Anonymity, what are the rules exactly? September 9, 2010 8:11 PM   Subscribe

Anonymity, what are the rules exactly? I want to ask a question for a project I'm pitching. If the project gets made it would be under my real-life name, which would allow people to connect me with my screen-name here. I don't really want that to happen. Is that an acceptable use of anonymity? Is there a means to sign up for a second account and somehow say "please note, this isn't a sock puppet"?

I know I could just contact the mods and ask, but I figure other people will be interested in the answer.
posted by AmbroseChapel to Etiquette/Policy at 8:11 PM (54 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Having a second account, known as a sock puppet, is generally discouraged. However, people have sock puppet accounts for various reasons and they are not forbidden unless they are being used deceptively to mess with the site (see this thread for an example).

Some reasons people have sock puppet accounts:
- their account was blocked/banned and they want to "start over" (this is not always okay, check with mathowie if you are uncertain)
- they want to ask a question in Ask MetaFilter that is not linked to their primary account
- they have a second account for making jokey comments (see usernames like baby jesus or Official Mefi Head Complainer)

It is against the rules to use a sock puppet to get around the time limitations between AskMe, MeFi and MeTa posts. People who do this will risk losing the sock puppet account, getting a time out on their main account and/or having their extra question or post removed. Please do not do this.
posted by carsonb at 8:19 PM on September 9, 2010


(For full linkage, see FAQ.)

Thank you for asking, this has been another fun MetaTalk thread SOLVED by your local FAQBOT.
posted by carsonb at 8:19 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anonymity, what are the rules exactly?

You know the rules, and so do I.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:24 PM on September 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Meta-roll'D
posted by deezil at 8:28 PM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


you are all strangers to love.
posted by The Bizzaro Whelk at 8:34 PM on September 9, 2010


I think the use of sockpuppet's for anon questions should be encouraged. so long as they are never used to get around any of the other MeFi rules (like the once a week limit on questions).

I hate anon questions where it's really hard to get more detail from the OP. Anon sock puppets solve this problem.
posted by marsha56 at 8:41 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


It would seem from the FAQ, although it's not quite 100% clear, that it's OK to have a second account, under the "they want to ask a question in Ask MetaFilter that is not linked to their primary account" clause.

What's missing is the right way to go about it.

If I sign up for a second account using the same IP address and credit card as I used for the first one, that seems like it would get flagged. So what should I do? Contact the mods before I sign up for the second account?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:45 PM on September 9, 2010


If I sign up for a second account using the same IP address and credit card as I used for the first one, that seems like it would get flagged. So what should I do? Contact the mods before I sign up for the second account?

We'll just know it's two accounts paid for by the same people and there's some back-end linkage so that if you ask two questions in the same seven day period [one with each account] we'll get a note about it. Otherwise it doesn't really matter if you have a second account. If we think you're trying to use the second account to maintain an entirely separate full identity on the site, we'll talk to you about it, otherwise it's okay. I talked a little bit more about this recently.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:51 PM on September 9, 2010


It does get flagged...sorta. I've seen the admin side of MeFi briefly, and if you go to a user's account info, there is a "possible sock puppet" section.
posted by radioamy at 8:53 PM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


We'll just know it's two accounts paid for by the same people and there's some back-end linkage so that if you ask two questions in the same seven day period [one with each account] we'll get a note about it.

Once when I asked a question within a week of my partner also doing so (we share both a computer and a paypal account), I got a little note on the preview or "post question" page saying something like, "Hey, is is possible you've already asked a question this week with another account? If not, carry on."
posted by not that girl at 8:56 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


there is a "possible sock puppet" section.

I ...I'm not sure I'd ever want to know that. it would be like finding out you're secretly a Replicant.
posted by The Whelk at 8:57 PM on September 9, 2010 [9 favorites]


If I sign up for a second account using the same IP address and credit card as I used for the first one, that seems like it would get flagged.

Flagged by whom? Only mods would be able to make the connection, unless you indicate in your main account or the sock that both belong to you. Regular, non-mod people can't tell who has which account, unless the account makes it pretty clear somehow.

Is that what you're asking?
posted by rtha at 9:03 PM on September 9, 2010


Having a second account, known as a sock puppet, is generally discouraged.

Really?

cortex said just 3 months ago:
It is indeed cool to sign up with a new username just because [insert basically any reason here]; that by itself and as a one-off event is pretty much your business, if you feel the need to do that you can. . . .

So, yeah, if you want to retire an old account in favor of a new one in order to hide from your mom, or if you want to create a second account to use specifically for e.g. answering mom-shouldn't-know-I'm-saying-this stuff, that's okay. So long as you're doing that stuff in good faith, not using the account stuff as an excuse to fuck with people or be a jerk or route around site guidelines and posting limits, it's probably not going to be an issue.
I wouldn't call that "generally discouraged."
posted by John Cohen at 9:06 PM on September 9, 2010


I wouldn't call that "generally discouraged."

There is a large set of caveats as far as when it's okay to have a sock puppet. People will disagree on what it really means to be a "sock puppet" and I think the meaning has shifted some even since the faq was written.

Basically, if you feel that you need a second account for various reasons, go for it. Maintaining two account with distinct identities on the site is not okay. So originally when the faq was written we were referring more to the second sense: no you can not have a second full identity, but when we talk about them more recently it's been like "but technically you can have a second account, just don't use it to fuck around"
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:21 PM on September 9, 2010


Ya, what's generally discouraged is using a sock puppet to mess with the site or get around posting limits; sock puppetry itself is ok.
posted by Mitheral at 9:21 PM on September 9, 2010


I can barely keep track of one account.
posted by fuq at 10:16 PM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anonymity, what are the rules exactly?

Fucking anonymity, how does it work?
posted by davejay at 11:42 PM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


the meme police, they live inside of my head...
posted by davejay at 11:50 PM on September 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Maintaining two account with distinct identities on the site is not okay.

Wait a minute..

no you can not have a second full identity

Phew! Astro Zombie 3 is safe.
posted by Chuckles at 12:11 AM on September 10, 2010


A question from the guidelines in that other thread.

Sayeth Jessamyn:
- If you use multiple accounts and segment them in terms of which parts of the site you use them in [this one is for Music, that one is for MeFi] that is a problem.
I was a little surprised by that. I can imagine one of the prime, seemingly legitimate use cases for a sockpuppet would be because you want to post something (to Projects or Music) that's easily linked to your real persona, but you want to keep your standard MeFi username at arms length from meatspace-you.

The Music case isn't hard to imagine ... if you're in a band, and want to post a song that you made with your band, you're probably going to want to at least mention the band's name (lest it seem like you're taking undue credit). But if someone can Google your band and find your webpage and from there get your real name, places you're playing, etc. ... you're pretty much outing yourself. (Actually, the concern for most people is probably more the reverse; that someone is going to Google the band's name, find the post on Music, and from there find all their other, unrelated, MeFi posts. Either way, it creates a trivially-Googleable linkage.)

I get that we probably don't want people creating sockpuppets all the time to pimp their band / project / whatever, but that seems pretty well-covered by other, more general rules.

I was just surprised by that rule; all the others seemed very reasonable.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:35 AM on September 10, 2010


Kadin2048: I was a little surprised by that. I can imagine one of the prime, seemingly legitimate use cases for a sockpuppet would be because you want to post something (to Projects or Music) that's easily linked to your real persona, but you want to keep your standard MeFi username at arms length from meatspace-you.

Or Jobs. Especially Jobs, actually.
posted by paisley henosis at 1:34 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Flagged by whom?

Flagged by the mod/admin interface. I didn't mean flagged in the "flag and move on" sense.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:38 AM on September 10, 2010


Seconding especially jobs.
posted by davejay at 3:10 AM on September 10, 2010


Or Jobs. Especially Jobs, actually.

What? Steve Jobs has a sockpuppet?!?

I'm okay with that, actually. I can totally see why he would want to keep his MeFi shenanigans separate from his real persona.
posted by daniel_charms at 3:47 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Steve Jobs is not a flasher.
posted by maxwelton at 4:02 AM on September 10, 2010


How do the mods "note" the sockpuppetry?

I have a sockpuppet for asking anonymous Ask questions, and I've bought my girlfriend an account (which she has yet to use, the ingrate!).

If I post a question with my anonymous account on Monday, and she posts a question on Tuesday, are the mods going to drop an email to both accounts that says "On Tuesday linked account "Girlfriendo" asked a question about knitting, but on Monday, linked account "Anonymous" asked a question about whether the poster should dump his girlfriend because she smells like a walrus--hey! no end runs around the Ask limit!"

I would very much not like that. Is it possible permanently to sever the links between two accounts?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:18 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was actually really surprised at the big list of sock puppet guidelines that Jessamyn recently posted. They seemed far more restrictive than in the past, and more restrictive than they need to be.
posted by smackfu at 5:37 AM on September 10, 2010


(And it's funny, you do see why there shouldn't be too many rules. The more rules there are, the more there is to disagree with. Much better off with a flexible guidelines like "don't abuse sock puppets to mess with the site or break the site rules" )
posted by smackfu at 5:41 AM on September 10, 2010


"If I post a question with my anonymous account on Monday, and she posts a question on Tuesday, are the mods going to drop an email to both accounts that says "On Tuesday linked account "Girlfriendo" asked a question about knitting, but on Monday, linked account "Anonymous" asked a question about whether the poster should dump his girlfriend because she smells like a walrus--hey! no end runs around the Ask limit!"

When something similar happened to me, a mod emailed asking (paraphrasing) "Hey, this looks a little odd and unclear from our end, can you clear up what's going on here, please?"

In short, it wasn't a big deal and they weren't breaking the door at gunpoint and threatening to hall me into the secret back room/
posted by nomadicink at 5:44 AM on September 10, 2010


Flagged by the mod/admin interface. I didn't mean flagged in the "flag and move on" sense.

Oh, okay. But that's not going to happen really unless your sock goes out of its way to be a pain. I mean, if mods get a little "yoo-hoo!" from the system when a new account is created with a credit card/IP that's already been used for an existing account, I can't imagine they'll care for long, unless the originating account has caused trouble.

Mods are busy. Unless you go out of your way to attract their attention, they're not going to remember/care that you made a sock so you could ask a question that can't be tied to your real life.
posted by rtha at 6:06 AM on September 10, 2010


When something similar happened to me, a mod emailed asking (paraphrasing) "Hey, this looks a little odd and unclear from our end, can you clear up what's going on here, please?"

In short, it wasn't a big deal and they weren't breaking the door at gunpoint and threatening to hall me into the secret back room/


I don't worry about the mods, I worry about the girlfriend.

To restate--when the mods email, whom do they email? Both accounts? Do they identify the questions at issue? Do they identify the accounts at issue?

Fundamentally, this is why I set up a sockpuppet--to ask anonymous questions. I'd really like to know, preferably from a mod, exactly what's in the "Hey, just checking email," or I'm going to be sending Jessamyn $5 in stamps for a new anonymous account.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:16 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


We'll just know it's two accounts paid for by the same people and there's some back-end linkage so that if you ask two questions in the same seven day period [one with each account] we'll get a note about it.

So, I didn't know how "gift" works and paid for a friend's account straight up. If we both ask a question in the same week, does it look like she's my sock puppet?

(Or, y'know, what Admiral Haddock just asked.)
posted by sonika at 7:04 AM on September 10, 2010


Phew! Astro Zombie 3 is safe.

After watching him catch and eat a cannon ball, I don't think I'd use the word "safe".

"Terrifying" maybe. Or possibly "Holy crap, he's here! Run!"
posted by quin at 7:29 AM on September 10, 2010


I would very much not like that. Is it possible permanently to sever the links between two accounts?

Send us an email saying "hey, so I have this account that's mine and my girlfriend/SO/brother/whatever has another account that is not mine but they were both paid for with the same paypal account (the most common case for the site noting potential relatedness), can you please dissociate them?" and we'll do just that.

Generally speaking, when we see what looks like potentially less-than-seven-day asking from a couple different accounts, we'll take a look and see if we can make a clear case of it being (a) definitely outright sockery or (b) definitely two different people. In the latter case, we'll just dissociate it then and there, no discussion needed. In the former case, and in a lot of the muddy cases where we can't really tell, we'll send an email (this is I think our only form letter!) asking for clarification and laying out the no-socking-around-the-time-limit policy.

I don't think this would ever be prompted by an Anonymous post, in any case; the system doesn't know who asked those, and so can't make any meaningful match the way it does with actual in-the-clear accounts. So in your hypothetical, Admiral Haddock, I don't think it would come up in the first place.

To restate--when the mods email, whom do they email?

Depends, but default would be the email on the older account.

So, I didn't know how "gift" works and paid for a friend's account straight up. If we both ask a question in the same week, does it look like she's my sock puppet?

Gift accounts are tracked in the system as just that; if we see a potentially-sockery situation but it's two accounts, the latter a gift account, we're going to assume barring some really weird extenuating circumstance that they're unrelated and we'll generally just dissociate them on the spot.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:37 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Much better off with a flexible guidelines like "don't abuse sock puppets to mess with the site or break the site rules"

Totally agree with you. The problem, however, is that some people feel a lot happier if they know EXACTLY what the rules/guidelines are. So we try to elaborate what exactly we mean by "mess with the site" and wind up with something that sounds like a ton of rules. For most people the basic deal is "please do not use a sock puppet to maintain two separate identities or mess with the site." For people who want it spelled out, there are a few lists.

And as far as email, we have a form letter (our only one!) that we usually use for the sock puppet stuff that doesn't mention the questions or the usernames. We send it usually to the account that asked the most recent question [which would have been the account that would have seen the warning on screen] unless we think there's some reason why we need to email the older account as well. We have middling success with this. Sometimes we never hear back from anyone in which case we make a note about it and if it happens again we'll close the account until we hear from you so we can figure out what is going on.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:45 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Cortex--that's very helpful. To clarify, when I was talking about asking anonymous questions, I didn't mean using the Anonymous form, but using my top secret sockpuppet; I realize now that this was not entirely apparent from my phrasing.

Glad to hear that the default is the older account.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:47 AM on September 10, 2010


So as to what Jess said the other day:

If you use multiple accounts and segment them in terms of which parts of the site you use them in [this one is for Music, that one is for MeFi] that is a problem.

The issue is more if you're doing this gratuitously than if you're doing it as a specific privacy/partitioning-minded thing where you want to post something specific but doing so under what is your primary account is not a reasonable option.

So if you have a second account that you use to post your recognizable music that you don't want to have out your otherwise pseudonymous main account, okay. If you want to make a Firstname Lastname account to make a detailed Jobs post with that doesn't get associated with your pseudonymous main, again, okay.

But if you're just like signing up extra accounts for the hell of it, to be like "this is my MUSIC account and this is my ASKME account and..." and using those independently as separate fully-functioning identities for no real reason, that's in problematic sockery-for-it's-own-sake territory.

It may not have been a great bullet point as stated, because some of this stuff is hard to convey without unpacking some, and we tend to think about a lot of it in shorthand because we talk about this stuff behind the scenes constantly. But that's what she was getting after.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:53 AM on September 10, 2010


But if you're just like signing up extra accounts for the hell of it, to be like "this is my MUSIC account and this is my ASKME account and..." and using those independently as separate fully-functioning identities for no real reason, that's in problematic sockery-for-it's-own-sake territory.

Have ya'll had that occur? A lot? That seems like a lot of work for not much gain.
posted by nomadicink at 7:55 AM on September 10, 2010


To clarify, when I was talking about asking anonymous questions, I didn't mean using the Anonymous form, but using my top secret sockpuppet; I realize now that this was not entirely apparent from my phrasing.

Ah, I see, yeah.

And to reiterate: that's my general habit, not something explicitly in the playbook or anything, and it sounds like Jess may have a slightly different approach. There's no explicit rhyme or reason to it because it's sort of an odd we-already-don't-know-what's-up situation.

If you have a pressing concern about potential bad outcomes of us emailing the wrong party in a case of two or more related-but-distinct accounts, you need to just proactively write us an email and be clear what the situation is. We don't want to ruin anyone's day by accidentally outing one of their accounts to the other, but making sure that sort of slapstick stuff doesn't occur really isn't part of our ostensible job description and if we're left guessing about something we may not guess the way you'd prefer.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:57 AM on September 10, 2010


Have ya'll had that occur? A lot? That seems like a lot of work for not much gain.

Not a lot. Like Jessamyn said, our basic "don't fuck around or play identity games" rule for sockpuppets covers the general idea well and works for 99% of people. But if we're going to break down every sort of weird specific thing that we've seen that is not okay, that sort of thing has happened, yeah. Along with a bunch of other oddities.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:59 AM on September 10, 2010


Have ya'll had that occur? A lot? That seems like a lot of work for not much gain.

Once, enough so that we now mention that doing this isn't really okay.

To clarify, when I was talking about asking anonymous questions

If you make sure you never use two of your accounts [i.e. you, your sock puppets, other accounts associated with your paypal that are not clearly gift accounts] to ask a question in the same seven day period, this will never come up.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:01 AM on September 10, 2010


Sock puppets in da house.

I'm coming up, so you'd better get this party started...
posted by Brave New Meatbomb at 8:22 AM on September 10, 2010


Admiral Haddock: "but on Monday, linked account "Anonymous" asked a question about whether the poster should dump his girlfriend because she smells like a walrus"

wait, what?
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:07 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


jessamyn: "If we think you're trying to use the second account to maintain an entirely separate full identity on the site, we'll talk to you about it"

Pardon me for being thick, but why is this? I get it that you don't wants socks being used for deceptive purposes, but why not allow multiple personalities? I mean, I act differently at work than I do around my friends. I could see a case where a professional has a separate account for answering questions directly related to that profession, and a regular account for other stuff. Why is that a problem?

Also, and especially, why not allow this to get around posting limits? If you have a prolific poster (or asker) who is generating a lot of good content for the site, then why not allow that?

jessamyn: "If you ever use both accounts to comment in the same thread without it being clear you're making a joke, that is a problem."

FAQ: "Some reasons people have sock puppet accounts:
...
- they have a second account for making jokey comments
"

So it's ok for people to use socks to make jokes, but not for other stuff? This seems weird and confuses me.
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:20 AM on September 10, 2010


I could see a case where a professional has a separate account for answering questions directly related to that profession, and a regular account for other stuff. Why is that a problem?

Because the site is built around a one-person-one-account system and things like favoriting and posting limits all work around that presumption. And we're okay with this. This is a site of people, not just content, and less tangible things like trust and reputation work more easily and clearly when people have one account.

Also, and especially, why not allow this to get around posting limits? If you have a prolific poster (or asker) who is generating a lot of good content for the site, then why not allow that?

Because it doesn't scale. We'd have people asking questions every day or making four to five MeFi posts a day and on a site with over 40K users, you can't really do this and have the sort of community feel we're working on. There are other sites that do this differently, so I don't think the other options are bad, they're just different.

We have a very small team here and a lot of the moderation we do is just answering tech support questions and helping people understand how the site works. We have very little time available to sort of police people if they're not able to act decently and share well. So we have some upper limits to make sure that questions don't roll off the front page of AskMe super quickly and that everyone sort of gets a chance to post to the front page and have other people see it.

At the end of it, we want to cultivate this community, not just grow it, and so having there be certain limitations so that we can make the most of a small mod team and a pretty light moderation policy is what we're after. That's been working pretty well so far and we're not feeling a lot of pushback about most of these things. With a fairly large community, as I've said in other recent threads, making changes is tricky and we don't undertake large changes lightly. Our guidelines and policies have evolved over the past ten years and they mostly work. Content generation is a pleasant side effect, not the main purpose of the site.

So it's ok for people to use socks to make jokes, but not for other stuff? This seems weird and confuses me.

Having an account with a funny name that you use to make occasional amusing comments is something that people do every once in a while. It's clear that the account is not a separate person and it's clear that the intent is to be amusing and/or positive.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:29 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you for the explanation
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:31 AM on September 10, 2010


Sure thing.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:58 AM on September 10, 2010


definitely outright sockery

It absolutely thrills me that this phrase can be deployed here--and only here--without anyone even blinking.
posted by Skot at 11:33 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you for the explanation

Sure thing.

This isn't over!
posted by Passillododorconquail Buttonquivorybidododorbacon at 12:29 PM on September 10, 2010


Interesting stuff. I do think, by the way, that we shouldn't use the word "sockpuppet" automatically for "second account". I would associate that term with an intent to deceive others or to game the system. Sometimes a second account is just a second account.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:47 PM on September 10, 2010


Again, totally agree with you and at the same time we can't keep people from saying "sock puppet" for whatever reason. So we try to define it in the FAQ so that it's at least clear what we mean when we talk about sock puppets here. On wikipedia, for example, a sock puppet is basically a bad thing. Here it isn't, necessarily.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:54 PM on September 10, 2010


I propose that a secondary account used for valid purposes be called a "sock puppet" while a secondary account used to game the system be called a "cock muppet."
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:51 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


But see that makes no sense, because muppets require at least two hands to operate, actually three for some of them, and if you were working it with your cock you'd have no way to operate the mouth and the arm rods all at once and oh god I'm a colossal nerd.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:19 PM on September 11, 2010


Nerd is not the word that comes to mind for someone who uses "working it with your cock" in a sentence about muppets.
posted by Mid at 7:44 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


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