Social Media

Yo! Sockpuppets!

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

There is considerably more organization to Wikipedia than meets the eye. For instance, not all user accounts are treated equally, and specific types of users can be banned from Wikipedia access. One such type of user is known as a sock puppet or, more typically, sockpuppet.

A sockpuppet is a Wikipedia contributor who writes under multiple accounts for nefarious purposes. I discovered the concept of ’sockpuppet’, when a Wikipedia editor decided to investigate those responding to the AFD (Articles For Deletion) page associated with my entry.

According to the editor, Samw:

I took the liberty of commenting on possible sockpuppets on this AFD and IMHO they are all real users: or someone is patiently taking months to build up sockpuppet accounts. I don’t know who Shelley Powers is but she obviously influences “lurkers” on Wikipedia. Shelley, well done!

Contrary to popular assumption, there are levels of trust attached to Wikipedia contributors. True, anyone can edit; but the value of your edit is proportional to your previous contributions. In the case of those who voted to ‘Keep’ my entry, and based on a history of previous contributions, Samw decided that the respondents were ‘real’ and therefore ‘valid’. However, he judged previous contributions to be sparse by Wikipedia standards, and therefore several of the respondents were classified as ‘lurkers’.

Is being a lurker bad? There is no qualification of such one way or another in the Wikipedia guidelines about lurkers, as there is for sockpuppets. The latter, though, is strongly discouraged and if an account is identified as a sockpuppeteer, will be labeled as such and the account blocked.

Having multiple accounts is not the same as being a sockpuppeteer, as there can be legitimate reasons for such. For instance, one of the board members of Wikipedia has two accounts: one each for contributions in two difference languages. Accepted practice (become familiar with this concept if you work in Wikipedia frequently) is to link the multiple accounts together–to demonstrate that there is no intention to deceive.

It is intent to deceive or to dabble in malicious mischief that sets a sock puppeteer apart from a legitimate user with multiple accounts. Sockpuppet accounts are either created deliberately in order to vote multiple times, or to setup “straw man sock puppets” in order to provide weak counter-arguments:

One type of sock puppet is sometimes referred to as a “straw man sock puppet.” They are created by users with one point of view, but act as though they have an opposing point of view, in order to make that point of view look bad, or to act as an online agent provocateur. They will often make poor arguments which their “opponents” can then easily refute. This can allow them to essentially make straw man arguments. Such sock puppets thus become a personification of the straw man argument which their creators argue against. They often act unintelligent or uninformed, and may behave in an overtly bigoted manner. The effect is often to obfuscate the debate and prevent a serious discussion of the arguments from each side. Suspicion of such sock puppets is often harder to verify though, as there are often people who naturally behave in such a manner with the same effects.

Returning to my AFD, the reason the editor checked to see if there were any sockpuppet accounts associated with the voting is that sockpuppeteers typically show up whenever there is an article deletion or modification being debated. Since there were several ‘votes’ associated with my page, one would assume it triggered enough interest to spur verification of the votes before consensus was declared.

What the editor found is that if the votes on my page were not from sockpuppet accounts, they also weren’t meatpuppets. What’s a meatpuppet? According to Wikipedia:

A related issue occurs when non-Wikipedians create new accounts specifically to influence a particular vote or discussion. This is especially common in deletion discussions. These newly created accounts (or anonymous edits) may be friends of a Wikipedian, or may be related in some way to the subject of an article under discussion.

These accounts are not actually sockpuppets, but they are difficult to distinguish from real sockpuppets and are treated similarly. Neither a sockpuppet nor a brand-new, single-purpose account holder is a member of the Wikipedia community. The reason behind this is, for instance, that an article about an online community should not be kept merely because all members of that community show up to vote for it. The Arbitration Committee has ruled that, for the purpose of dispute resolution, when there is uncertainty whether a party is one user with sockpuppets or several users with similar editing habits they may be treated as one user with sockpuppets.

In the case of my ‘voters’, Samw found only one person who might possibly fit the concept of ‘meatpuppet’–an account with only one vote, the one for the article under consideration for deletion.

(How did Samw find out the list of contributions? There is a link to this from a contributor’s User page, regardless if they have created one or not. Look for the link to “User Contributions” in the left sidebar. You can also use the following links, edited to query either the IP address or User account name, and the appropriate Wikipedia language database:

IP Address:

User account:

For more on User Contributions, consult the meta-wiki guide.)

Wikipedia guidelines state that meatpuppet accounts are not true Wikipedia contributor accounts. As such, based on this guideline, if several of you who had never contributed to Wikipedia before had suddenly voted to ‘keep’ my entry–either anonymously (where only your IP address would have shown), or via a brand new account–you would have, most likely, led to the deletion of the entry. Why? The logic behind this is fascinating.

In the case of a community vote, all the votes would have been seen as members of a community speaking with one voice. Since an individual ‘voice’ is only entitled to one vote, there should be only one community vote in the article debate. However, if there are many votes from many different accounts, the votes would have violated the concept of ‘one voice, one vote’, and therefore all would have been classified as a variation of sockpuppet accounts, and disregarded as such.

As regards my entry, since several of the contributors who voted to ‘keep’ my entry either contribute frequently, or have contributed far enough in the past to rule out potential sockpuppet distinction, all are considered viable members of the Wikipedia community and their votes can be ‘trusted’ accordingly.

Next, the editors will evaluate the integrity of the anonymous voters (using these same guidelines), as well as the adherence of this article to admission guidelines and, we can only assume if both are satisfactory, declare these votes valid also. At the end of the designated lag time for discussion (in the case of AFD, five days) the votes will be counted, and the entry kept, or deleted, based on the count.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email