Sockpuppets and Wikipedia - an unknown battlefront

News | Memory and Disinformation Studies | Blog Post 14 February 2024

The agenda of Georgian political and strategic communications is based on two main pillars: presenting oneself positively and discrediting opponents. In recent years, we have encountered the active use of these tools of political struggle, particularly on social networks. Organizations working on the issue have created hundreds of studies, "fact checks," articles, blogs, and other materials. The public is already familiar with the meaning of the terms "troll" and "bot".


In the realm of the internet, there exist what are known as sockpuppets—fake online identities crafted mainly to praise, defend, or support a person or organization, manipulate public opinion, or discredit opponents. They are created with the aim of circumventing limitations and obstacles. Essentially, sockpuppets are multiple distinct users managed by a single individual. They are widely frowned upon in many online communities and forums.


The article reviews the coordinated actions of Sockpuppets around Georgian politics in the popular encyclopedia - Wikipedia.


Sockpuppets and English-language Wikipedia articles on Georgian politics


Between May 25, 2022, and January 3, 2024, Wikipedia conducted an investigation that identified the user ArsenalAtletico2017. This user attempted to influence public opinion by creating dozens of proxies, including self-created sockpuppets. ArsenalAtletico2017 controlled two users who would argue with each other, aiming to provoke additional users to join the conflict and create focal points of manipulation and discord. 


It's worth noting that when creating the account, ArsenalAtletico2017 primarily edited the Wikipedia page of the relatively obscure American neo-Nazi figure, Francis Parker Yockey, by creating new pages about Yockey's books. However, more recently, he has shifted his attention to Georgian politics and politicians. In various discussions, ArsenalAtletico2017 mentioned in several comments that he is Georgian, using this as justification for editing articles related to Georgia.


The first instance of suspicious user activity was reported on May 25, 2022, when ArsenalAtletico2017 became notably active on Wikipedia, particularly regarding Francis Parker Yockey. During this period, they focused on editing articles related to Yockey's works. According to Wikipedia's investigation, the last 500 user activities of ArsenalAtletico2017 were directly or indirectly linked to Yockey and his work. Shortly after this surge in activity, a new user named DerTag14 emerged on Wikipedia, also engaging in writing about Yockey and even creating a separate section about him in an article titled 'Esoteric Nazism'. However, DerTag14 was exposed as a sockpuppet, leading to the banning of the account.


The saga continued on May 26, 2022, with the creation of another new account, Basedofficial14, which persisted in editing an article about one of Yockey's works. Notably, Basedofficial14's editing patterns bore a striking resemblance to those of ArsenalAtletico2017, particularly in downplaying Yockey's anti-Semitism in general summaries of his work. Consequently, Basedofficial14 was also identified as a sockpuppet and banned from Wikipedia. Furthermore, another fake identity linked to ArsenalAtletico2017, Reumnon, was blocked on June 4, 2022, for similar reasons.


The early activity of ArsenalAtletico2017 and its proxies was aimed at creating a history of edits to later appear as credible editors.


On June 27, another possible sockpuppet, Isquad33, came under scrutiny for their activities centered around Francis Parker Yockey on Wikipedia. However, in this instance, another intriguing observation emerged: Isquad33 also edited an article about the feature film 'And Then We Danced,' which had stirred protests within conservative Georgian society. The user who exposed Isquad33 noted that they had removed several sources from the article. Furthermore, Isquad33 referred to Ana Subeliani as a 'liberal activist,' contrary to the characterization of 'civil activist' found in all available sources.


Before being blocked, the user also displayed behaviors indicative of homophobic and political sentiments. Notably, in the article titled '2021 Tbilisi Pride protests,' they added a link that redirected readers to the article titled 'Dickhead.' Additionally, within the same article, they inserted links to Wikipedia articles about the Government of Georgia and the United National Movement. These actions suggest that, apart from holding homophobic views, the neo-Nazi ArsenalAtletico2017 also promotes a favorable narrative for the Georgian government. Specifically, they attempt to link the Pride protests with the Georgian opposition, presumably to discredit them in the eyes of the public.


Another intriguing aspect of the user's activity is that of another sockpuppet, Silveresc, who engaged in a confrontation with another user while editing an article about Irakli Kobakhidze. Silveresc objected to mentioning Kobakhidze as having 'anti-European' and 'anti-Western' views. In early February 2024, a user similar to ArsenalAtletico2017 reappeared, this time under the name Liverpoolfan12600. Liverpoolfan12600 attempted to delete the same part from the article about Irakli Kobakhidze that Silveresc had objected to in the past. Liverpoolfan12600 claimed that despite such rhetoric, the country had received the status of a candidate for the European Union during Kobakhidze's tenure as chairman of the ruling party.


This is not part of the Wikipedia investigation, but according to ArsenalAtletico2017's own history, in December 2021 he tried to edit the article "Gldani Prison Scandal", but failed to do so twice due to copyright infringement. The user also worked on articles about Irakli Gharibashvili and the Constitution of Georgia.


In 2023, we meet the two main Sockpuppets of ArsenalAtletico2017, Silveresc and Cutoc, on Wikipedia. In this case, ArsenalAtletico2017's approach was more complex and, one might say, strategically better calculated. Cutoc and Silveresc worked on the same article. In August 2023, Silveresc started working on editing and removing sources from the encyclopedia articles about the Abkhazia War and Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and then engaged in the so-called Editing War for both articles. This is where the second fake user - Cutoc - came into action. The latter took a less radical position, criticizing Silveresc for radical views and emphasizing that all positions have the right to exist. Moreover, later he even agreed with Silveresc in some cases. In this particular regard, ArsenalAtletico2017's tactic of editing articles about the recent history of Georgia itself is important. He uses two of his own Sockpuppets to act. Let's remember that at this stage his main account is already blocked and he needs a new "clean" account, and in this case Cutoc should become one. This is what the criticism of a relatively radical proxy serves, so that the second proxy gains the administrator's trust. Despite this dedicated attempt, the administrator recognized ArsenalAtletico2017 in both accounts and of course blocked them.


bout one month after the March 2023 protests, on April 23rd, one of ArsenalAtletico2017's sockpuppets, Silveresc, responded to a comment about 'people's power' in the discussion section of an existing English language article. The comment asserted that 'People's Power' is a pro-Russian political party and suggested that the article should reflect this. However, Silveresc denied the party's pro-Russian nature, claiming that 'People's Power' had not openly revealed any pro-Russian tendencies. Furthermore, Silveresc argued that criticizing the USA for violating Georgia's sovereignty does not inherently equate to being pro-Russian. 


n May 2022, ArsenalAtletico2017 was blocked from Wikipedia, and their request to have the restriction lifted was denied by the administrator. In response, the user claimed oppression due to their ideological views, alleging bias toward left-wing perspectives on Wikipedia. Despite expressing remorse and a commitment not to repeat their mistakes, including the creation of Sockpuppets, their request for pardon was also refused by the administrator, citing the persistent use of Sockpuppets.




On May 3, 2023, Meta, the parent company of the social network Facebook, released its quarterly foreign threat report, revealing the deletion of an inauthentic network in Georgia comprising 117 assets. Meta linked this network to the Strategic Communications Department of the Government of Georgia, stating that "the individuals involved in the operation attempted to conceal their connections and identities." This operation, according to Meta, was actively responding to ongoing protests, even posting during nighttime hours. A total of $33,500 was spent to disseminate government messages to a wider audience.


Social networks and Facebook play a bigger role in shaping public opinion than Wikipedia. However, from the examples given in the article, it is clear that the author, through minor manipulations and changes, attempted to steer public opinion positively toward the ruling party members and, to some extent, to 'discredit' the opposition and the March 2021 protests, thereby influencing public sentiment. An example of this is the association of the protest action with the United National Movement, which aimed to discredit the cross-party protest movement.


Perhaps from today's point of view, the problem described in the mentioned blog is less acute than the campaign battle on social media, although this fact once again confirms that all means are used to manipulate public opinion, including Wikipedia.


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