Crowd Arbitration: Crowdsourced Dispute Resolution Part III
By: Leonora Camner
Crowdsourcing in dispute resolution continued…
Do the benefits of time and cost savings make crowd arbitration a less reliable means of dispute resolution? In fact, the result is the opposite–having more people participate is actually likely to make the dispute resolution far more reliable and predictable than any other method. This reliability comes from the power of numbers. Statistically, averaging a larger sample provides a more accurate reflection of the community’s reasoning and values. Put another way, crowd arbitration eliminates the issue of bias and outliers that plague decisions rendered by only one or a few people. Crowd arbitration is like having hundreds or thousands of jury trials or arbitrations and then averaging the results–no party would ever be able to blame a result on random chance, bias, or a fluke. By reviewing past crowd arbitrations, parties can create very strong predictions about what the most likely outcomes will be before they even submit their dispute.
The power of numbers in crowd arbitration can also provide benefits in the form of copious amounts of data. Large amounts of data in crowd arbitration can indicate trends and biases of the community. Like a continuous statistical experiment, crowd arbitration can show whether certain word choices, race, or age contribute to statistically significant differences in outcomes. For example, perhaps misspellings contribute to a higher likelihood of loss in the final outcome. These trends are easy to spot when so much data is available. Thus, these factors can potentially be balanced and adjusted for by parties or the arbitration service itself in order to create fairer arbitrations. Similarly, individual arbitrators who show consistent bias (for example, against certain races) can have their own individual weight adjusted or be banned from the community.
Historically in the US, jury trials have been valued as ways to gauge the values and views of the community. However, US jury trials are only small samples of any particular community, and because of various disqualification rules and peremptory challenges, they often differ from the larger community. Crowd arbitration, with its larger sample size, reflects the viewpoints of the community much more accurately than jury trials ever could.
Despite the advantage of increased reliability, crowd arbitration may have unique challenges and issues that are not currently dealt with in arbitration or litigation. The largest issue may be privacy. Because of the number of people reviewing a dispute in crowd arbitration, that many people will also be familiar with the embarrassing details of the parties. For individuals, it may be undesirable to have personal conflicts put on display to the world. For businesses, it may be impossible, as it could harm their commercial image, or leak trade secrets or proprietary information. While names and identifying detail could be censored somewhat to decrease the impact of this issue, for large businesses where privacy is of more importance than the other benefits discussed for crowd arbitration, traditional arbitration may be preferable.
Another potential issue with crowd arbitration is the risk of manipulation of the process. For example, one party might try to use advertisements or money to recruit participants to weigh in on the dispute. This is an issue that many online communities and polls face. Wikipedia, for example, bans “canvassing,” which is the recruitment of voters to a dispute from elsewhere on the internet. See Wikipedia, Wikipedia: Canvassing, available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Canvassing (last visited March 23, 2014). However, because arbitrators would likely be randomly assigned to disputes, and additionally, vetted first through lower-stakes disputes, this problem could be minimized. Furthermore, abuse would likely be easier to spot in crowd arbitration than traditional arbitration, since statistical trends of arbitrators could be compared and anomalies identified.
The demographics of people arbitrating in crowd arbitration may differ significantly from the traditional arbitration community. The demographics would likely be similar to the internet and other large web communities: young and more likely male, etc. See Demographics of Internet Users, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, http://www.pewinternet.org/
Another problem that arises with large amounts of people is “mob mentality.” This is due to the fact that people often side with popular opinions–In other words, the influence of peer pressure might skew the results of some disputes. This is only an issue in crowd arbitrations where arbitrators can have open discussions and see the opinions of others. However, even in this scenario, the influence of popular opinions may be justifiably persuasive. The popularity of an idea may be due to its merits, and not simply peer pressure. Thus, “mob mentality” may not always be a negative thing.
Stayed tuned for more on crowd arbitration and justice!