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Wikipedia sting snares hundreds of advocacy editors

WASHINGTON — One need not be a techie to understand how to use a sock puppet: 1. Open sock. 2. Insert hand. That’s it.

But on Wikipedia, sock puppets have a very different — and very negative — connotation. So-called ‘‘sock-puppet accounts’’ are those used by people paid to edit subjects’ Wikipedia pages to present them in a more favorable light — a strict no-no among those behind the online encyclopedia run by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation and seen as a global community resource.

Wikimedia has targeted sock puppets in an Internet sting of sorts, deleting 381 English Wikipedia user accounts for what it called black hat editing: ‘‘the practice of accepting or charging money to promote external interests on Wikipedia without revealing their affiliation, in violation of Wikimedia’s Terms of Use.’’


‘‘Neutrality is key to ensuring Wikipedia’s quality,’’ the foundation said in a statement. ‘‘Although it does not happen often, undisclosed paid advocacy editing may represent a serious conflict of interest and could compromise the quality of content on Wikipedia.’’

The effort, nicknamed operation ‘‘Orangemoody,’’ after the first sock-puppet account found in the investigation, nixed a diverse array of allegedly compromised articles on the site. A list of more than 250 posted on Wikipedia — that, it should be noted, can be edited by anyone — included pages that appeared to be about Bitcoin casinos, a cleaning service, a cooking school, and a songwriter from Brooklyn.

‘‘Readers trust Wikipedia to offer accurate, neutral content, and undisclosed paid advocacy editing violates that trust,’’ Wikimedia noted in its statement. ‘‘Sadly, it also deceives the subjects of articles, who may simply be unaware that they are in violation of the spirit and policies of Wikipedia. No one should ever have to pay to create or maintain a Wikipedia article.’’

The Wikipedia page about Operation Orangemoody also urged empathy. In theory, an evildoer could extort the subject of a page, threatening to alter its contents in a scam Gizmodo likened to ‘‘Godfather”-style organized crime: ‘‘kind of like how you can pay off the mafia so that you don’t get robbed.”


‘‘Please be kind to the article subjects,’’ the Orangemoody Wikipedia page noted. ‘‘They too are victims in this situation.’’