MeetFighters News

Sockpuppets and Puppet Masters


This post is on a topic that potentially affects us all. It might be a little long, and a bit technical, but I urge you to read it and join the discussion.

[IMAGE:http://www.allfighters.info/Content/images/Admin/sockpuppet2.jpg]

Today's post is about a special kind of fake that I call sockpuppets. A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception within an online community. Simply put, it is a "secondary" (or, in some cases, tertiary) profile created by a member, that poses as a different person. The reasons for creating a sock puppet usually are:

  • Adding to the credibility and legitimacy of the master profile by marking it as a past opponent, occasionally with a stellar recommendation, or just mentioning how great they are in correspondence and chat.
  • Gathering personal information about other members without giving away any.
  • Simply messing with people. One typical form is creating a sock puppet that is far sexier than the average, and using it to "reject" people who have previously rejected the master profile. I guess this is a form of revenge or faux self-validation.
  • Cybering, possibly with potential future opponents, to learn more about them.
  • (There are probably more. Some fakes' minds are more twisted than others.)

The one thing in common in all these reasons is that they are deceptive and are detrimental to any online community.

The First Incident

[IMAGE:http://www.allfighters.info/Content/images/Admin/sockpuppet1.jpg]

The first sock puppet incident on our site happened about a year ago. What made it particularly interesting was the fact that the puppet master was a respected member, with lots of real matches, past opponents, and a long list of recommendations. Still, he felt the need for a sockpuppet, and "they" gave each other glowing recommendations, and the sockpuppet was frequently gushing about how great a guy the other one was. It went so far that the real guy was talking about the sockpuppet in real life conversations. Clearly, it was a lie that went too far, spiraled out of control and took on a life of its own.

I was a bit unsure what to do about it. Granted, I could've closed both accounts, informed everyone who was deceived by the sockpuppet and be done with it. However, since the guy was actually genuine and had many matches, and as such was a "good" member, I decided not to rush it. When I confronted the puppet master, I had three requests:

  1. Confess to all the members he has come into contact with using the sock puppet.
  2. Post a public apology to our members for your conduct in his blog.
  3. Delete the sock puppet account.

The following lengthy messaging and finally a telephone conversation I had with him, funnily enough, followed the Five Stages of Dying:

  • Denial. It wasn't me. You have no proof.
  • Anger. I will sue you for "Defermasion of charactor" (sic!).
  • Bargaining. Can't I just slowly "retire" the sockpuppet, maintain the illusion and make him go away?
  • Depression. OK, that was maybe not so, but the rest fit so well.
  • Acceptance. In the end we compromised: he could skip the public apology, but had to explain himself to everyone he deceived on this site, and delete the sockpuppet.

The Scientist Takes Over

[IMAGE:http://www.allfighters.info/Content/images/Admin/sockpuppet4.jpg]

The way I found the first sock puppet was kind of simple: someone ratted him out. Not taking the word of one over the other in such a sensitive matter, I started thinking about how sockpuppets can be detected on a site like AllFighters.

Finally I decided to use something called Pearson's correlation formula, using certain "traits". I chose a bunch of traits based on the site logs that characterized the way someone used the site. In the interest of not giving a formula for getting away with sock puppetry I will not describe the exact traits I chose, but sufficient to say that when I ran them through the correlation formula, they showed the sockpuppet and the master to be the same person. (I would like to note that even if I was to describe these traits, it would be difficult to evade detection.)

To put the formula in simple terms, it says that, two things are the same if they

  • Commonly share traits that are otherwise uncommonly shared among the rest of the population.
  • The traits observed on a given time period predict shared traits on another time period (extrapolation).

For example, two people sharing a unique browser is a strong correlation, but sharing a very common browser is not, because there are many others who are using it. Or, logging in from the same AOL proxy is not correlation because AOL proxies are typically shared by a whole region of people.

Long story short, the first puppet master was found with what satisfied me as mathematical accuracy. At the time, my little correlation algorithm hasn't identified any other sockpuppets, so I put it to rest.

Which Brings Us to the Present!

[IMAGE:http://www.allfighters.info/Content/images/Admin/sockpuppet3.jpg]

Fast forward one year and about 2000 members. This morning I found a message from a concerned member, asking me if "ultimatewrestler" was real or not. Imagine my unsurprise when I found that "he" wasn't. I dusted off the aging sockpuppet detector, ran it, and was a little shocked to find that things have deteriorated significantly in the past year. It found about a dozen of sockpuppets right away.

My question to you, as a community is this:

How do you think I should deal with them?

Please, no knee-jerk reactions. Think this through. No throwing out babies with bathwater.

Your insight comes here:

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Last edited on 7/05/2012 3:26 PM by Admin
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Comments (25)

scotsgrappler (143 platinum) 8/14/2010 3:58 PM

Had not realised on-line life was so complicated.This takes the cyber grappler to new (unwelcome) levels. Tho' could anyone realistically have been "fooled" by uultimatewrestler? -6'0 maybe, 200 lbs maybe but not that photoshopped torso -).If folks are messing maliciously and mendaciously with others, bin 'em.

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tonytrrr (7) 8/14/2010 9:04 PM

I would suggest that there may be related problems. Sometimes the photo is too good, Stats just right, but no recommendations. The guy wants to webcam, do I give him a pec bounce that could end up on youtube, or do I claim I do not have a webcam.

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grievous angel (0) 8/14/2010 9:41 PM

unfortunately these people are rife in online communities like this commonly known as trolls I'm with scotsgrappler.....bin 'em

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agmj (0) 8/15/2010 10:26 AM

First off I would suggest a change to the T&C's for the site, which an extract also needs to be on the logon page so each member is agreeing specifically to this each time they log on, something like: -

"I as a member of allgfighters do agree to my activity on this site may be monitored and any suspicious activity maybe reported to the members base"

Then name and shame them.

Of course you'll need a lawyer to advise on this and in certain juridictions it might be problomatic to name and shame but the T&C's should be able to take care of this ;o)

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saesneg (0) 8/15/2010 11:07 AM

I've been an active mod for a global female membership group for some years now and as you can imagine we get more than our share of fakes.....(usually males pretending to be females).

Experience tells me that being online prompts certain folk to act in a way that they perhaps wouldn't act in the real world in the belief that somehow it isn't "real" so it isn't really wrong.

You can never completely prevent it from happening of course but once discovered we have found that such people loose any credibility they had regardless of who they are or how big a name they were in the community. So removing them from the group even if they are in part genuine is not actually the loss it might at first appear to be.

Unfortunately the group in turn also looses credibility in it's security if it doesn't take action upon discovery so we have found the only course of action open is that removal.

So, no knee jerk reaction from me here.....we have been applying this standard for years now. By all means investigate and look into any accusation that has been made before you act, but once it's proven sufficiently then act you must.

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grievous angel (0) 8/15/2010 12:44 PM

t's & c's won't make any difference I feel, I use Morrissey-solo and there are more trolls on there than on Global fight and that's saying something....unfortunately people will always play games AGMJ is correct tho some kind of visible warning on the log in page may just make them think twice.

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agmj (0) 8/15/2010 10:05 PM

(In reply to this)

t's & c's won't make any difference I feel, I use Morrissey-solo and there are more trolls on there than on Global fight and that's saying something....unfortunately people will always play games AGMJ is correct tho some kind of visible warning on the log in page may just make them think twice.

I think you misunderstand me, they T&C change would be require to protect the site and Sile from legal action takem but the puppetmaster

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BikerE1W (6 bronze) 8/16/2010 1:52 AM

(In reply to this)

easy really... you give every member 12 weeks to change their main pic to one of them holding their profile name on an A5 card. Anyone who can't do this is an obvious fake, or their pic is taken from a porn site or other publication.

Anyone NOT providing this information within 12 weeks, will have "Possible Fake Profile" inserted at the top of their lisiting by the moderator.

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Admin 8/16/2010 8:18 AM

(In reply to this)

You're missing the point: detecting fakes is not the issue at hand here. How to proceed with the sockpuppets that we've found is.

Your idea is on the draconian side, and I'm not quite ready to force our good members through that just yet. And this is ignoring the fact at how good some people are with Photoshop.

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Irishfighter (55) 8/15/2010 12:55 PM

Zero tolerance. It wastes the time of those who are genuine, and makes administration of the website unnecessarily difficult for you... why be nice to them?

I wholly agree with saesneg's reasoning, that the website loses credibility by allowing the practice to continue upon discovery. At the very least, Admin should tag 'Fake Profile' on the sock puppet, and 'Has used/uses fake profiles' on the sock puppet user.

If that is the website's policy, my guess is that you will get fewer users doing this in the first place: they'll be worried about jeopardising their 'genuine' profile and soiling their credibility.

Simply deleting the profile(s) isn't enough: warn the rest of us, please. Because these idiots tend to resurface again, on the same website or elsewhere. Again, if the Allfighters policy is harsh on this point, it'll act as a deterrent... they'll use less stringent websites for their fake profiles, and that will ensure this website remains the most reliable resource for genuine fighters... a win/win situation for everyone.

Agmj's suggestion about including a proviso in the terms and conditions makes perfect sense from a legal point of view. But my gut feeling is that the users who are doing this will continue regardless.

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jrg1199 (37 bronze) 8/15/2010 2:34 PM

I'm all for harsher restrictions. First, I have no desire to waste my time conversing with someone who's not legitimate. Second, If you are so insecure about yourself that you have to do this to get people interested in you, I'm not going to be interested in you as a person. One of the reasons I like this site is that the approach seems designed for guys who take their wrestling seriously. Anything that goes against that seems to go against the core values of this site, and then you become just another Globalfight.

If I'm interested in a guy, I'll send him a message. I don't even look at past recommendations and such, because it's often too easy to pad them (writing something positive because you feel like you should, etc). If their interests match mine, they have an intelligent description of themselves (in english, not run-on sentence speak) and/or I like their picture, I'll contact them and vet them out. A glowing recommendation from a guy i don't know means nothing to me.

The admins can figure out the best procedure, but I appreciate that it's being addressed. I'm all for coming down hard myself.

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MCRLON30UK (55 bronze) 8/15/2010 3:04 PM

Delete the master and any slave profiles permanently. Name the members publicly. Possibly, disallow them from all future use of the site.

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redlandguy (190 platinum) 8/15/2010 3:33 PM

I think that banning the sockpuppet profiles is a good start. Banning the IP address of the puppeteer would make sense too. In extreme cases, a complaint to their ISP if abuse continues would be a next step.

I really am 6ft3 and 205 pounds (or 191cm 93 kg if you prefer.) And my photos are really me, and they are recent. I have had to explain this to people on wrestling sites, including this one, because all the fakes out there have made people cynical about the profiles they see on these sites.

I once had a guy (on another site) who talked to me for long enough and sounded real enough to get me to tell him where I study jiu jitsu. He no-showed me when I was supposed to wrestle him, and his voice mail was full, and he was nowhere to be found. He then used my information to scam someone else into a meeting (which he no-showed) claiming he's in my jiu jitsu class to give him phony legitimacy. I now no longer tell ANYONE online where I train.

If fakes are allowed, this site loses its purpose: it becomes harder for us REAL guys to get matches.

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alnm (26) 8/16/2010 11:18 AM

I admit to have two profiles here, but I gave the reason in my blog entry. I have just created the second profile (mudwrestling) for the specific reason of mudwrestling lol, in the aim to make videos of it. I'm ready to delete it if necessary. The other profile shows who I am and the whole stuff i AM looking for. BTW, i have not recommended my other profile....

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Admin 8/16/2010 11:23 AM

(In reply to this)

Thanks for being open and honest about it. Nonetheless, I am going to have to ask you to choose between your two profiles, and delete the other. I'm sure you understand the need for a one-profile-per-person policy.

I admit to have two profiles here, but I gave the reason in my blog entry.
[...]
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alnm (26) 8/16/2010 11:35 AM

(In reply to this)

ok no problem... just give me a few days to message my contacts on the other one, cheers and let's sort it out one day on the mats (or in mud lol) :)

Thanks for being open and honest about it. Nonetheless, I am going to have to ask you to choose between your two profiles, and delete the other. I'm sure you understand the need for a one-profile-per-person policy.

I admit to have two profiles here, but I gave the reason in my blog entry.
[...]
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StrikeFighter (44 support) 8/16/2010 2:21 PM

I commented on this thread two days ago but comment doesn't appear to have been saved. Briefly: don't have a witch-hunt. Don't name and shame. It just brings bad vibes and an inquisition-style atmosphere. Instead, just delete the sock puppet profiles as you detect them, inform the master profile that you have done so, and if they offend again, delete the master profile also. If this is done periodically using the detection parameters you mentioned there is no reason to inform anyone else about it.

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Brawlbrad (28 bronze) 8/17/2010 5:58 AM

As the moderator of a yahoo group I'm curious as to how you handle this, and most appreciative that you even care, unlike other sites of this ilk who know about these (at best) disingenuous individuals, yet actually feature them on their homepages! Your site has been long overdue and I hope you keep to the high standards and great membership you have already established. Thanks, Brad

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Tyger (116 platinum) 8/17/2010 11:26 PM

Just to say that some of us commented on this issue on the Forum: http://www.allfighters.info/forums/Sockpuppets_and_Puppet_Masters

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matthias (101 platinum) 8/18/2010 7:55 AM

Excellent that you take care of this! Thanks!

(Make sure not to reveil too much of your algorithm since then users can trick it. Make the cleanup as much under the hood and silent as possible.)

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bailey (16 bronze) 8/18/2010 9:31 PM

First off many thanks for (a) confronting this issue and (b) opening it up for discussion. Guess I'm naive but I had no idea this sort of thing went on (and I use Globalfight and haven't had any problems there). I can't see any legitimate reason for this sort of behaviour (though having said that, I can't see that alnm was doing anything wrong either...), but I can't agree with the more draconian solutions suggested, simply because they are likely to lead to even more problems. So I'm for the more measured approach suggested by gutpuncher33. In your T&Cs you could make it more explicit that guys can only have one profile, if they put on two (who reads T&Cs?) and you ask them to take one down and they comply, fine. No comply, and/or do it again, ban them and disable the profile (at the end of the day, it's your site, you decide who's a member and who isn't), but no need for name and shame - that's where you get into possible legal difficulties.

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WrestleForFun NL (12 bronze) 8/18/2010 11:58 PM

I think it's different if you have the same photos on all the profiles, so people who see you have more than one.

I just have been fooled by a member with 7(!) profiles in total, all different photos, ages and locations. I feel like banning him is the least he deserves...

Dunno about banning the IP address though, maybe he could be on a shared connection is a student's dormitory?

Thank you very much for taking action against this!

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itsaslave (15 bronze) 8/29/2010 10:45 AM

Now that the issue has been well aired is there room for providing a way back for miscreants - maybe suggesting a donation plus an undertaking not to do it again ?

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Kundar (21) 9/20/2010 1:42 PM

Allthough I believe finding a Sockpuppet and using this kind off system keeps this site clear and trustworthy. So I underwrite this concept.
But I have to put a question mark here.

I was chatting in Allfighter with someone who wanted to wrestle with me. So I decided to make an appointment with him. We exchanged email adresses etc. My train and
hotel were booked. So I was ready to go.
Then... suddenly I found his profile to be a sockpuppet and was afraid that I was dealing with a faker and that I would have to travel to find nobody waiting there. But the other user convinced me he was not a faker.
So I went and we had a pleasant fight and day together.

I will now explain how this could happen to him. During our interchange of emails and date and hotel adress the other user had also a wrestling-meeting at his house with
someone else who wasn´t a member of Allfighters. That person became interested to get a profile on Allfighters and at the same house...same IP.... my future-opponent created on his computer for that other person a profile on Allfighters... And you can guess what happened. The profile of my future-opponent and that new member were recognized as a sockpuppet.

This experience puts me to the thought that being recognized as a sockpuppet shouldn't be "forever". Yes the old profile...can't be used anymore but after a certain time
it should be possible to start a new one. (this is only one option for this special case....maybe there is another solution...)

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sublimeboston (10) 11/04/2012 12:14 PM

Dear Admin,

Your latetst sockpuppet of KingKong6269 and Cameron Matthews is not quite as it seems. KingKong6269 is an ex pro wrestler, now promoter in the UK who recently organised a visit to the UK for Cameron Mathews to wrestle some pro events over here and whilst here he also wrestled some private bouts with the likes of me and Ringkid. On returning to the US Cameron has asked KingKong6269 to organise an account for him so to help with setting up future meets with people here in the UK which is what KingKong has done and so consequently it has shown as a sockpuppet as the IP address is the same.

I can attest to the fact that both wrestlers exist and the profiles are for 2 different people but Cameron's is being managed on his behalf by another person.

I have no personal dealings with KingKong and only know this because I did indeed wrestle Cameron here in London on 24th October and my recommendation for him is accurate and true. I am meeting him again in London in December for a second match.

Obviously the running of 2 profiles by one person has breached your protocols and how you deal with it is entirely up to you but I just wanted you to know that the two profiles are in essence genuine and not someone pretending to be another person.

Hope that helps!

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