Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2008-06-30/ArbCom and Orangemarlin

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Private arbitration case criticized, vacated

By Ral315, 30 June, 2008

A privately conducted arbitration case involving the actions of Orangemarlin was made public on Friday by arbitrator FT2. The case was criticized by many for its private nature; while some serious cases have been conducted in private with the knowledge of all parties involved, Orangemarlin apparently was not informed of the case until its conclusion. The criticism became much more pronounced after arbitrator Kirill Lokshin declared that the case and other announcements made by FT2 "[had] no authority or binding weight whatsoever". After discussion on their mailing list, the Arbitration Committee vacated the decision, an unprecedented move. They then directed that the case be submitted as a request for arbitration through public channels. However, Orangemarlin apologized for his behavior, agreed to a mentorship, and the case was rejected.

Background

On Friday, June 27, FT2 made a post to the Administrators' Noticeboard, revealing a series of measures and announcements made by the Committee. The case against Orangemarlin was just one of the many announcements made there (see related story for other announcements), but because of its privacy, and because of its implications, it immediately drew the most attention.

The case centers almost exclusively around Orangemarlin. Evidence presented by FT2 mentioned concerns about Orangemarlin's behavior since 2007, including:

  • His actions at and involving Dihydrogen Monoxide's third RfA (renamed to Giggy) in late May and early June. Orangemarlin accused Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) of racism because in an off-wiki blog post, DHMO said he was "disgusted", in part due to an accusation that the undertow was racist because of his usage of the term "white pride".
  • His actions leading up to a community ban on Rbj, which FT2 said was made "on the basis of quite dubious allegations".
  • His actions at Avruch's RfA in June, citing Avruch's support of Dihydrogen Monoxide's RfA, and his comments regarding that RfA and The undertow. FT2 noted incivility here, notably referring to DHMO as "an obviously flawed candidate".
  • Reverting an IP editor, who had removed a misattributed negative quote, and removing that user's comments from his talk page, calling them "uncivil". Orangemarlin marked the IP as a "suspected sock puppet".
  • Reverting edits by administrator Krimpet on Rosalind Picard with the semi-automated editing tool Twinkle, and calling her a "troll".

In light of the evidence presented by FT2, the Committee, according to FT2, had enacted remedies in the case, including admonishing Orangemarlin for a variety of concerns, placing Orangemarlin on parole for incivility, personal attacks, and assumptions of bad faith, assigning Orangemarlin a mentor, and noting the Committee's intent to review the community ban of Rbj. Odd nature was also admonished.

Criticism of the decision

Because the case was kept private, with no known community involvement, no opportunity was given to present evidence in defense of Orangemarlin. This was widely criticized, as many argued that without any way to present a defense, Orangemarlin was not given "due process", and that the secrecy was not justified for such a case. Stephan Schulz argued that the Committee "did not perform arbitration, but prosecution, followed by conviction. All that behind closed doors and even the veil of anonymity (FT2 excepted)". FT2 justified the secrecy in response to such criticism:

This was an exceptional case, and the matter was clear and unambiguous. If Orangemarlin wishes to appeal, he may. But for various reasons, this was the right way to go about it. We have that discretion, and we very rarely use it. But on this case, we have done so. By the very nature of what we saw, the user defends via smoke, and invented pretexts, and smears. We have no interest in enduring a week or two of that, or asking others to. We considered emailing the user for comments before posting, but that too would lead to email and "smoke" as well, and wikidrama and hearsay until the case was belatedly made public anyway and finally decided (and pile-ons that in fact would add little, the evidence being in fact very unambiguous), having had to endured that smoke and hearsay in the background in the meantime.

This argument failed to gain much steam, with an overwhelming majority of those commenting concerned about the way the case was conducted.

Another criticism was that the individual arbitrators' voting was not released, and was apparently not tabulated; instead, the case was passed "nemine contradicente", or "without dissent / by consensus". This criticism became even more pronounced after Kirill Lokshin's declaration that the case and other announcements made by FT2 "[had] no authority or binding weight whatsoever", apparently contradicting the claim that the case had passed without dissent:

The announcements made today by FT2 (including both the Orangemarlin issue and the various other matters) were posted without the approval or prior knowledge of the Committee as a whole. Further, no formal proceeding, secret or otherwise, has taken place regarding Orangemarlin or any other editor named in that particular statement.

As far as I'm concerned, these announcements have no authority or binding weight whatsoever.

Not on behalf of anyone but myself, Kirill

This statement resulted in even more criticism of the case, and of FT2, and led to an ill-fated deletion attempt for the arbitration case itself; the page was "speedy kept". Discussion continued, and Jimbo Wales weighed in, urging calm in the matter:

I just wanted to personally weigh in here with a request for calm. Nothing permanent has happened. I am unclear on the facts (just heard about this today... from a lot of people) at this point, and it is not my style to jump to conclusions quickly. I can state some general principles

though, which should soothe people a lot. It is ok for the ArbCom to work quietly with people to resolve conflict in a way which preserves dignity and minimizes drama. We have done that a lot, both formally and informally, and it works well. It is not ok for us to have secret trials in which the people to be punished have not even been notified or offered the opportunity to defend themselves. I have no opinion at all about the editor(s) in question, because I have not studied the facts of the underlying case at all. However, it is part of our longstanding governance traditions that there is a right of appeal, and I can overturn ArbCom decisions, and I would consider that a lack of opportunity for defense would be in the category of reasons I would consider valid. The main thing is, there is no reason for drama right now, drama is not necessary, what is necessary is a thoughtful look at everything, and assumption of good faith. If errors have been made, things can be set right quickly enough.

I would particularly urge Orangemarlin and Odd nature (and others) not to engage in "civil disobediance" [sic] to prove a point, etc. (No one has threatened this, to my knowledge, I am just saying is all...) To everyone: let's all be on our best behavior here and sort this out with a minimum of dramatics.

Other Committee members also urged patience as they discussed the issue privately; Jpgordon noted that "We are discussing the situation (rather intensely) on the mailing list, but, it's Friday evening now (or later) for most of us, and not all of the committee are available at the moment."

Case vacated, mentorship agreement reached

Over the weekend, the matter was discussed, and an official statement from the Committee was posted by Charles Matthews on Sunday. According to the Committee's statement, the case was handled "in a way normally reserved for serious socking"; "[e]ven so, a number of Arbitrators were in the end, and after review of the case, not convinced of the need for such summary implementation. This course of events could have been avoided by better use of internal ArbCom communications, and it is not going to set any precedent for the future."

They declared that the case would be vacated, and would not go into effect. The Committee instead ordered that the case be submitted through the normal method at requests for arbitration, and be reviewed independently of the prior case, with the opportunity for involved parties and community members to give evidence. That request received an unusually large amount of community input, with some users arguing that the disruption caused by Orangemarlin was worth looking into, and others arguing that the botched case would affect the Committee's ability to fairly judge a new case.

However, the case took a much less dramatic turn on Monday when Orangemarlin apologized for his behavior that led to the case:

Over the past few days, there has been a large amount of drama centered around the so-called "secret" RfAR posted publicly by User:FT2. I will make no further comment on FT2's motivation for creating this drama-filled episode. Whatever the reasons, I was deeply offended by not only the comments written but lack of communication with me. I appreciate the support written on this page and in other locations from individuals who both worked with me and, in a sense, against me. The common theme across many of the comments was not only the apparent in camera nature of the proceedings, but also my behavior in many situations. It is clear that I received support from individuals who were as offended as I with respect to the nature of the actions, but were almost as equally offended by how I treated other editors. I will not make any excuses--that RfAR has opened my eyes to what I've done right and what I've done wrong; it is clear that I've tested the patience of this community, and the goodwill I have created through adding to the project is being eroded by my behavior. It is time to end this drama, and to move on. Without reservation or exception, I apologize from the bottom of my heart to everyone in this community. I will remain civil at all times. It is my feeling that for the good of this project, I must be a valued editor, and if I remain civil, then the whole community wins. I really hope that we can move beyond this drama, and build an encyclopedia.

Early Wednesday, arbitrator jpgordon voted to reject the case, revealing that Orangemarlin had agreed to put himself under jpgordon's mentorship, and that he would deal with any further incivility by Orangemarlin. After three other arbitrators rejected the case, it was briefly removed, but the request was added back so that other arbitrators could go on the record regarding the case. As of press time, five arbitrators had rejected the case, with none supporting. Morven noted that "Relapse will make for a speedy opening of a future case."

Aftermath

The case is unprecedented for a few reasons: First and foremost, the case is one of just a few cases to be held in private, and the first case ever to be heard without the prior knowledge of the sanctioned party. It's also the first case to ever be immediately vacated, rendering the verdict moot.

While the case is over, effects of the case are still noticeable. A request for comment on the Arbitration Committee has received nearly 1,250 edits as of press time. The RfC focuses on the role of the Committee, its limits, and possible changes to the Committee.

In response to criticism over its handling of the case, and the relative lack of information regarding the situation, some Committee members have indicated that the Committee may post further statements regarding the handling of the case in the near future.

While the Committee as a whole has faced significant criticism, arbitrator FT2 has received even more criticism, because he was seen as a main architect of this case. However, Kirill Lokshin, who disagreed with FT2 on the case's status, later said that FT2 was not personally to blame for the problems with the case:

Please, let's not have any calls for people's heads here. As far as the Orangemarlin thing goes, I don't think FT2 is really to blame; he was acting under a reasonable interpretation of what the proper procedure was, and a number of us—myself included—failed to communicate our assumptions about what we thought the procedure would be to him. And a number of important matters were unfortunately overlooked in the confusion. Personally, I think that I'm as much to blame for that as anyone else.



Also this week:

ArbCom and Orangemarlin — ArbCom announcements — Taking up the mop — WikiWorld — News and notes — In the news — Dispatches — Features and admins — Technology report — Arbitration report


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