User:Shock Brigade Harvester Boris/A pocket guide to Arbitration

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Over the past three years I've occasionally looked in on Arbitration cases, though the Abd-William M. Connolley case is the first one that I followed in detail from beginning to end. Here are some of my impressions of points to keep in mind if you are unlucky enough to be involved in a case.

Points to remember[edit]

  • Arbcom is a collection of individuals, not a monolith. The arbitrators each have their own signature in terms of diligence, conscientiousness, and impartiality. A given arbitrator may carefully weigh all evidence on the case pages, or veer off onto "big picture" tangents, or follow personal prejudices. Most act according to broad notions of the issues and personalities that are involved or follow the lead of other arbitrators.
  • With few exceptions the arbitrators are reasonable and well-meaning people. Almost all of the Committee's shortcomings are common human frailties, such as overcommitment and pride. Accusing them of "corruption" and the like not only is rude and unwarranted, it will do you no good.
  • The committee does not effectively manage its time and workload. Meaning to do well, they take on too many tasks – then complain that they are overworked. As a result they do not have the time to examine cases thoroughly, even when they have the inclination.

During the case[edit]

  • The Workshop and Evidence pages give an opportunity for parties and others to let off steam. In general, the drafting arbs skim these pages and the others follow the lead of the drafters. Nuanced or detailed commentary on these pages usually becomes buried in noise and ignored.
  • The lack of value that the Committee places on the Evidence and Workshop pages is reflected in their disinclination to enforce reasonable organization and decorum on those pages.
  • The real discussion takes place on the private arbcom list and between individual members, out of view of the community. Reading between the lines one gathers that there is a good deal of horse trading and arm twisting behind the scenes as cases approach closure.

How to influence the process[edit]

  • Most important: Because the Committee does not carefully examine the evidence and circumstances leading up to a case, your conduct during the case is of paramount importance. Assume that anything you say can and will be used against you either by the opposing party or by the Committee itself. Should you misbehave or do anything to irritate Committee members, even if you are provoked or goaded, the Committee will take this as a strong indication that you are the party at fault in the case. If you are a party the safest course is not to participate in regular editing or talk page discussions until the case is closed, lest you inadvertently say something incriminating.
  • If you have anything important to say make sure to say it at the start – the Request for Arbitration, which is the only page that most arbitrators can be relied upon to read. Here you have a chance to make one clear and concise point, with just enough diffs to show that you've done your homework. Do not make nuanced arguments that require careful reading or critical thought.
  • Participate in the Evidence and Workshop pages if you wish but do not harbor illusions that more than one or two of the arbitrators will skim those pages. Be aware that there is risk in participating. If the pages degenerate into acrimony the arbitrators will not parse tens of thousands of words to see who was at fault: all participants will be tarred with the same brush.
  • If you feel you must comment, rely on context-free diffs (or "specific examples of problematic behavior" as the committee puts it) that do not require critical thought. If you cannot do this it is better to say nothing.
  • A tactic that some have employed successfully is diff bombing, that is, supporting a point with a large number of diffs many of which are of little or no relevance. (This follows Comrade Stalin's advice that "quantity has a quality all its own.") Although the tactic does not always work experience shows that its use carries no risk.
  • You should be available to respond to questions from clerks or Committee members, but restrict yourself to brief and direct responses to questions. Do not make points that require careful thinking, attention to detail, or knowledge of the circumstances leading up to the case.
  • For the adventurous, post to Wikipedia Review. Some of the arbitrators pay attention to comments made there.[1]

After the case[edit]

  • Criticizing the decision after it has been made is pointless. The committee will not change its mind or revise the decision soon after it has been announced (other than correcting obvious clerical errors). There are rare precedents for revisiting a decision some months after it has been made, especially if new members have been elected in the meantime.
  • The arbitrators have their pride but most of them want to do the right thing. They will rarely if ever admit that they have botched the management of a case. Instead, they will quietly take steps to correct the problem in future cases. For example, the committee did not acknowledge responsibility for allowing the Workshop and Evidence pages in the aforementioned Abd-WMC case to spin badly out of control. But in a case that followed soon thereafter, they enforced decorum with draconian strictness.
  • You're completely on your own in interpreting any nuances or inconsistencies in the announced decision. While it is possible to file a request for clarification my experience is that the Arbitrators would rather gnaw their own limbs off than provide meaningful guidance to the implications of their decisions.