The Battle to Destroy Wikipedia’s Biggest Sockpuppet Army

Here is one more reason to double check your sources. Simon Owen informs us on the largest sockpuppet network in Wikipedia’s history.

via The Daily Dot

Wikipedia editor and self-professed “bird geek” DocTree spends most of his time on the world’s largest encyclopedia editing the pages for long-dead ornithologists. So it was somewhat unusual when, in August 2012, he found himself working on the page for “CyberSafe,” a high-tech digital encryption company based out of Middlesex, England, with a pronounced dearth of ornithological relevance.

Someone on Wikipedia had nominated the page for deletion, and DocTree, who sometimes participates in deletion discussions on topics that fall outside his interests, decided to pitch in.

There are a number of possible reasons for a Wikipedia page to be deleted, but the most common justification is that it lacks “notability.” This is a loose standard that essentially asks the question: Is this subject important enough for a Wikipedia article? One metric editors use are the citations at the bottom of the page. The idea is that, if a subject has been reported on thoroughly by reputable sources–preferably a seasoned news organization or publisher—then it probably deserves an article.

At first glance, the CyberSafe page seemed to meet Wikipedia’s notability requirements. Every fact was backed up with citations to multiple news outlets. Then DocTree dutifully clicked on the links. The facade quickly crumbled.

“None of the references really dealt with CyberSafe,” DocTree told the Daily Dot. “The sources dealt with Internet security in general, but not CyberSafe.”

Whoever had created the page had done so with the assumption that most people wouldn’t bother actually clicking on the citations.

That was the first sign that something was off, but things got weirder. Numerous people showed up to defend CyberSafe, to argue that it shouldn’t be deleted. If you checked their editing history, however, you found either nothing at all or a series of edits to pages that fit the profile of CyberSafe—small companies or individuals who likely didn’t warrant Wikipedia pages. These CyberSafe defenders made very similar arguments, almost as if they were written by the same person.

“It was all smoke and mirrors,” said DocTree. “When I saw how similar the arguments were, it just didn’t look right.”

He submitted all five user accounts for a sockpuppet investigation, which checks to see if a single person is using multiple accounts to promote an agenda. Wikipedia’s own definition describes a sockpuppet as “an online identity used for purposes of deception.” Using sockpuppets is a major sin on Wikipedia because it fundamentally undermines the encyclopedia’s credibility: The community ought to be self-governing, but if one user controls an army of automatons who parrot his or her opinion in every discussion, how can you trust any decision?

DocTree had no idea his routine investigation was about to uncover the largest sockpuppet network in Wikipedia history.



  • Simon Valentine

    good to see some awareness of this going out
    that said
    from a more philosophical stand-back

    isn’t 99.99% of anything said regurgitated sock puppetry?


    “someone’s not controlling it?”

    • BuzzCoastin

      “there’s nothing new under the sun
      all is vanity and vexation of spirit”

      Sol Finkelstein