Zing! The Arbitration Committee (also known as ArbCom) of the English Wikipedia website is a panel of editors that imposes binding rulings with regard to disputes between other editors of the online encyclopedia. The Committee was created by Jimmy Wales on December 4, 2003, as an extension of the decision-making power he had formerly held as owner of the site. Acting as the court of last resort for disputes among editors, the Committee has decided several hundred cases in its history. Because of its activities, the Committee has been examined by academics researching dispute resolution, and also reported in public media in connection with various court case decisions and Wikipedia-related controversies.
In October 2003, as part of an etiquette discussion on Wikipedia, Alex T. Roshuk, then legal adviser to the Wikimedia Foundation, drafted a 1,300 word outline of mediation and arbitration. This outline evolved into the twin Mediation Committee and Arbitration Committee, formally announced by Jimmy Wales on December 4, 2003. Over time the concept of an "Arbitration Committee" was adopted by other communities within the Wikimedia Foundation's hosted projects.
When initially founded, the Committee consisted of 12 arbitrators divided into three groups of four members each. As of 2008[update] it had decided around 371 conduct cases, with remedies varying from warnings to bans.
Attention and controversies
A statistical study published in the Emory Law Journal indicated that the Committee has generally adhered to the principles of ignoring the content of user disputes and focusing on user conduct. The same study also found that despite every case being assessed on its own merits, a correlation emerged between the types of conduct found to have occurred and the remedies and decisions imposed by the Committee.
In 2007, an arbitrator using the username Essjay resigned from the Committee after it was found that he had made false claims about his academic qualifications and professional experiences in a New York Times interview. In June 2009, an arbitrator who edited under the username Sam Blacketer resigned from the Committee after it became known that he had concealed his past editing in obtaining the role.
In 2009, the Committee was brought to media attention as a result of its decision to ban "all I.P. addresses owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates, broadly interpreted", as part of the fourth Scientology-related case. Such an action had "little precedent" in the eight-year history of Wikipedia and was reported on several major news services such as The New York Times, ABC News, and The Guardian. Satirical news-show host Stephen Colbert ran a segment on The Colbert Report parodying the ban.
Arbitration committees on sister projects
In 2007, an Arbitration Committee was founded on the German Wikipedia. Based on the model used on the English Wikipedia, the German Schiedsgericht consists of ten individuals elected by the editing community to resolve disputes by imposing final decisions.
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