Arbitration is a tool used on Wikipedia to determine, essentially, whether or not a controversial ban should be made. Unlike a normal court case, on Wikipedia they can decide to ban the person who made the complaint, or even one of the witnesses.
When Wikipedia first began, there was no arbitration and there was also no such thing as bans. Eventually Jimbo Wales was forced to ban a few people, for obvious cases of spamming or hacking etc. Eventually he allowed administrators to also do this in obvious cases. Jimbo eventually had too much time to look into controversial cases, so for controversial cases he created an arbitration committee, who could then decide on cases in a pseudo-legal fashion. Whilst the people on the Arbitration Committee were hand picked by Jimbo himself, they are now appointed partially through votes in a pseudo-democratic election. Ultimately, however, Jimbo gets to decide who is and isn't on the committee.
Nature of the cases
Most cases are attempts to ban someone who has not done anything that is obviously against any rules. Some types of cases include:
- Content dispute - one side is false while the other side is true - in most cases the arbitration committee will side with the side that is making it up, often because that side has power on Wikipedia (e.g. they are administrators).
- Content dispute - both sides are right, but it is impossible because of the impossibility of abiding by NPOV - in many cases the arbitration committee will ban both groups, although sometimes neither may be in trouble. Sometimes they will side with one group, usually because of who they are.
- Stalking / harassment - whilst Wikipedia in actuality does absolutely nothing about serious stalking and harassment, they like to pretend that they do. As such, whenever a powerful person on Wikipedia makes up a story about this, they act by banning everyone who opposes them. For example SlimVirgin and MONGO have made up such stories. In real cases of stalking / harassment, the arbitration committee will not actually handle the dispute.
- Legal threats - Wikipedia likes to think that breaking the law and slandering someone's name is no big deal, but complaining about it is grounds for banishment. Even if there were no actual legal threats, they nonetheless like to ban someone over it.
- Personal attacks - Whilst the likes of Snowspinner and Tony Sidaway can swear their heads off and perennial bullies like Antaeus Feldspar and Lulu of the Lotus Eaters can harass and stalk anyone they like, if anyone dares to retaliate, they can get banned.
The public display of it all
Eventually, Jimbo Wales accepted that displaying such information is harmful to a person, especially where it mentions their real names, but also when the username that they used on Wikipedia was one that they used elsewhere. As such, Jimbo Wales has now decided to allow courtesy blanking, whereby the front page of arbitration cases may be hidden, and hence not appear in Google searches et al.
Nonetheless, in many cases the arbitration case itself is slander, and is illegal. It is for this reason that most other places (for example Live Journal) refuse to allow such things to be visible by members of the public. Just the same, Wikipedia is unlike most places in allowing it.
What counts as evidence
Difference between revisions is all that counts as evidence. People have to wade through Wikipedia to find differences that look incriminating. They can quote out of context, ignore what the very next revision is, and so forth. As in most cases the person who is being questioned is banned, they cannot counter these arguments. In many cases they are also newbies and don't know how to do it. On top of that, the people trying to justify the ban are often administrators, who can simply delete all of the revisions that would hurt their case.
Nonetheless, they keep up this evidence, no matter how falsified and misleading. Combined with false sock puppet claims, they are able to claim that various things said by someone else are by them, and so forth.
The results are usually banishment. The person banned isn't always the one who was attacked - sometimes the person who made the complaint is the one who is banned. Sometimes uninvolved witnesses are banned.
It all is listed as a "remedy".
They fail to notice that this "remedy" actually makes things several times worse.
After effects of this is that at any time in the future anyone can ban whoever they like by claiming that they are sock puppets of whoever was in the arbitration. They can then use these false sock puppet claims to justify worse things for the arbitration, and so forth.
All the while, a person's real name and internet experience is greatly worsened.
It is all, essentially, politics, and it is part of the reason that Wikipedia is really awful.
Another perspective about arbitration on Wikipedia
Arbitration is a forum administered by tools and sycophants on Wikipedia to undermine, essentially, editors who aren't popular. The body of non-contributing "editors" determines punishments for those they don't like. Unlike a normal court case, arbitrators on Wikipedia can decide to ban the person who made the complaint, or even one of the witnesses.