Policy on celebrity impersonators revisited

A recent influx of users adopting the names of celebrities prompted re-examination of Wikipedia's username policy, which discourages usernames that are the names of famous people or events.

In response to the proliferation of users like Hilary Duff and Scott Peterson, Zanimum proposed an addition to the policy that "no user may impersonate another living person other than themselves, particularly a person that is worth encyclopedic note". This follows an earlier Arbitration Committee case in which two sockpuppets were blocked because they adopted false names belonging to real people. (Sockpuppets that impersonate other users are also routinely blocked.)

Requests for comment were started last week with respect to two users for impersonating Peterson and Joe Scarborough (the Scarborough imitator was sloppy enough to misspell this U.S. politician's last name and later created a second account with the correct spelling).

In one way or another, these users generally tried to convey the impression that they were the famous—or infamous—person in question (Zanimum said he thought Jerryseinfeld less problematic because he didn't pretend to be Jerry Seinfeld). But besides the sheer improbability of it, a little investigation usually made the impersonation fairly obvious.

What about real names?

However, several people raised concerns that the proposal might be applied against users who happen to share names with famous people. Christopher Mahan argued, "I say if you can prove your identity, it's first come first served." Jimbo Wales weighed in on the issue to say that the policy definitely should not apply to real names. He invited anyone to contact him if they actually knew of any case where such a user was not allowed to use their name.

In the ensuing discussion, it was not clear whether a formal change in policy was necessary, or if existing practices were adequate to handle the problem. Of course, as Wikipedia continues to add users, there remains the problem, especially among common names, that one's real name may already be taken as a username by someone who shares it.

Note: The reporter wishes to acknowledge that he is not the same person as Michael Snow, the Canadian artist. However, he would like to point out that this is his real name, and that he registered it as a username before that article was actually created.

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