This is an essay.
It contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. This page is not an encyclopedia article, nor is it one of Wikipedia's policies or guidelines, as it has not been thoroughly vetted by the community. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.
On Wikipedia, the use of a second account, unless explicitly permitted by the rules, is a violation known to many as sockpuppetry. Since action taken against Wikipedia editors for violations is not intended to be punitive, those who break this rule are not officially punished. But there are numerous consequences one may face for this.
Likelihood of getting caught
It is possible and actually pretty easy initially to commit sockpuppetry. Creating an account takes only about a minute, with no questions asked regarding previous accounts registered. After such creation of an account, the ability to edit with all the user rights of a new account is immediately granted with no human approval. After just 4 days and 10 edits, the account becomes autoconfirmed with no human intervention. The mere creation of an account is not considered to be suspicious; new accounts are created all the time.
Editing via a registered account hides the IP of the connection that is being used to perform the edit from all but a select few. Every registered account is generally presumed to be operated by a different person, with the assumption of good faith. It is possible that more than one account may be operated regularly from the same computer, each by a different person sharing that computer. That is perfectly permissible.
There is no automatic detection of sockpuppetry taking place the moment it happens. While editing occurs, no active system will alert anyone on the spot that one or more accounts may be sockpuppets, or that the same person may be operating two or more accounts. Detection of sockpuppetry is left in the hands of human observation. Only after someone becomes suspicious does an investigation proceed.
Sockpuppets are generally identified through circumstantial evidence and checkuser inquiries. The latter usually only takes place after a thorough discussion open to everyone has been held in which others will state whether or not they believe the evidence given suggests sockpuppetry. This is known as a sockpuppet investigation.
Most sockpuppet investigations that occur involve one or more accounts that have been used in an obvious disruptive manner. Most complaints that lead to such an investigation are triggered by disruptive behavior of some sort (see WP:TRIGGER). Good-faith editing is rarely cause for suspicion.
One who uses multiple, even numerous accounts totally and solely for the purpose of good-faith editing and within the rules, without ever using them to edit-war, distort consensus, or vandalize is not likely to ever be suspected. Even if it has been found that such accounts are operated by the same person, it is unlikely any serious action will be taken because the purpose of any consequential action that is taken against editors is not to be punitive but to protect the encyclopedia against harm. If no harm is being made to the encyclopedia, and all edits advance Wikipedia's cause, it is not in the best interest of Wikipedia to block these accounts.
Detection gets more sophisticated over time
To this date, there has been no consensus to have a system detect sockpuppetry automatically the moment it occurs. But as time has gone on, Wikipedia has become more sophisticated regarding the ability to detect and stricter regarding the treatment of sockpuppet accounts.
There are frequently new reasons why people become suspicious. Each time concern is raised over a new reason for suspicion, it may permanently join the growing list of possible signs, and others may become suspicious in the future when a similar situation occurs, especially when it resulted in a positive identification.
Additionally, as editors as a whole become more experienced, they become alert in spotting cases of possible sockpuppetry.
The SPI discussions that are usually held prior to an IP checkuser inquiry in an attempt to determine based on circumstantial evidence whether or not sockpuppetry is occurring can be requested by anyone who has such suspicion. But if it is decided that a checkuser inquiry should proceed, this will result in the public recording of your IP address as a possible sockpuppet. IP addresses can sometimes be traced back to your hometown or even your place or residence (with your own name), your place of employment, or other internet connections associated with you. Wikipedia, by policy, makes its best effort to protect its users' privacy; it is for this reason that checkuser inquiry is considered a last resort.
Sockpuppetry is considered a serious breach of community trust. One who engages in sockpuppetry may have a template placed on his/her user page indicating that the sockpuppetry has been positively identified. Even if this template is removed, which anyone, including a non-blocked user can do, and even if the user decides to stop the sockpuppetry, it will still remain permanently in one's edit history for all to see. Depending on one's viewpoint, this may be stigmatic.
Effect on searching for your username on Wikipedia
When your username is searched within project namespace on Wikipedia, all mentions of your username will appear in the query. It is normal for your username to appear somewhere after a substantial amount of Wikipedia editing, and is not stigmatic in most cases. Almost everyone after a certain amount of time has participated in some deletion debates or policy/guideline discussions when drawn in. But if you have been suspected of sockpuppetry, your username will appear in the query for these pages too. If the conclusion has been positive, this will clearly be visible.
Effect on sister projects
When an account or IP address is identified as a sockpuppet, the public linking of any other accounts or IPs you have used on Wikipedia and its sister projects may occur.
Users with a global account will use the same username on all Wikimedia projects. If you do edit on other projects, this may stigmatize your reputation on them.
Effect outside of Wikipedia
If one or more accounts you use bears your real name or some term associated with you personally, this could potentially create a "public record" in the discussion by other editors of your "real-world" activities and other personal information relevant to your editing. Abuse of multiple accounts can seriously affect what employers, friends, peers, and journalists may see when they look up your name or nickname online in the future.
Blocking and banning
Those who engage in sockpuppetry are likely to face at least some form of a block or ban. At the very least, the sockpuppet account will be indefinitely blocked. The purpose of this is not to punish the sockpuppeteer but to stop the behavior. So by administering the block, the extra account operated by the same person is no longer in use.
The block or ban on the main account and IP address or range may be temporary or permanent, depending on the circumstances.
Effect on others
Many IP addresses and ranges are used by more than one person. For multiple people to share these is not sockpuppetry, and is actually pretty common, as those sharing a household, internet hotspot, or other location of use may have common IP addresses. Some browsers may even share these with people who live far apart.
But when one person uses a particular internet connection to engage in sockpuppetry, this may make it impossible or difficult for others, including strangers, to edit Wikipedia at all.
Is sockpuppetry easy?
You may have come either to Wikipedia:Signs of sockpuppetry or this page because you want information on determining if someone else you suspect is a sockpuppet, you are trying to use sockpuppets yourself and get away with it, or you just want to know more about what sockpuppetry is all about. After reading all this, you may wonder how easy it can be for someone to be a sockpuppeteer and not get caught. There are some things to keep in mind.
- Each individual, no matter how many accounts they operate, is still one person and therefore has the same amount and range of time available to edit, no matter which account is used for the editing. If for any reason, you cannot edit for several days at a time for personal reasons using one account, you cannot edit using other accounts either. So the gap in editing using the multiple suspected accounts may be a dead giveaway.
- Each editor has the same personality, the same writing style, the same knowledge, and the same interests.
- Most people have access to few, if any extra computers and connections from which to edit on a regular basis. Unless the computer is moved around between different connections or the ISP is changed, the IP that will be used for editing will usually be from the same range. If one operates multiple accounts at home, and then travels and edits with those same multiple accounts away from home, it can be revealed that these accounts were all used at the same time in another location.
- One who is secretly trying to operate two or more accounts deceptively must be careful what edits they do when logged into any given account; a single edit from the "wrong" account could be a dead giveaway.
- One who creates a new account sockpuppet in addition to their main one, regardless of the purpose, must pretend to be an inexperienced person, and possibly think of a lot of edits to make in an inexperienced fashion, gradually appearing more experienced. This may be hard for one who already knows a lot about editing.
- A common motivation for using sockpuppets is to cast multiple "votes" in some type of discussion. It is hard to predict when a discussion that would interest the user would start. But edit histories do not lie, so it is impossible to magically create an account with an earlier creation date or a large number of edits. Those who decide to be prepared and have multiple accounts ready quickly find that the very act of making these multiple experienced accounts is not easy. They are not something that can be bought, either.
- If you manage somehow to have two or more accounts with a lot of experience, you can only use them together every so often to get away with commenting multiple times in a discussion, because if the 2+ accounts are always seen in lots of common discussions, this may appear suspicious (see Always there when needed).
Is sockpuppetry worthwhile?
You may wonder whether the benefits of sockpuppetry outweigh the risks and consequences. If so, here is the answer:
- The outcome of a discussion, that is any type of discussion, is not based on popularity, and comments are not votes. Decisions are made based strictly on consensus, policy, guidelines, and the points that are made.
- Consensus does not mean a slight win over the other side. It means the Wikipedia community in general supports a cause. If you are using multiple accounts to pretend to be multiple people supporting a cause, you can only go so far. One person by themselves cannot outmatch a community. Ultimately, you will be outweighed by more than one real person.
- In discussions, such as those pertaining to deletion, the outcome is determined by those who cite policy and guidelines and give good points, not by numbers of votes. Sometimes, the minority's case can win. If you are committing sockpuppetry to save an article from deletion by pretending to be more people supporting it being kept, you may be able to save it once by giving the appearance of greater numbers. But there is no limit to the number of times an article can be nominated for deletion. Even if it worked one time, it may not work next time. And if there are enough people out there who feel an article does not belong, it is likely to get nominated for deletion again.
- If you patrol a page you created with another account of yours, if it is a good article, it is likely to have gotten the same approval from someone else and remain. But if it is thought of to be unworthy of inclusion, it is likely to be found at a later date by a deletionist and ultimately proposed for deletion. You may be able to keep it around for some time, but not forever.
- Sockpuppetry gets suspected pretty easily. Regardless of all the rules out there, many editors want it their way. They will try to get it at any cost, including accusation of sockpuppetry. Deletionism on Wikipedia is in full force. Despite a large number of editors who oppose deletion, there is a large crowd of deletionists. If you are not using sockpuppets, you will probably be cleared in an investigation. But if you are using them, it is likely to be detected.
So after reading all this, if you were thinking of using sockpuppets, do you still wish to do so?