Wikipedia:IP addresses are not people

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Unregistered users are those identified only by their IP address. The archaic term "anonymous editor" is misleading; in fact, the IP address provides a rough geographical location of the editor. While the people who use the IP address to edit are certainly human and add value to Wikipedia, the IP address itself isn't an account, isn't the same as a single person, and can't be treated exactly the same as a registered account in a few key areas.

Studies in 2004 and 2007 found that most vandalism (80%) is generated by IP address editors. While 80% of edits by unregistered users were not vandalism, the fact that the vast majority of vandalism does come from unregistered users requires reasonable limitations to what IP address editors can do.[1] The risk of sockpuppetry and vandalism is high enough that unregistered users are not allowed to create any article (a decision that followed the Wikipedia Seigenthaler biography incident), participate in Request for Adminship voting, many Arbitration discussions, any article that is semi-protected, and other venues. While every edit should stand on its own merits, there are important and valid reasons for having minor restrictions on unregistered users, primarily centering around the idea of accountability.

You are not a number[edit]

IP addresses are like masks, you never know who is behind them, or even how many people.

IP addresses are just that, addresses, not humans. Due to the shortage of available IPv4 addresses and the way that ISPs manage their networks, most IP addresses change often. For residential internet access, this means that the IP address typically changes every few days to few weeks. Corporate static IP addresses seldom change, but still can any time the business changes service type or ISP, as each ISP has a limited number of addresses that they can use. This makes it impossible for anyone to reliably track the contribution history of any unregistered user beyond a period of a few days to a few weeks. This is one reason why unregistered users are unaccountable for their previous edits.

In short, registered accounts are required to be controlled by a single person, by policy. IP addresses, however, may be controlled by 12 different people in one year, or hundreds of different people in one day. This is because the IP address isn't a human, it is simply a routing address, similar in some ways to your phone number. Unlike a phone number, most IP addresses aren't assigned to individual humans, but on an "as needed" basis.

Accountability[edit]

Mobile IP addresses[edit]

Another issue that compounds this is the recent rise in mobile internet access. Typically, a cellular carrier will have a very large bank of static IP addresses available when a customer wants to go online. These IP addresses are valid for that connection only, so an editor can literally create 12 edits on Wikipedia using 12 different IP addresses, within an hour's time. There is no practical way to tie these edits together since some carriers also use different IP address ranges, leading to the edits having radically different addresses.

Continuity[edit]

Accountability is virtually impossible for most unregistered users, because once your IP address changes and you are now signing comments under a different address, you lose the ability to change any previous comment that had the previous IP address, and you can't prove you are the same person that had previously contributed in a discussion. While this doesn't affect simple changes to articles, it can make detailed discussions that take days or weeks to complete difficult, as there is no way to prove you are the same person that had previously posted under a different IP address, and anyone living in the same geographical area can come in and claim that you are lying, and that THEY are really that prior IP address. This is very easy to abuse.

In addition, some templates which bring editor's attention to talk pages, such as {{talkback}}, e.g., to notify about a response, are useless for hopping IP editors.

Network address translation[edit]

Network address translation (NAT) is another problem for unregistered users. Some ISPs use NAT to reduce the number of IP addresses needed to serve a large number of clients. This means that you and perhaps dozens or hundreds of people are using the exact same IP address. The ISPs router will properly send and route the web client requests of you and others, so you don't get each other's requests, but to the outside world, it appears as one, single address. This is even done at most companies, where all the employees are behind a firewall/router, so to the outside world, it appears to be "one person" when it is in fact, a group of people. When someone in your NAT vandalizes Wikipedia, the result is that the IP address may be blocked, preventing you from participating. It also means that the talk page may be filled up with warnings and block templates for the actions of someone else. There is no way to differentiate the different humans or even know how many are sharing that one IP address, so the address must be blocked, effectively shutting down everyone using that NAT address.


Not all sockpuppets are fun.

Sockpuppetry[edit]

Sockpuppetry is defined as the use of multiple accounts or addresses for the purpose of abuse at Wikipedia. This includes trying to vote more than once in a poll, participating multiple times to give the appearance of stronger support for an idea than really exists, as well as evading blocks or other sanctions. Multiple account abuse is a serious and time-consuming problem at Wikipedia, and one of the most common methods used is for an editor to simply log out, then edit as if they were an unregistered user in the same AFD, talk page discussion or other venue for the purpose of deceiving others into thinking they are more than one person. This is so easy to do and difficult to fight that many venues simply do not allow voting or even discussion by unregistered users.

If an unregistered editor attempts to edit in good faith at a school, where all computers will typically resolve to the same IP address externally, they can easily be blocked for vandalism a fellow pupil commits. Appealing the block is close to impossible, as there is no technical way to prove the good faith and vandalism edits were not from the same person.

Semi-protection[edit]

Semi-protection is when an article has the state changed so that only registered users with several edits are allowed to make changes. This is usually for a limited period of time, but some pages are protected in this fashion for an indefinite period of time. Most policy pages are permanently semi-protected so that unregistered users are not able to make any modification to them. The same is true for most administrative or heavily used templates. Several administrative board pages, such as WP:SPI, either disallow IP addresses to file reports or bar participation altogether. Unregistered users are not allowed to participate in these areas because the potential for abuse outweighs the potential benefit of their participation.

IP address editors can ask for changes be made to articles by requesting changes on the corresponding talk page using the template: {{edit semi-protected}}. Response time depends on how many editors frequent that talk page and their willingness to assist others, so may vary from a few hours to a couple of weeks. It is somewhat inconvenient, but functional.

Sanctions[edit]

Another clear way that IP addresses are not human relates to sanctions. When an IP address is blocked, the purpose isn't to stop the edits coming from that address, it is to stop one or more human(s) from editing. If they change their IP address by cycling their cable modem or editing from a different location, they should be blocked for block evasion. This is a form of sockpuppetry. The purpose of the block is to deal with the human(s) involved. Blocking the IP address itself (or a range of IP addresses when necessary) is just a necessary step that sometimes has collateral damage. In contrast, when blocking registered users, the administrator has the option of also blocking the IP address that the registered user is currently on, demonstrating how the IP address is differentiated from the user.

Participation[edit]

There are several other areas that IP addresses (unregistered editors) are either prevented from participating in, or strongly discouraged. Unregistered editors can't run for adminship or vote in the RfA process. They can't participate in most Arbitration events. They shouldn't close AfDs, RfCs or other discussions. They usually can't get articles userfied. When there is a problem with sockpuppetry at an AfD or other venue, the first reaction is to semi-protect the page, so even innocent new and unregistered editors are barred from participating: necessary but collateral damage. Unregistered editors are not seen as de facto members of the community, as all communities are based on accountability. This is why we encourage every editor to register an account, so they can fully participate and help in virtually every venue they choose.

Equal access[edit]

All unregistered users have full read access to Wikipedia, and are allowed to edit most articles and participate in most talk page discussions. This is the core of Wikipedia, being the encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Where it is practical to do so, this policy is carried out. This is why most articles are open to editing by anyone, and most discussions welcome input from everyone, regardless of account status.

Some animals are more equal than others[edit]

At the first glance, the value of any edit or comment should be judged upon its own merits rather than whether or not the editor is registered. However, in practice this is not always so. Normally, a logical argument will be judged on its own merits, whereas the weight of the contributor's opinion often depends on the demonstrated expertise of the contributor. Many users will discount the opinions of unregistered editors simply because there is no history of contributions that can be examined, no history of previous participation that can be judged against. This is not entirely unreasonable. While policy may dictate that all edits and comments are equal, no policy can force any individual to consider any opinion any more or less than another. It is human nature to trust the opinions of those we have seen before, those we are familiar with. Typically unregistered users have either short or non-existing histories to judge by, therefore others are never sure if they have seen you before or not, so might be inclined to give those statements less weight or simply ignore them. It might not be fair, but it is human nature.

Another problem is with blocks. Sometimes, a troublemaker may be in the same city, with the same ISP, and force an admin to block a range of IP addresses to stop them from sockpuppeting. As a collateral damage, this can leave you blocked even though you didn't do anything wrong.

Conclusion[edit]

While we strive to make Wikipedia as equal as possible for registered and unregistered users, and while this is true in most circumstances, the realities of managing one of the largest websites on the globe dictate that certain restrictions be put in place. At the root of this is the understanding that IP addresses are not the same as registered users, they are simply addresses that may be one person or many. They are typically temporary and offer no accountability to the greater community.

Editing without a registered account is fine for many purposes, but the unregistered user should understand that others who have spent a great deal of time with a registered account, who have been shown to be reliable in their edits and opinions, and who have a track record that can be freely examined by anyone, will almost always be taken more seriously in a discussion than someone who decides not to or is unable to register, regardless of their reason.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ See: Opabinia regalis' studies, Feb 2007

External links[edit]

  • whatismyipaddress.com - Geographically locate any IPv4 address (same tool used in Wikipedia's geolocate links)