Home > Wikipedia, "duck test", "checkuser" and internet police
Wikipedia, "duck test", "checkuser" and internet policeby Open-Publishing - Thursday 9 June 2011
Next Monday, Jimmy Wales is going to "talk cyber-civility on campus" at Georgetown, according to a blog of The Georgetown Voice. Now that universities have less money, and Wikipedia is getting important gifts from private societies, students are encouraged to become Wikipedia editors. But what is exactly Wikipedia’s "cyber-civility" ? Wikipedia has developed a full arsenal of internet police vocabulary and tools such as the "sockpuppets", "meatpuppets", "duck test", "check user" and so on... and declares to have no editorial board. Jimmy Wales has launched a petition trying to obtain a UNESCO World Heritage status for Wikipedia, and the e-G8 has in practice confirmed the role of internet corporations. But citizens have been kept off from the basic discussions. How real can be the "internet freedom" promised by such private entities ?
According to people like Jimmy Wales, governments should stay away from internet. But what will corporate internet management actually be ? Wikipedia itself has developed very worrying internet police and censorship procedures. The "duck test" pages of Wikipedia :
contain explicit references to communist hunting methods. One can read, for instance at the first link :
For the use of "the duck test" within the Wikipedia community, see Wikipedia:DUCK.
The duck test is a humorous term for a form of inductive reasoning. This is its usual expression:
"If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck."
The test implies that a person can identify an unknown subject by observing that subject’s habitual characteristics. It is sometimes used to counter abstruse arguments that something is not what it appears to be.
(...) The phrase may also have originated much later with Emil Mazey, secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers, at a labor meeting in 1946 accusing a person of being a communist.
The term was later popularized in the United States by Richard Cunningham Patterson Jr., United States ambassador to Guatemala during the Cold War in 1950, who used the phrase when he accused the Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán government of being Communist. (...)
Later references to the duck test include Cardinal Richard Cushing’s, who used the phrase in 1964 in reference to Fidel Castro.
(end of quote, text available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License according to Wikipedia)
Are the Wikipedia target individuals or opinion trends ? Users are actually blocked on the grounds of suspicion, see for instance :
where the expression "suspected sockpuppets" is used several times. It actually turns out that suspicion is based on the similarity of the first five digits of the internet addresses, and several groups of IP’s (first five digits) are blocked on these grounds. In this case, at least five groups of internet adresses appear to be concerned, corresponding to heavily populated zones in the Paris region. Do the Wikipedia censors really worry about individuals ? Even a single computer can be used by several people.
On the same page, by looking at the comments on a recent blocking, one can read :
This one’s style is slightly different, so I would think meatpuppetry rather than sockpuppetry. (...) they’re here solely to salvage the LGM article.
(end of quote)
What are "sockpuppetry" and "meatpuppetry" ? Wikipedia defines "sockpuppetry" and "sockpuppets" here :
The associated Wikipedia tool, "Checkuser", is presented here :
Concerning "meatpuppetry", one can read :
Editors of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia use "meat puppet" to deprecate contributions from a new community member if the new member was (apparently) recruited by an existing member only to back up the recruiting member’s position. The person is implied to be analogous to a sockpuppet in function and goals, but a real separate person (i.e. "meat") rather than fictitious.
(end of quote)
It clearly appears that the Wikipedia administrators are indeed willing to block several people using the "suspicion" of "sockpuppetry" (use of several identities by a single person) or "meatpuppetry". Therefore, the actual target of such and internet police appears to be in practice the "dissident" opinion expressed.
However, when one looks at current discussions and articles where IP adresses have been blocked, one finds this kind of notice :
Editing of this page by new or unregistered users is currently disabled until (...) because of excessive sock puppetry.
What can I do? * If you have a user account, log in first. If you do not yet have an account, you may create one; after 4 days and 10 edits, you will be able to edit semi-protected pages. (...)
(end of quote)
Therefore, the new users blocked by the Wikipedia administrators just followed this recommandation from Wikipedia itself. An amazing difference between propaganda and actual practice.
In a deletion discussion page such as this one (deletion of a biography) :
unwanted "dissident" comments have been hidden with the mention : Disruptive IP Socks + Other users comments/replies, and no real answer to the arguments developed. Some of them, f.i. from Negun on May 30 at 7h38 :
appear to have been just deleted and the author, banned.
Thus, influential private supposedly "citizen" sites like Wikipedia have actually developed tools of internet police and censorship that look particularly worrying. Misleading appearances help to hide this reality, but Wikipedia administrators are basically anonymous, their possible conflicts of interests cannot be checked and no public editorial board exists to which citizens can complain :
Now that Wikipedia is asking for UNESCO recognition and that the e-G8 has in fact ratified the role of internet corporations, the question of the reality of the "internet freedom" claimed by private entities must be addressed. Are we heading to the onset of a private virtual world government escaping to any citizen control ?
Wikipedia texts are available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, except for versions that have been revised where there is a special warning.