Pelligrini has another way of putting it. “It’s almost entirely a cost-benefit analysis: does keeping you on the wiki help the encyclopedia? If yes, then we’ll probably keep you around. If your overall presence is a detriment to the project, then we’ll probably wish you well and send you on your way.”
Kelly Martin, a former arbitration committee member, cites controversy around an article titled the Criticism of Communism: “We had two editors who were both clearly good contributors, but both of them had behavioral problems that didn’t reach the level that we didn’t want them on Wikipedia, and we had a lot of trouble coming up with a solution for them.”
Powers at the committee’s disposal include, at most, blocking or banning users from the project. Though they seem to have a relatively poor stick to work with, it seems to be enough.
“We’re all addicted to Wikipedia; we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t in love with this project,” explains Forrester. “So we can understand what a difficult and terrible thing it would be to be banned from Wikipedia.”
For the theoretical level of power that this arbitration committee holds, in terms of regulating the traffic on a very influential web-site, they are much more informal and, well, arbitrary, than you might expect.
“We don’t have a term where we say, you violated term XYZ, we just say: you’re a pest,” she says later.
“Don’t be a dick,” says Pelligrini.
10:30 pm — It’s the guy from Davis Square T stop. He’s playing soothing world music rhythms. We’re in the MIT Museum, the bar is open, and the Wikipedians are milling about the room. We pass by holograms, a START computer that holds one of the original search engines, and a film clip depicting a robot kangaroo.
People move around in groups to talk to others they’ve only known as Gstar24 or Mindspill. They talk about the panels, postulating and congratulating their way into the future of the internet.
We walk away from Wikimania with the sense that there’s huge potential for equalization of the world’s knowledge base — and Wikipedia is a step in that direction — but equalization is only as good as the number of people allowed onto the network.