On the subject of opposition research

Please also refer to the OUTING policy on Wikipedia.

So you have someone in your sights on Wikipedia and you want to find out more about them. Or maybe you are on Wikipedia and you don’t want WhenDatHotlineBling dumping obscene material in your inbox. How do you translate a username to useful real life information, or even better, stop this happening to you? After all, knowing how it’s done is the first step to preventative action.

Passive observation

Checking the Wikipedia logs and contributions is the first step. Start by looking at the editors userpage, and carefully inspect all previous revisions of it, look for any information that may have been added here, userboxes, images, and short biographical pieces may all give clues.

Go back to the editors very first talk page edits and see how they signed, editors will occasionally rename their account but this won’t update old signatures. Generally if this was done for privacy reasons the old account name will be in some way revealing. Look for articles about geography and places in early edits, this is normally where the editor lives or grew up, especially if they added a lot of clearly local information in said edits. Go to meta, and using Special:CentralAuth, check for cross-wiki contributions. If an editor has substantial edits to another language project there is a good chance the editor speaks that language.

Make a check on xtools.wmflabs.org for background information. Several things are of interest here. Firstly the editors time-card, which shows what time day they generally edit. This can be used to figure out what time zone the editor lives in, and when they work and sleep. Not all editors seem to have a job or sleep as evidenced by editing all day and night but this is a rare exception to the rule.

Secondly, the lists of “most edited” articles, which shows the topics an editor is most interested in, because they have edited those pages the most. Hobbies, employers, places lived, and other interests may become apparent by looking at this. Finally, check what pages the editor has created, this may also indicate interests and possibly give an indication of the editors location.

Active data collection

The first step is to search Facebook. Why people use Facebook in current year is beyond comprehension, but if you come across an open Facebook account it will tell you almost everything there is to know about them, normally right down to their date of birth and education history. If it’s not open access you can become a friend or a friend of one of their friends and get access that way. In short, everything you add to Facebook will probably be visible given enough time.

If you have a name or basic details about someone, Google is your best tool to find out more, searching Bing and other search engines can be useful if the Google results have been censored by take-down requests. You should look for specific accounts, such as profiles on.

  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
  • Reddit
  • Personal blogs / Websites
  • Facebook / Instagram / etc
  • Local directories / Phonebooks
  • Business listings / Freelance Sites

Normally people have something online, but sometimes they don’t. So then what? Well this is when you take a page out of the Nigerian Prince’s Handbook to Getting Information. In short, ask. Most people will reveal information about themselves quite readily if you frame the request in an reasonable way.

Furthermore, if your email someone via Wikipedia and they reply, then you will gain information from their email metadata which may include location and name. If you find them on an external chat you may see their IP address, and so forth.

Generally the approach you take should depend on what information you have, normally if you have acquired a name then finding out more is far easier than if you just have biographical details.

Protection

There are two main approaches to not getting doxxed if you are an active Wikipedian. The first is to never reveal any personal details while editing, and the second is not to have anything about you online.

If you want to keep your Wikipedia separate, you will need to be aware of how editing local topics gives your location away, be careful what you put on your userpage, not have a revealing username, not talk about yourself on talk pages, and most importantly not use an email address attached to you for your registration. If you use off-wiki communication channels then the same measures apply.

But of course, if you don’t actually care about being anonymous or you are doxxed already then it doesn’t really matter, which brings us to the next point. Which is how to limit online trolling affecting you in normal life if your identity is known.

Firstly though you may be known, it doesn’t mean that you should post details about those close to you who may not be. Therefore, it is wise to practice good information security despite technically being open about yourself. It is wise not to reveal details about where you work, as the first avenue a troll will take to embarrass you is to make stuff up and send it to your employer.

Of course if you are an ordinary Wikipedia editor involved in uncontroversial editing then it doesn’t matter, nobody is going to ever care enough to target you. However, editing controversial subject areas or being involved in the administration may cause you to encounter issues if you are not careful.

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