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The Boudoir

Timothy Usher also told Selwood he knew who Taxwoman really was. Usher says he received a tip from someone identifying this Wikipuppetmaster as Michael Baxter, a civil servant in the Pharmacy Statistics Division of Britain's Department of Health.

Chris Selwood then phoned Mr. Baxter at the Department of Health, asking that the photos of his girlfriend be removed from the web, and later that day, the Poetlister account yanked the photo from Shalom Yechiel's protest site.

Selwood also phoned Mr. Baxter's superiors at the Department, and he was soon told that Mr. Baxter had been suspended from his job.

Michael Baxter did not respond to our requests for comment. But when we contacted the Department of Health, one employee confirmed that Mr. Baxter works for the department and explained that a woman named Linda Percival was investigating a complaint against him.

"I can confirm that the department has received a complaint about an employee which is being investigated," Linda Percival told us over email. "We will not be making further comment at this stage."

According to Chris Selwood, Baxter most likely lifted the photo of his girlfriend from the website of a London "dressing service" known as The Boudoir. His girlfriend briefly worked for the service, which dresses men as women.

As it turns out, the Wikipedia sockpuppet known as Rachel Brown used a photo of Jodie Lynn, the owner of this dressing service. Lynn told us that one of her longtime clients is Michael Baxter. When he visits her shop, this client uses the alias Rachel Brown. And Lynn has seen photos that identify the client as Michael Baxter.

"I'm a makeup artist specifically for transvestites," Lynn tells us. "He's been coming to me for quite a few years...and when he was here, he used to ask if I could send him photographs of girlfriends of mine on my web site - and that is where he seems to have stolen the majority of the photos he used on Wikipedia."

'Assume Good Faith'

And so it would seem that this British civil servant sockpuppeted for the sake of sockpuppeting - that he simply enjoyed posing as someone else. Yes, he's an extreme case. But his tale bares the flaws of the social web in general - and Wikipedia in particular.

Wikipedia is unusually fertile ground for those looking to further a very personal agenda by masquerading as someone else. It's the eighth most popular site on the net, a source of information for web surfers the world over. And all its contributors are free to hide who they really are.

At Wikipedia, the motto is "assume good faith." Anyone can easily hide themselves behind an alternate personality - or multiple personalities - but the assumption is that no one would do such a thing.

Of course, the reality is quite different.

"Wikipedia draws narcissists to itself, like moths to a flame...You make an edit, and in just a few seconds you've 'helped shaped the content' of one of the biggest websites on Earth," says Somey, one of the webmasters at Wikipedia Review, who - yes - prefers to remain anonymous. "And pretending to be multiple people is classic narcissistic thing to do." ®

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