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* Posts by Adrian

2 posts • joined 20 Sep 2008

Sockpuppeting civil servant Wikifiddles himself

Adrian
Unhappy

@everyone @me

Gosh I got so many responses, so I will try to answer them all in one go:

@ "You don't know"

Well actually I do. I am not going to go into details (because otherwise my comment won't get published for legal reasons) but I very, very much know about some of the horrible things that this kind of thing can lead to. And I will reiterate that this is an incredibly minor version in comparison to what can happen.

@ "It is really awful"

I'd like everyone to imagine, in a generic sense, that you have "met" someone on the internet and seen their photograph. Now imagine that you ran into someone in real life who looked vaguely like that person. Would you automatically assume that it was the same person? No you wouldn't. I don't think that anyone who has ever used the internet would assume that they were definitely the same person. First off, people can look like each other, and secondly people put up photos that are actually other people all of the time. You don't know who is who half the time.

@ etc

There is more that I could add, but The Register chose not to publish my last comment, so I will take that advice and not go into too many specifics that prove my various points. Hopefully though people can take the advice to think a bit more globally about this kind of issue.

The issue isn't so much that they did something bad, but rather the lengths that they went to and what they could have done having gone to those lengths. That is, indeed, a rather scary reality. They used different ISPs for each account with no overlaps and kept track of each identity. That is pretty scary stuff. They didn't do anything serious this time (although maybe they secretly did?) but going to that kind of effort they were capable of doing much worse.

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Adrian
Alert

Good info - but missing the point a lot

It was good to find out some extra info about this case here, such as what precisely the Boudoir is. The point, I would have thought, is to highlight what precisely their crimes were. Their worst crime was to use photos of someone else and pretend to be them - which was bad because they were writing about BDSM and hence someone else might think that the real person was also interested in BDSM. In other words, the absolute worst thing that they did was possible libel.

The reality of course is that this kind of thing happens all of the time. Go to MySpace and you will find 30 accounts also claiming to be Tila Tequila - the same for virtually every celebrity out there. Do they get sued? If anything, usually doing something like that just adds to the publicity for the real person behind it. Michael Baxter (who oddly is named here, while the real people behind it are not) didn't even claim anything nasty. There is a hypothetical chance that the girl might get raped because of it. Of course, it hasn't actually happened, and it'd have to be a pretty extreme case for that kind of thing to happen. It took 4 years before they even bothered to complain, which hints at just how minor the libel case is.

Beyond that though, what else did they do wrong? They voted on a few Wikipedia (and other site) AFDs - keeping some articles that should be deleted and vice versa - the kind of things that aren't supposed to matter and aren't supposed to be based on votes. On Wikipedia Review they had 2 admin accounts, which is an obvious issue, but they don't seem to have caused much damage there.

Where is the harm here? They went to all of this effort basically to play a character, which surely is half the reason that people use the internet in the first place. So a lot of people believed them and everyone felt hurt and betrayed. Big deal. A few days later and nobody would care.

I think that perhaps the issue here is not so much what they did, but the lengths that they went to do it. They were investigated heavily for 3 or 4 years, and yet managed to use different IP addresses for each personality. They went to lengths to set up different personalities to great detail. Sure, this time, nothing major happened, but what this issue highlights is that this has the potential to cause serious damage elsewhere.

What if rather than just wanting to act like a girl, Michael Baxter's aim was more sinister? What if they were trying to run a smear campaign to bring down a real person? They could have caused a lot of damage with this. As it is, though, all they did was to hurt a few people's feelings. This time we got lucky.

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