A high-reputation, highly-active user has already been dinged once for a sockpuppet, and I just dinged him again. He probably has another sockpuppet as well.

What are the guidelines for handling users who game the system in this fashion? Specifically,

  • How can I be sure I'm looking at a sockpuppet?
  • When should sockpuppets be considered a problem?
  • How should moderators handle problematic sockpuppets once they've been identified?
  • I was suspended for sockpuppetting and feel this is unfair

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  • Can we please start with: "What is a sockpuppet?" (Please update the question to help me out here). Apr 14 at 1:32
  • For those of you who do not know what the term means, according to Wikipedia it is: "A sock puppet or sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception." Sep 15 at 21:26

How can I be sure I'm looking at a sockpuppet?

You can't ever be 100% sure. What you think is a sockpuppet could in fact be my good friend Nog Shine, who loves everything I write, copies my writing style, and uses my computer to vote and post stuff when I step away for coffee.

But in practice, there are patterns that are extremely unusual unless someone is using a second account. If it actually is a very enthusiastic friend, they should know better than to continue this behavior after being warned about it. Feel free to contact the SE team if you're unsure - we have a fair bit of experience in dealing with this sort of thing.

When should sockpuppets be considered a problem?

There are a handful of legitimate reasons to maintain multiple accounts. A good rule of thumb for identifying abusive socks is: if the second account allows you to do something on the site that your normal account would be prevented from doing, it is abuse. Examples of this include (but are not limited to):

  • Voting on your own posts or comments
  • Answering your own questions with the other account(s)
  • Casting multiple votes on others' posts or comments
  • Supporting your own arguments ("+1: shog is right, don't know why the rest of you don't realize this")
  • Using bounties to circumvent the rep cap
  • Circumventing suspensions, quality bans, or the rate limits on posting questions / answers / comments / etc.
  • Violating site rules through another account to prevent sanctions from being applied to your main account

How should moderators handle problematic sockpuppets once they've been identified?

This depends on the severity of the abuse and the discretion of the moderator handling it. For the typical first occurrence:

  • Send a warning to the primary account, and either suspend or send another warning to the secondary account or simply delete it if the abuse is blatant.

For subsequent occurrences (and first occurrences when the abuse is blatant):

  • Suspend the primary account, delete or suspend secondary accounts.

I was suspended for sockpuppetting and feel this is unfair; I didn't realize it wasn't allowed / it was an enthusiastic co-worker / I swear it was my evil twin, Nog Shine!

Take this opportunity to get to know how the community here works / talk to your co-workers / send your doppelganger back to the darkest dimension.

Then just make sure it doesn't happen again. Everyone makes mistakes, and we don't hold grudges here.

You mentioned valid uses for sockpuppets; what are they?

I've probably had a half dozen or so alternate accounts over the course of the site.

They're useful sometimes:

  • testing bugs that only show up at low rep levels
  • reminding yourself what the site "feels like" for someone with only the basic abilities
  • maintaining a highly unnatural q/a ratio
  • making a "bot" account that will only take automated actions on behalf of the account owner (provided there's a consensus for running said bot)
  • answering questions on a tag that's new to you (ensuring voters vote for the answer, not the user)
  • instances where posts being attributed to the primary account would be problematic (e.g. keeping hobbies private)

That said, I nearly always treat these as disposable accounts, and some of them have been removed (either automatically or via mod intervention) when I crossed a line somewhere - you should never assume that a sockpuppet is "protected" if you're actively using multiple accounts on one site; it's entirely too hard to be certain you're not interacting in some inappropriate fashion.

  • 6
    what if I use a sock to crank up my spam flag count so that I can flag more of the spam that keeps piling up on the front page of this brand new site? Is it still abuse? May 28 '15 at 10:13
  • 1
    @JanDvorak If it is I need to disable a feature of my bot...
    – Mooseman
    May 28 '15 at 10:17
  • 1
    You may also want to disconnect your account from the one on sexuality.SE which is currenly on beta resctricted to commiters and the experts invited by these fellows. Jul 29 '15 at 14:41
  • 2
    Why is cross-sock self-answering disallowed? I sure can answer my own questions and I've also seen a case where such answer was used on meta to establish the sockpuppet's owner. Nov 22 '15 at 20:32
  • 17
    It's certainly possible to do so without actually causing any harm, @Jan... But there's a fine line to walk. If you accept your sock's answer, then you're cross-voting (and giving more preference to your own answer than would normally be possible with a self-accept); there are also situations where using a sock to self-answer amounts to Astroturfing (you see this a lot from spammers - "oh, no one wants to ask about my long file tool™? Guess I'll have to create some interest...").
    – Shog9
    Nov 22 '15 at 20:35
  • How do I defend myself from users who cheat? From users who begin a new account, or several accounts. It sounds very easy to do.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 8 '15 at 1:02
  • 2
    Mostly, ignore them @Mari-LouA; if they become a nuisance, flag & let a mod deal with it. Mods have a number of tools for making this less easy.
    – Shog9
    Dec 8 '15 at 1:06
  • Mah... how can one be sure, new accounts are set up daily. If these sockpuppets wrote low-quality answers, who would care? But when they write ostensibly good answers but upvote themselves? How can one tell if from the ten received upvotes, five are from the same user?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 8 '15 at 1:17
  • 2
    I know what you're referring to, @Mari-Lou - and there were more than five. You've got some good moderators on the case.
    – Shog9
    Dec 8 '15 at 4:23
  • 53
    Hey Shog! Did you change the password for your computer? I'm not able to open it.
    – Nog Shine
    Oct 18 '17 at 4:31
  • 6
    Is Nog Shine really your sock puppet? Oct 20 '17 at 19:20
  • 6
    @DonaldDuck - Nope, just a "friend", so stated. Not a sock puppet.
    – Travis J
    Nov 27 '17 at 5:35
  • 1
    Deleting / destroying is fine in many cases, @gung; they can escalate if unsure or in need of extra cleanup.
    – Shog9
    Jan 7 '20 at 5:17
  • 1
    creating a bot account is also a valid reason (ElectionBot) Jul 22 '20 at 17:10
  • 1
    Not like I have this problem, but is it abuse if you vote to close your sockpuppet's post? Feb 19 at 0:32

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