hersfold/ArbGuide

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This guide is provided as a general how-to guide to each step of the Arbitration process. The Arbitration Committee exists as the final resort in a series of dispute resolution steps for the most serious cases of alleged misconduct and administrative abuse, and consequently has a number of rules of its own, including unusually strict rules on conduct. In several cases, Arbitration rules and procedures directly contradict general guidelines and policies elsewhere. For example, people found to be disrupting the Arbitration process may find themselves blocked for misconduct much sooner, and with much less warning, than they would otherwise. This guide aims to help make the Arbitration Process go much more smoothly for everyone, particularly those who have not been in an Arbitration case before.

This guide is not intended to help advise as to what Arbitration is for; it assumes that you are already involved in, or are seeking to become involved in, an existing arbitration case. For further information on other aspects of Arbitration, please see the guide to arbitration.

General conduct[edit]

By the time a dispute has escalated to arbitration, it is likely that the parties involved are already somewhat upset, therefore it is especially important to maintain a high level of decorum. Personal attacks, incivility, trolling, grandstanding, and other forms of disruptive editing are unacceptable and will be dealt with by the case clerk and arbitrators. In severe cases, blocks may be issued, and the case clerk may make a motion to ban disruptive users from further participation in the case. While efforts will be made to avoid this outcome, it has happened before.

Users participating in an arbitration case should make an extra-careful effort to ensure their posts cannot be misinterpreted as being incivil or attacking. Remaining objective and looking at situations from the other person's point of view may prove difficult, but can help. If nothing else, keep in mind that in making a final decision, the Arbitration Committee will take into account user conduct during the process. If they notice a user is being particularly problematic during the course of the case, they may receive more significant sanctions than they would have otherwise.

If a user is claiming you are being disruptive, even if it's the person who you're in the dispute against, take a step back and consider if their claims have merit. Talk to the case clerk (and non-recused clerks where available) for advice on how to proceed. If you are told you need to tone it down, do so. It's best to play it safe and remain civil than toe the line, intentionally or otherwise. Double-check your comments before you post; if necessary, type your comments in a text file and then re-read them later before you post them to the site.

Evidence[edit]

The presentation of evidence is the first part of any case. Evidence is used to demonstrate what has occurred in the dispute, who did what, when, and why. This evidence is used to support the final outcome of the case, as sanctions cannot be placed without good reason. Naturally, everyone involved will have a different point of view on the events, so there are general guidelines to follow when posting evidence, which may be enforced by the case clerks.

  • Limit your evidence to 1000 words and 100 links or diffs; Brevity is the soul of wit.
    The Arbitration Committee will have a lot of evidence to read through as it is, so keeping your points short is important to making sure the case can be concluded quickly. If an Arbitrator has to read the equivalent of War and Peace to understand your points, they're much more likely to miss what those points are than if you simply come out and tell them. The 1000 word and 100 diff limit is used to encourage brevity. However, this doesn't mean you should use exactly 1000 words to make your point; if you can say it in less, do so. Often enough, a simple statement such as "User X made personal attacks: diff diff diff diff diff" will suffice. The Arbitrators can check the diffs to see for themselves, they don't need an explanation for something like that. Simply put: an itemized list supported by diff is better than a long paragraph.
  • Opinions and speeches are valued less than hard facts; don't persuade, present.
    The Evidence page is not a platform for you to announce to the world how you are right and the other parties are wrong. Attempting to engage in long-winded explanations about how you're being harassed and oppressed by others is not as likely to help your case as providing diffs to show you're being harassed and oppressed. Actions speak louder than words; giving demonstrable proof of wrong-doing is better than claiming it. Unsubstantiated claims or attempts at grandstanding will often be removed from the evidence page entirely or moved to the talk page by the case clerk. In past cases, editors have been admonished in the final decision for failing to substantiate their claims of abuse.
  • Remain objective when presenting evidence; leave the torches and pitchforks at the door
    A dispute that has worked its way to the Arbitration Committee is likely to be very high-tension. Keeping your cool at this early stage can help make the case progress much more smoothly than it might otherwise. Your evidence should be limited to statements of fact about what has occurred; actions that can be attributed to log entries or diffs, or assertions that can be easily and conclusively explained while being supported by said links. Accusations of bad faith that cannot be supported by links are much less likely to maintain the collegial atmosphere ArbCom attempts to maintain, and often lead to retaliatory accusations being made as "evidence". Sticking to the facts will make it much easier for the Arbitrators to figure out what's going on, and make the case progress more quickly.
  • Edit your own section; don't mess with others' evidence
    You have your section and they have theirs - stick with it. If you wish to respond to some evidence someone has presented, you can post on the talk page. Editing someone else's evidence section is poor form, and could be seen as disruptive, especially if you actually modify their posts.

Analysis of Evidence[edit]

Often it is challenging to understand evidence, and sometimes a summary of groups of evidence is necessary. The Arbitration Committee allows users to present their own analysis of evidence at the bottom of the Workshop page. This analysis, like the evidence, should be kept objective in nature. Other parties will be able to comment on your analysis and provide their points of view. Providing summaries like this can help give the Arbitration Committee better insight into what has been going on. Keep to the same guidelines you would for evidence; keep it short, to the point, and objective.

Workshop[edit]

The workshop is where parties, arbitrators, clerks, and non-parties may suggest various proposals to be included in the Proposed Decision that the Arbitration Committee votes on. The main purpose of the Workshop is for the Arbitration Committee to get a better feeling about where the parties stand on issues, what outcomes they would like to see, and where they feel the core of the dispute is. It can also be used for the analysis of evidence already presented on the Evidence page. Discussion on the workshop page should be limited to discussing the merits of the proposals made, and not for grandstanding against one party or another. Likewise, proposals made should be relevant to the case and well supported by evidence. Proposals that are not supported by evidence may be viewed as disruptive by other parties and can hinder the progression of the case.

Arbitration decisions follow a format similar to a deductive argument. The decision begins with general principles, setting forth policies and guidelines that the community generally agrees on (in a deductive argument, this would be "A man is mortal"). It then moves on to findings of fact that relate to what happened during the dispute and possible causes of the dispute ("Socrates is a man"). The final steps are the remedies the Arbitration Committee levies to prevent further disruption to the project within the scope of the dispute, and enforcement measures to ensure the remedies are followed ("Therefore, Socrates is mortal"). Each of these steps is built upon the previous steps; remedies are supported by findings, findings are supported by principles, and principles are supported by community consensus and common practice. The following sections detail how these are each formatted and formed, and provide examples of some good and bad proposals for each.

Principles[edit]

Principles are general statements of Wikipedia policies, guidelines, or expected norms that editors of Wikipedia are expected to follow in order to maintain a collegiate atmosphere in which our mission of collaborative editing can work. These principles are considered to be the "core" of the dispute at hand, the main abstract points that people are having difficulty over. It follows from this that the principles proposed should be relevant to the case; for example, if there is an arbitration case about two administrators wheel-warring, it would be appropriate to have principles on the role and expectations of administrators, but probably not appropriate to have a principle about sockpuppetry.

Principles should be written in a general manner that makes no reference to the parties or the dispute; these are statements that the community generally accepts as true. Similarly, titles should be neutral in tone, short, and descriptive. Very commonly, principles will be reused throughout multiple cases, as the ideals they describe generally hold true over long periods of time. These are some examples of principles that have been included as part of a case's final decision.

These are some examples of principles that, while well intended, are not the sort of principles the Arbitration Committee is looking for. Unfortunately, this guide can only provide a limited number of examples, as many proposals require a full understanding of the relevant case's background, which is impractical to provide here. These are taken from the workshop pages of various closed cases. These are used simply for the purposes of demonstration and education, and it is not the intent of this guide to disparage those who proposed these principles.

Findings of fact[edit]

Findings of fact are the next step in the workshop. These are statements, based in and supported by evidence provided on the case's Evidence subpage, that objectively assert that User X undertook action Y (which may have been in violation of or in accordance with principle Z), that the condition of article W was such that it did not meet the expectations outlined in principle Z, or (more rarely) other statements that outline the core of the dispute and the events that took place therein.

Findings of fact, as the name implies, should be verifiable facts and not opinions. As such, a proposed finding of fact needs to be supported by evidence provided on the evidence page. It is not necessary for the user proposing the finding to have also provided the evidence on which the finding is based, but the wording of the finding (or discussion thereof) should make it clear what evidence is being used, through the use of diffs or log links. Findings also need to relate to a proposed principle, which outlines what the expectations would be in this particular situation. Finally, findings of fact should be stated in an objective manner: they do not make unfounded accusations and are not unnecessarily pointed; they simply state what occurred and leave it there. Again, here are some examples of findings of fact that have been included as part of a final decision of a case:

Note in particular the heavy use of links throughout these findings of fact; while the evidence provided by users is not present on this guide, anyone reading these findings can nonetheless easily see what these statements are based upon without having to get a detailed knowledge of the case's background (which other findings in each case may provide). In contrast, these findings proposed on the workshop page don't quite meet all the criteria outlined above:

Remedies and Enforcement measures[edit]

Remedies are of, course, the main purpose of having an arbitration case. These are, ideally, the means through which whatever the problem was will be resolved. Of course, there needs to be justification for having these remedies, and so, as before, remedies need to be supported by adequate findings of fact and principles. These are the culmination of the case, that everything to this point has built up to. Enforcement provisions are procedural instructions about how to ensure various remedies are followed; for example, a topic ban could be enforced with blocks of increasing length if the editor under the topic ban violates it. Not all cases will include enforcement provisions, as in some cases the remedy will specify enforcement measures itself, or more commonly the remedy simply can't be violated such as a site ban (the enforcement for which is already dictated by policy) or a simple admonishment.

Remedies should be proposed with the intention of stopping further disruption to the project, not out of spite. As with blocks issued by administrators, Arbitration Remedies are intended to prevent, not punish. Proposals made out of spite or revenge are unhelpful and may be seen as disruptive. To this end, remedies should be well supported by findings of fact, and stated objectively. Remedies should also be very clearly worded: "User X shouldn't edit these pages" would be much better worded "User X is banned from editing articles and pages related to topic X, broadly construed." If exceptions need to be made, they should also be clearly specified. Making things clear at this stage can help avoid confusion later on.

The Arbitration Committee has stated multiple times that they will not rule on content issues. The Committee is made of a panel of Wikipedia's most experienced users, however this does not mean they are omnipotent. The chances that an Arbitrator has a deep background knowledge of the content matter related to the case is highly unlikely; generally, if this is the case, the Arbitrator was involved in the dispute somehow and has recused themselves anyway. As a result, the Arbitration Committee is poorly qualified to decree who is right and who is wrong. This is left to the community to determine through discussion; the Arbitration Committee's role is to see that such discussion can once again take place by taking appropriate action to remove the barriers that were preventing it previously.

Where remedies specify a duration of time they will take effect for, it should be kept in mind that those time periods will run concurrently unless specified; that is, they all start as soon as the case is closed. Therefore, if you feel it would be appropriate for a user to be site-banned for six months, and topic-banned from an area for six months following their return, you would propose a site-ban for six months and a topic-ban for one year.

Rather than provide examples of remedies from cases, this guide will simply list boilerplates for some commonly used remedies. Some cases will involve other remedies as appropriate, but these are repeatedly used and commonly sought by parties in a case.

Proposed decision[edit]

When the proposed decision comes around, the majority of the case is over with. The Drafting Arbitrator will post a series of proposals to the Proposed decision page for the other Arbitrators to vote on. Any Arbitrator may add proposals to the page, the Drafter is simply responsible for seeing that the Proposed decision is started with a wide range of options.

At this point, the participation of parties is minimal. Parties may comment on proposals and suggest new proposals to be included from the workshop on the Proposed decision's talk page, however, only Arbitrators and clerks may edit the Proposed decision page themselves. The case clerk will keep track of what is and isn't passing in the implementation notes.

Once an Arbitrator feels as though there is nothing further to do at the proposed decision, they will make a motion to close the case. Once a net number of at least four arbitrators are in favor of closing the case (that is, there are four more Arbs in favor of closing the case than those explicitly against it) and 24 hours have passed since the motion was made. When the case is closed, the clerk will copy all passing proposals to the case's main page and enact the remedies passed.

Individual roles[edit]

Any user is welcome to participate in an Arbitration case, and in fact comments from uninvolved editors can help bring a fresh, unbiased viewpoint into the proceedings. However, certain users do have specific roles within the case, which are outlined below.

Arbitrators[edit]

Members of the Arbitration Committee have overall authority throughout the case. They are responsible for reviewing the evidence, workshop proposals, and proposed decision provisions, and determining the final decision of the case. Arbitrators also may block editors for disruption during the course of the case, and retain the authority to ban editors from further participation in the case.

The drafting arbitrator assigned to each case has no particular authority over the rest of the Committee; their role is to follow the case more closely throughout the entire process as they might otherwise, so that they may add workshop proposals and write the majority of the proposed decision, so as to move the case into the voting phase.

Arbitrators who believe that they have some vested interest in the case (such as being involved in the dispute, or having a close relation to a party) will recuse themselves prior to the start of the case; should this occur, they have no special role in the case and act as an uninvolved editor unless specifically named as a party.

Clerks[edit]

Clerks are tasked with procedural matters and maintaining proper conduct throughout the arbitration process. Each case generally has one (two in some rare cases) designated clerk who is responsible for opening the case, closing the case, ensuring case pages are kept in the proper format, maintaining the implementation notes for the proposed decision which show what is and is not passing, and answering procedural questions from parties and other editors. Additionally, the clerk is responsible for monitoring the conduct of those participating in the case, and issuing warnings and blocks for misconduct. In severe cases, the case clerk retains the authority to ban users from further participation in a case. The clerks also retain the authority to remove or refactor statements as necessary to achieve the goals above. Clerks who are not working on a particular case are treated as uninvolved editors and generally do not make the procedural edits unless they are asked by the Arbitration Committee or the case clerk.

The clerks are not arbitrators in any sense; they have no authority to affect the outcome of the case, and have no interest in said outcome, and in many cases have no interest in the dispute itself. However, any reasonable act done by a clerk in their role as an Arbitration Clerk should be seen as done with the authority of the Arbitration Committee. If you wish to appeal the action of a clerk and you are unable to work things out with the clerks themselves, you should contact the Arbitration Committee.

Clerks who believe that they have some vested interest in the case (such as being involved in the dispute, or having a close relation to a party) will recuse themselves prior to the start of the case; should this occur, they have no special role in the case and act as an uninvolved editor unless specifically named as a party.

Parties[edit]

Parties in a case are those users directly involved in the dispute. Being a party carries no particularly special status in terms of privilege on the case pages; however, parties are expected to submit evidence relevant to the dispute, submit workshop proposals, and generally participate in the process. When commenting on workshop proposals, parties are asked to make comments in the "Comments by parties" pseudo-sections so that Arbitrators can easily identify the opinions of parties about the various proposals.

Since parties are the users directly involved in the dispute, they have a much higher chance of being named in the final decision in some way, usually as part of a formal sanction. However, being a party does not necessarily mean you will be sanctioned as part of the final decision, nor does not being a party exempt you from that fate (however, a non-party being sanctioned is considerably rare).