Arbitration Committee
Arbitration Committee.jpg
Screenshot of the Arbitration Committee description page in 2019
FormationDecember 4, 2003 (2003-12-04)[1]
Region served

On Wikimedia Foundation projects, an Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) is a binding dispute resolution panel of editors. The first project to use an arbitration committee, and the most widely covered, is the English Wikipedia. Each of Wikimedia's projects are editorially autonomous and independent. Therefore, over time, other Wikimedia projects have established arbitration committees. Arbitration committees are established by a project's editors and are usually elected by their community in annual elections. They address misconduct by administrators, access to various advanced tools, and a range of "real world" issues related to harmful conduct that can arise in the context of a Wikipedia project worldwide.[2][3] Rulings, policies and procedures differ from project to project depending on local and cultural context. According to the Wikimedia Terms of Use, users are not obliged to have a dispute solved by an Arbitration Committee.[4]

Arbitration committees generally have the authority to impose sanctions and can determine which users have access to special permissions.[citation needed]

The first Wikimedia project to use an arbitration committee, was the Swedish Wikipedia, soon followed by the widely covered English Wikipedia Committee. Over time, other Wikimedia projects have established arbitration committees as well.

The English Wikipedia arbitration committee was created by Jimmy Wales on December 4, 2003 as an extension of the decision-making power he formerly held as CEO of site-owner Bomis Inc..[1][5] The arbitration committee acts as a court of last resort for disputes among editors. The English Wikipedia Committee has been described in the media variously as 'quasi-judicial' or a Wikipedian 'High/Supreme Court', although the Committee states that it is not, nor pretends to be, a court of law in the formal sense. It has decided several hundred cases in its history.[6] Members of the committee were appointed by Wales either in person or email following advisory elections; Wales generally did choose to appoint arbitrators who received the most votes.[7][needs update]

The Foundation's Arbitration Committee process has been examined by academics researching dispute resolution, and has been reported in public media in connection with various case decisions and Wikipedia-related controversies.[5][8][9]


The Swedish Wikipedia "thing" of November 2002 became the first instance akin to a prototype arbitration committee on any Wikipedia language version.[10]

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.[5][11] Over time the concept of an "Arbitration Committee" was adopted by other communities within the Wikimedia Foundation's hosted projects.

When founded, the Committee consisted of 12 arbitrators divided into three groups of four members each.[1][12] As of 2008, it had decided around 371 conduct cases, with remedies varying from warnings to bans.[13][14][failed verification]

On English Wikipedia


A statistical study published in the Emory Law Journal in 2010 indicated that the committee has generally adhered to the principles of ignoring the content of user disputes and focusing on user conduct.[5] 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.[15][16][17] Also in 2007, the committee banned Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Carl Hewitt from editing the online encyclopedia for "disruptive" behavior of manipulating articles to align with his own research.[18] In May 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.[8]

In 2009, the committee was brought to media attention as a result of its decision to ban "all IP addresses owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates, broadly interpreted", as part of the fourth Scientology-related case.[6][19] Such an action had "little precedent"[6] 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.[6][19][20] Satirical news-show host Stephen Colbert ran a segment on The Colbert Report parodying the ban.[21]

In 2015, the committee received attention for its ruling pertaining to Gamergate, in which one editor was banned from the site indefinitely and several others were banned from topics relating to Gamergate or gender.[22]

In June 2015, the committee removed advanced permissions from Richard Symonds, an activist for the British party the Liberal Democrats.[23] Symonds had improperly blocked a Wikipedia account, and associated its edits with former Chairman of the Conservative Party Grant Shapps,[24] and leaked this to The Guardian.[23] Shapps denied ownership of the account, calling the allegations "categorically false and defamatory".[25] Symonds said in an interview that he stands by his actions.[26]

A 2017 study found that the committee's decision making was mostly unaffected by extra-legal factors such as nationality, activity/experience, conflict avoidance, and time constraints. The same study found that the committee's decision making was affected much more by time constraints than that of conventional courts.[27]

On Wikimedia Foundation projects worldwide

The Swedish Wikipedia "thing" of 24 November 2002 became the first instance akin to a prototype arbitration committee on any Wikipedia language version, effectively making Swedish Wikipedia the first decentralised franchise while the rest of Wikipedia was still under Jim Wales' direct personal supervision.[28]

In 2004 a proper Arbitration Committee was founded on the French Wikipedia,[29] and in 2007, on the German[30] Polish, Finnish and Dutch Wikipedias.[31] Arbitration Committees are now used on eleven Wikipedia versions and the English Wikinews.


  1. ^ a b c Wales, Jimmy (December 4, 2003). "WikiEN-l Wikiquette committee appointments". Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved June 9, 2009.
  2. ^ Arbitration Committee
  3. ^ Wikimedia Committees
  4. ^ Wikimedia Terms of USe - # 13 Disputes and Jurisdictions
  5. ^ a b c d Hoffman, David A.; Salil Mehra (2010). "Wikitruth Through Wikiorder". Emory Law Journal. 59 (2010). SSRN 1354424.
  6. ^ a b c d Cohen, Noam (June 7, 2009). "The Wars of Words on Wikipedia's Outskirts". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 28, 2014. Retrieved June 9, 2009.
  7. ^ Broughton, John (2008). Wikipedia: The Missing Manual. O'Reilly Media. pp. 208–209. ISBN 9780596553777.
  8. ^ a b Welham, Jamie; Nina Lakhan (June 8, 2009). "Wikipedia sentinel quits after 'sock-puppeting' scandal". The New Zealand Herald. APN Holdings NZ Limited. Retrieved June 9, 2009.
  9. ^ Moore, Matthew (May 30, 2009). "Church of Scientology members banned from editing Wikipedia". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Ltd. Archived from the original on June 2, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2009.
  10. ^ "Så fungerar Wikipedia/Wikipedias historia". Lennart Guldbrandsson, March 9, 2010. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  11. ^ Roshuk, Alex T. (2008). "Law office of Alex T. Roshuk". Archived from the original on June 29, 2009. Retrieved June 14, 2009.
  12. ^ Hyatt, Josh (June 1, 2006). "Secrets of Greatness: Great Teams". Fortune. Time Warner. Retrieved June 15, 2009.
  13. ^ Lamb, Gregory M. (January 5, 2006). "Online Wikipedia is not Britannica - but it's close". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved June 15, 2009.
  14. ^ Williams, Sam (April 27, 2004). "Everyone is an editor". Salon Media Group. Retrieved June 9, 2009.
  15. ^ Cohen, Noam (March 12, 2007). "After False Claim, Wikipedia to Check Degrees". The New York Times. Retrieved June 14, 2009.
  16. ^ Hafner, Katie (June 17, 2006). "Growing Wikipedia Refines Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy". The New York Times. Retrieved June 9, 2009.
  17. ^ Cohen, Noam (March 5, 2007). "A Contributor to Wikipedia Has His Fictional Side". The New York Times. Retrieved June 9, 2009.
  18. ^ Kleeman, Jenny (December 9, 2007). "Wikipedia ban for disruptive professor". The Guardian. Retrieved December 3, 2014.
  19. ^ a b Fitzsimmons, Caitlin (May 29, 2009). "Wikipedia bans Church of Scientology from editing". The Guardian. Archived from the original on June 11, 2009. Retrieved June 14, 2009.
  20. ^ Heussner, Ki Mae; Ned Potter (May 29, 2009). "Wikipedia Blocks Church of Scientology From Editing Entries". ABC News. Archived from the original on June 2, 2009. Retrieved June 14, 2009.
  21. ^ Colbert, Stephen (June 4, 2009). "Wikipedia Bans Scientologists" (Flash Player). Comedy Central. MTV Networks. Retrieved June 14, 2009.
  22. ^ Dewey, Caitlin (January 29, 2015). "Gamergate, Wikipedia and the limits of 'human knowledge'". Washington Post. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  23. ^ a b "Censure for Grant Shapps' Wikipedia accuser - BBC News". June 8, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
  24. ^ "Andy McSmith's Diary: Ed Balls and Jack Straw off the Labour peerage list". June 8, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
  25. ^ Randeep Ramesh. "Nick Clegg mocks Grant Shapps over Wikipedia affair". the Guardian.
  26. ^ Ramesh, Randeep (April 24, 2015). "Wikipedia volunteer who blocked 'Grant Shapps' account: I stand by my decision". The Guardian.
  27. ^ Konieczny, Piotr (August 11, 2017). "Decision making in the self-evolved collegiate court: Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee and its implications for self-governance and judiciary in cyberspace". International Sociology. 32 (6): 755–774. doi:10.1177/0268580917722906. ISSN 0268-5809. S2CID 149261265.
  28. ^ "Så fungerar Wikipedia/Wikipedias historia". Lennart Guldbrandsson, March 9, 2010. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  29. ^ Florence Millerand; Serge Proulx; Julien Rueff (2010). Web Social: Mutation de la Communication (in français). PUQ. p. 66. ISBN 9782760524989.
  30. ^ ,Kleinz, Torsten (April 30, 2007). "Wikipedia sucht Schiedsrichter" (in Deutsch). Heise Online. Archived from the original on May 1, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2009.
  31. ^ "Komitet arbitrażowy oraz mediatorzy w Wikipedii" (in polski). Blog wikipedystyczny. August 31, 2007. Retrieved February 1, 2012.