This week saw scandal erupting around the Arbitration Committee after administrator Law was revealed to be a sockpuppet of the_undertow—a sockpuppet apparently operated with the knowledge of numerous administrators and of at least one member of the Committee.
Administrator Sandstein had, on 20 September, filed a request for arbitration regarding Law's unblock of ChildofMidnight, whom Sandstein had blocked under the provisions of the Obama articles arbitration decision. At first, there was no indication that the case was anything more than a routine dispute between two administrators—albeit not a particularly complex one, as the Arbitration Committee appeared to be moving towards dealing with the matter by a summary motion instead of a full case.
On 30 September, however, the case suddenly took a bizarre turn, as arbitrator Risker
blocked Law indefinitely and posted a motion that stated:
The Arbitration Committee has been informed that Law (talk · contribs · blocks · protections · deletions · page moves · rights · RfA) is an alternate account of The undertow (talk · contribs), and this has been confirmed with the user involved. User:Law has now resigned his administrator tools. At the time that the User:Law account was created, User:The undertow was subject to an Arbitration Committee ban.
The Arbitration Committee notes the resignation of administrator tools by Law (talk · contribs · blocks · protections · deletions · page moves · rights · RfA), and further notes that this resignation is under controversial circumstances. The user is restricted to one account, The undertow (talk · contribs). He is required to notify the Arbitration Committee in advance should he wish to change usernames or create a new account, in accordance with Arbitration Committee enforcement procedures initiated in June 2009.
By the end of the day, ten arbitrators had voted in favor of the motion.
Shortly before midnight on 30 September, arbitrator Casliber
posted a statement
to the Committee's noticeboard, admitting that he knew of Law's previous identity and apologizing to the community. Casliber wrote:
I did know that Law was the undertow for several months...
I first got to know the Undertow before the time which saw his editing privileges revoked for 9 months. He was having a rough patch and I talked to him a few times and he picked up and felt better afterwards and was very grateful. I didn't hear from him for some time until he popped up and told me about the Law account. He told me that the issues which had resulted in the ban had been settled.
After this, I tried to persuade him several times to come clean which he deliberated on (as I figured this was the least dramatic way of dealing with the issue). He was at several stages going to retire the Law account, frequently enough for me to desist from pursuing it (combined with a large number of arb-related, wikipedia-related and RL-related issues keeping me very busy). I became aware of the successful RfA and was unhappy about it, and continued talking to him off and on about how to come clean. For the most part, his editing has been very productive. Once the issue with the unblock of Sandstein's block of ChildofMidnight arose, I realised I was put in a spot and confessed to the committee a day ago, after the committee became alerted to the identities by another incident.
Yes, this was a bad decision on my part and I apologise...
Early the next day, Casliber resigned from the Committee—a move which garnered equal parts approval and regret from the community. "We are none of us perfect, and we all make mistakes, but the good that we do when we do it, and the good advice we give, and the strangers we have helped, are our silent memorials. You have also these last few hours provided a few drops of dignity in what appears to be a murky matter, no matter what accusations regarding failings of character have been made..." wrote administrator LessHeard vanU, echoing the feelings of many other editors.
The focus of the discussion had meanwhile turned to the question of who, exactly, had known of Law's previous identity. The investigation turned quickly to the administrators who had taken part in Law's request for adminship, and allegations were made that they had colluded to deceive the community regarding the identity of the nominee.
, who had nominated Law, was unapologetic
Yes, I was aware that The_undertow and Law are the same person... I did purposefully leave out any mention of The_undertow in his RfA nomination; I wanted editors to judge him solely by his actions and edits as Law. I would also like to reaffirm my trust in this editor and call attention to his overwhelmingly positive track record as Law; he has written quality articles, collaborated peacefully with other editors, and used the tools in a manner that is a net positive to this project. It is unfortunate that his identity was revealed this way, and I take this opportunity to note my extreme displeasure with the actions and behavior of the other editors involved in leaking the information... It is quite a mystery to me why this particular instance seems to be generating such a dramastorm.
Another of the involved administrators, Jennavecia
, was even more blunt
He's my best friend. Big deal. I trust him. That's why I supported him. I don't care if he broke a rule on a website... I'll always have his back no matter what, because we're friends regardless of what's going on with Wikipedia. I would never put a website before a friendship. And I would never not get his back because I'm an admin. If you don't trust me with my tools, recall me, but I won't be admonished for supporting my best friend.
Meanwhile, arbitrator John Vandenberg
posted an apology of his own
It was brought to my attention this morning, about 9 hours ago, that a functionary had privately informed me on August 21 about the connection between Law and The undertow... My apologies for adding to the recent confusion, especially to the functionary who believed that they had elevated the matter to the committee appropriately. I dropped the ball, and didn't go back to pick it up once I had more time on my hands.
The statement caused a flurry of speculation regarding the identity of the functionary, and the reason why he had written to John, which continued until Keegan identified himself
as the editor in question. It then emerged that another functionary had, in fact, used the oversight
tool to remove posts identifying Law as the_undertow; arbitrator FloNight
, speaking on behalf of the Audit Subcommittee
that they would be "reviewing the situation according to our usual practices".
More arbitration requested
Late on 1 October, administrator Jehochman filed a new request for arbitration, calling on the Arbitration Committee to remove the administrator status of those administrators who had knowingly supported Law's own request for adminship. Over the next few days, nearly sixty editors had commented on the request, variously supporting it, opposing it, arguing over whether the Committee was empowered to act on it, suggesting that the administrators in question be recalled, or commenting on a variety of tangential matters. As yet, only Carcharoth has voted on whether to accept the request, although a number of other arbitrators have either recused themselves or posted comments.
On 3 October, Jehochman filed a second request, asking that the first request be heard in an irregular manner—as a collection of requests for comments rather than a normal case. Arbitrator response has been underwhelming.
Policy and codes of conduct
Other editors, meanwhile, have taken the opportunity to pursue a number of policy reform proposals. The most prominent of these, the Arbitration Committee code of conduct, was proposed by administrator SlimVirgin. Among other clauses, the proposed code would include provisions requiring arbitrators to report any "serious violation of policy" or "any violation of the Committee's sanctions" to the rest of the Committee.
At the same time, the matter has renewed interest in the draft arbitration policy that was published for community comment by the Committee earlier this year. Little work on the draft has been done since the second version was released in late June; now, a number of editors have suggested that the Committee is too busy with other tasks to make further progress, and that the community must see to the future development of the policy on its own. Debate over these issues, as well as over the substance of the policy, continues unabated.