Wikipedia:Don't be quick to assume that someone is a sockpuppet

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This item here may look like a duck. But is it really a duck? Look more carefully.

There are many situations that occur on Wikipedia in which one may assume that one or more accounts are sockpuppets. Something is really fishy. All the signs are present, it seems. The suspecting editor may find that the suspected user's behavior looks all too familiar and resembles that of someone who already exists.

But this is not always the case. There are many good faith behaviors that have a lot in common with sock puppetry and are totally unavoidable and are actually helpful. It is important to assume good faith whenever possible and not jump to the conclusion that sock puppetry is occurring just because one or more signs are present. Only when editing is extremely disruptive may it be necessary to open a sock puppet investigation.

Reasons for assumptions[edit]

Brand new accounts[edit]

Some people can learn quickly. And we do point new people to copious documentation nowadays.

Sometimes a brand new account is accused of being a sockpuppet account, simply because it is apparently experienced with the ways of Wikipedia, and leaps straight into areas of the project that the accusers think to be obscure, or shows proficiency with Wikipedia's mechanisms and processes. In years gone by, when Wikipedia was a very new project that hadn't yet come to the attention of the world in general, that was a fair argument. But it is now 2018.

Wikipedia has been around long enough for people to have read it and learned about it, without creating an account, for years, now.[note 1] Its policies, guidelines, and processes are extensively documented on Wikipedia itself; and are even, now, documented outside of Wikipedia, in books such as John Broughton's Wikipedia: The Missing Manual. Furthermore, these policies and guidelines are linked to from the {{welcome}} template that is often the first thing placed on new users' talk pages. It shouldn't be surprising therefore that someone with a modicum of intelligence manages to learn about how Wikipedia works, and what to do, before, or immediately after, creating an account. Also, the person could have previously edited other wikis.

It shouldn't be surprising either that someone knows of, for example, the Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard or Wikipedia:Articles for deletion. Wikipedia's deletion discussions have never been secret, and they have sometimes been observed by journalists. Indeed, the Salt Lake City Weekly published a guide to Wikipedia covering a whole range of things from the Counter-Vandalism Unit to the Manual of Style in February 2008, with followup articles the next day talking of the various noticeboards of Wikipedia, including the Administrators' and Conflict Of Interest Noticeboards.[1][2] It is far from impossible for someone to learn of the internal workings of the project before creating an account.[note 2]

The step from not having an account to having an account is not now and never really was the dividing line that signals a metamorphosis from inexperienced novice to experienced editor. Indeed, Wikipedia has been around long enough for it to have well-known long-term editors, who have made a point of not creating accounts despite encouragement to do so, who have years-long edit histories.

Don't automatically cry "sockpuppet!" when a brand-new account simply and solely shows proficiency.

Brand new accounts are not single-purpose accounts[edit]

On Wikipedia, a single-purpose account is defined as one that is used to edit a single page, group of pages in a common category, or to perform the same type of edit to any number of pages. Not all single-purpose accounts are bad, and they do not all violate Wikipedia policy.

When an account is brand new, it is possible that it has been used initially to edit just a single page or a group of related pages. But in the future, it'll be used to perform other edits that are barely related or not related at all. Such an account is not a single-purpose account. And there is no deadline to perform that edit that makes it no longer appear as one.

First edit[edit]

One may assume sock puppetry when someone's first edit is something more extraordinary, such as article creation, editing outside of mainspace, or something else that is more complex. Sometimes such an editor has previous experience editing without an account, and finally decided to create one.

It is not uncommon for an account's first edit to be a page creation. This is because a user must be registered in order to create a page. Many times, one has long edited without an account, has gained a lot of wiki experience that way, and finally has the need to register an account for the first time in order to create an article.

If the first edit is not an article creation, but is something else more complicated, this, likewise, may represent an editor who has experience without the account, but either via IP editing, or in some other way.

Accounts exhibiting similar behavior[edit]

These two men are working on erecting the same building. They are on nearly the same spot. They are working in harmony. But they are two different people.

Often, two or more accounts will edit similarly, doing things in the same exact manner, thereby giving the appearance of being operated by the same person. They write in the same grammatical style, source material the same way, or use the same wiki formatting.

It is very likely this is occurring because one editor is simply copying the ways of another. Over the years, Wikipedia has developed standards, not because they are written as guidelines, but because they customarily appear that way in articles.

Editing common articles[edit]

If two accounts edit two or more identical articles, "sock puppetry", one may cry. If they edit many more common articles, this may help enforce this belief even more. Now what?

Truth is, many people have the same interests. For example, if one is a Detroit Lions fan, one may edit lots of articles on Detroit Lions players, past seasons of the Detroit Lions, and stadiums where the Detroit Lions have played. And there are many Detroit Lions fans out there.

In the above example, all the articles belong to the same category. Now, how about if two editors both edit a lot of articles in two different categories. For example, two accounts are used both to edit lots of articles on Detroit Lions players, and lots of articles on Lady Gaga songs. This may be more indicative of sock puppetry. But then again, with the hundreds of thousands of Detroit Lions fans, and millions of Lady Gaga fans, the likelihood of such an overlap is very high.

Now throw in another factor. Two accounts editing articles on the Detroit Lions, Lady Gaga, and now the more obscure category of Quantum chemistry. Something is getting fishy now. How can you possibly believe these are two separate people?

There are several answers here:

  1. The world is populated by more than 7 billion people. That in itself is a huge number. Narrow that down to those who speak the English language, and you've still got nearly 2 billion, by no measure a small number. You can narrow it down even more to the Detroit Metropolitan area, and you're still talking about 4 million people, and with this high a number, coincidence is by no means impossible.
  2. Many editors look at the edit histories of other editors. If they review just one edit by an editor, they will look at personal edit histories, and they may get involved editing all the other pages recently edited by the other, possibly all in the same order. This does indeed occur.
  3. The two people may know one another. They have a life outside of Wikipedia that does not get publicly recorded, and they may talk to each other about these articles. While not actually committing meat puppetry, one may learn about the existence of the articles from the other.

Participation in discussions[edit]

Have you ever found an article that seems so bad, you know for sure it does not belong on Wikipedia? You or someone else proposes it for deletion over and over and over again, thinking it is a sure goner. But every time it is put up for AfD, quite a large number of users come to the article's defense, and there is no choice for the closing administrator but to keep it. And every time it is up for AfD, it is the very same users who come to its defense.

"Sock puppetry", you may think, as you see those names over and over. These accounts are surely operated by one person. Or they are friends of one another in real life. Something is fishy.

But maybe they do not know each other at all. Maybe each one is a real, individual person, and they have never interacted with one another.

It is possible that each of these people has the page on their watchlist, and whenever it gets put up for AfD, they will know, so of course, if they want it kept, they will come to its defense.

Sockophobia[edit]

Editors may suspect very frequently other editors of being a sock of an indefinitely blocked editor. The phobia is mainly because of the fear of a disruptive sock. Often, editors who are or were followed by a sock in a particular topic area consider any new editor editing in that area with edits that oppose their POV, a sock. The following may be overreactions (sockophobia), although inherently valid reactions to potential sockpuppet situations:

Symptoms[edit]

  • Biting the newcomers.
  • Tagging new editors' userpages with sock tags without going through SPI or reporting to an admin.
  • Invoking sock-puppet exemption to edit war your favoured version into the article.
  • Reverting every other SPA's edits, calling them a sock.
  • Not following WP:TALKDONTREVERT if an SPA reverts you, and re-reverting instead.
  • Stalking SPAs that have not made any poor edits.
  • Reverting all contributions of SPAs or even an actual sock without checking if some of the edits were good.
  • Not properly explaining the policy to new users, assuming them to be experienced editors.
  • Outright reverting when seeing the sockmaster's IP range making any edit.
  • Assuming only IP editors who support your view or unambiguously vandalize to be normal IP users.
  • Striking or blanking new users' comments.
  • Striking or blanking talkpage comments added by a sockmaster's IP range even on unrelated topic areas.

Facts that are ignored[edit]

There are several reasons why the IP or the account might not be a banned user (or another indefinitely blocked editor):

  • Before reverting the IP, ever wondered why they just don't range block them to get rid of the blocking headache? They sometimes don't because there are sometimes too many users (in some known cases, millions) editing on that IP range; see IP address#IP address assignment. It is possible that a different person made the edit, unless it's the same content being added time and time again.
  • Sometimes, accounts that have a single edit on a main article are labeled as a sockpuppet; there is a good possibility that one of the IPs editing there just created an account.

Suggestion[edit]

If you are sure about a certain account being a sock of an indefinitely blocked editor, before shooting the gun (.i.e. tagging the editor's user page/s with sock tags and reverting all of the editor's edits), file a case at sockpuppet investigations with evidence.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ People who read without writing are conventionally known, on other parts of the Internet, as lurkers. On Wikipedia, note, it is possible to read and edit, without creating an account.
  2. ^ It is, however, quite reasonable for any user to question an account for sockpuppetry when such an account is new and performing tasks that usually call for much more experience than a new user would have. Tasks such as closing Requests for Adminship nominations or closing Article for Deletion discussions are not common for new accounts. While it is acceptable that new accounts may know how to edit articles, cite sources, upload files and participate in deletion discussions, new users generally wouldn't have the experience or knowledge of Wikipedia policy that an administrator would have and be able to perform such complex administrative tasks. After all, part of the approval process for becoming a Wikipedia administrator is that the administrator nominee be well versed in Wikipedia policy.

References[edit]

See also[edit]