Research:Arbitration Committee and decision-making on Wikipedia

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Piotr Konieczny
Duration:  2013-09 – 2014-6
This page documents a completed research project.

Key Personnel[edit]

  • Piotr Konieczny

Project Summary[edit]

In Wikipedia's community of over a million editors, it is not uncommon for members of said community to commit various transgressions against the site's policies. To deal with them, the Wikipedia community has evolved its own crime fighting forces. Over two thousands of the community members are known as administrators, with the power of blocking disruptive users at will. Within the body of administrators there are numerous specialized groups, from expert vandals fighters gathered in the „Counter-Vandalism Unit” to a less common breed of checkusers, who conduct „sock-puppet investigations” in cases where a previously sanctioned editor is suspect to have returned under a new ID. In addition to this quasi-like police force, there are volunteers specializing in dispute resolution, from mediators to the elected members of a court-like institution, the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom). The activities of those groups have an immense impact on Wikipedia, and have even merited an occasional coverage in mainstream press (most prominently, in the instance of the ArbCom ruling on scientology-related editors (see w:Church of Scientology editing on Wikipedia). Despite that, outside Hoffman and Salil (2010) no academic studies have been undertaken to understood how the system of Wikipedia justice has evolved and how is it functioning, despite it's crucial important to the Wikipedia's community.

It is my hope that the following study contributes useful data to our understanding of a number of phenomena. It should contribute to the expansion of the body of organizational research beyond commonly studied organizations such as political parties, companies and social movements, towards the body of peer production-centered organizations. The study should offer insights into the workings of collegiate courts in general, as well as to the nature of self-evolving (adhocratic) groups, increasingly common among Internet communities. Although not all deliberations of the Arbitration Committee are made public, almost all Wikipedia activity of the arbitrators is publicly logged, allowing for an analysis of the levels of judge (arbitrator) activity, and measurement of whether patterns in said activity impacts the arbitrators actions. Evidence for existence (or lack of) patterns of acclimatization, socialization and conflict avoidance can be analyzed as well.

One of my primary research questions concerns the hypothesis that more active arbitrators have more influence on the Committee decisions. I hope that my research will allow us to quantify this in the form of a statement such as ("20% of arbitrators are responsible for 80% of the votes") or such, and further, it will allow us to understand what makes some arbitrators more or less active. This, in turn, will hopefully result in us being able to ask more refined questions to future arbcom candidates, selecting candidates which will be more active on average, which in turn will improve the functioning of the Committee in the future.


Data is collected from a survey, interviews and publicly available datasets (Wikipedia's activity logs).


Results will be presented in an academic conference and journals. I will also try to make them available to interested community members, including by presenting the results here if the paper has been accepted for publication in a non-open access venue.

A working draft, when finished (April/May 2014?), will be made available to interested readers. Interested readers should contact the author by email.

Wikimedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects Protection[edit]

Participation in this study is entirely at will.

Anonymity, privacy and confidentiality of respondents will be respected. No identifiable details, user IDs, or such will be shared with third parties, published or otherwise made public.

My research adheres to American Sociological Association Code of Ethics and w:Wikipedia:Ethically researching Wikipedia guidelines.

Benefits for the Wikimedia community[edit]

Better understanding of the functioning of the Arbitration Committee may increase the community's trust in the body, and allow said body to reform itself to be more efficient.


Data collection: late-2013 - early-2014. Data analysis: finished. At this point the research has been collected into a paper, draft version of which were already sent to interested participants. Once the paper is accepted, I'll make the draft publicly available here, through in the meantime any interested editors are welcome to ask me for a copy.



External links[edit]