More on sock puppets

I have mentioned sock puppets on my blog before and am bringing them up again now because we found one recently on the AndThenTheresPhysics blog. For those who do not know what a sock puppet is, I’ll recap. It’s a fake online identity created for the purpose of making comments or reviews online to give the impression that there are more people who agree or disagree with a particular point of view than there really or to circumvent a ban on a website. There’s a more detailed explanation on Wikipedia: Sockpuppet.

In the recent case, this particular person had been banned and wished to comment so they used an alternate handle and email address to make a comment about themselves while pretending to be someone else. I got into a bit of a disagreement with the person involved after the event which I found rather unpleasant and do not wish to repeat. He denied creating a sockpuppet and although I disagree with him, it did challenge my views on what a sock puppet actually is. Just to be clear, my view is as I’ve defined it in the first paragraph.

Which gets me to the point of this post. My handle is Rachel which happens to be my name. I use this handle to comment on every other WordPress blog I’ve ever commented on. But, and here’s the but, I haven’t always used it when commenting on blogs that user Blogger. This is not because I don’t want to. I really do want to use my name to comment. It’s just that if I comment using my WordPress account on Blogger, it uses the name of my blog as my handle which is quakerattled. I find this annoying and would rather it use my name, Rachel. So I’ve tried instead commenting using my google account but then it links to my google circles profile which I really don’t want it to do. So then once I tried commenting as anonymous thinking that I would just sign my name at the end but by the time I’d finished writing my comment, I completely forgot so then I was forced to make a second comment immediately afterwards clarifying that it was me, Rachel and feeling a bit silly about it all. So this experience did put me off commenting on blogs that use Blogger. Plus I don’t like the captcha that Blogger requires commenters to enter. I know that the purpose of the captcha is to distinguish machines from humans but I’m a  human and I sometimes find them hard to read. I realise there’s now an option on Blogger to enter a name and URL and I will do that from now on but I suspect it will not display my usual avatar but I guess that does not matter.

I’m not saying that I am guilty of sock puppetry here. It has always been clear from my comments, regardless of whether my handle is Rachel or quakerattled, that I’m the same person and the links go to the same place which is this blog. But nor am I absolving the sock puppet we found on the AndThenTheresPhysicsBlog of any responsibility. If there is any disagreement as to the definition of a sock puppet, then it would be up to the Administrator of the blog in question to make a judgement and in this case, the answer is clear: a banned member used a different handle and email address in order to circumvent the ban and make a comment. This is sock puppetry.

25 thoughts on “More on sock puppets

  1. I use my handle as the name of my blog as you know and so don’t have the wordpress/blogger issues you do. I too have never been a sockpuppet. A sockpuppet will deliberatley set up multiple profiles for both the purposes you have outlined, to get around bans or to give the impression that there is more than one supporting alternate points of view. Some go as far as talking to themselves through their sockpuppets to reinforce the impression of agreement. I have found by using the IP address to block them will handle most sockpuppets as they aren’t prepared to go to a different address to do their thing. As yet I have had only one sockpuppet at my blog and he has been blackbanned. I will doc drop any future ones. I have no problems with outing these idiots. It will be a good way of warning other bloggers of their presence.

    1. Yes, I remember you telling me about your sock puppet. I’ve found that IP addresses are not always a reliable test though because they change. If the user comments using two different handles in quick succession, then the IPs will mostly likely match, but otherwise not.

      I can’t believe people would go to the trouble of creating fake identities that talk to each other. What a huge amount of effort for seemingly little gain.

  2. See all the interesting and challenging experiences you’ve had since helping with my blog moderation 🙂 (thanks, by the way)

    This particular circumstance was just very odd. Sadly, dealing with someone who seems to think that they get to define both their behaviour and your behaviour is just impossible. Even pointing out the definition of sockpuppet didn’t help, just as pointing out that “fabricate” typically means “lie” didn’t help in my case.

    1. AndThen,

      See all the interesting and challenging experiences you’ve had since helping with my blog moderation 🙂 (thanks, by the way)

      My pleasure. It’s been fun. Mostly.

      I think this is one of those cases where the best communication with person involved is none at all. That’s my conclusion now.

  3. I adopted a new handle to comment on denier sites because, when using my normal WordPress login, I got comments from deniers on my blog which I wasn’t interested in responding to or associating with. So it was to make my life easier, rather than to hide per se. Sadly I went and ‘outed’ myself by accident so I think the best thing now is not to comment on said blogs…

    1. I don’t think I’m cut-out for commenting on some of those contrarian blogs. You need a thick skin and patience and I have neither. So I’m with you and tend not to comment there.

  4. I think you are ascribing motives which often aren’t there. The desire to remain anonymous is quite often, pure and simply, to avoid bias. It used to happen with external school examinations when I was a kid. Every student was given a number to remain anonymous and eliminate any possible bias on the part of an examiner. The system worked well.
    Recently, the author J.K. Rowling invented another persona for her first detective novel writing under the pen name of Robert Galbraith. The world of literature has many more examples.
    It is evident from your blog roll, that you are yourself following many anonymous bloggers who don’t display their own personal details. Obviously, unlike many of us, a savvy, experienced group who knew early on the importance of remaining anonymous. It makes one wonder? Do they have other identities by virtue of a Swiss IP address say? Or did they know from their first computer moment, I shall remain anonymous!
    Finally, it is difficult to understand your apparent obsession with the importance of a majority view. The majority has so often been proved wrong throughout history (Einstein comes to mind) and given the tendency of humans to want to be part of the herd, blindly following new ideas, the presence of overwhelming majorities for an idea tends to set off alarm bells in my brain.

  5. I don’t have a problem with anonymity. Don’t confuse pseudonyms with sock puppets. The two are different and there can be legal ramifications to sock puppetry as in the case of Conrad Black who was tried and accused of using an assumed name for deceptive purposes.

    1. Well, given that we don’t all have those ulterior sock puppet motives, how do you distinguish someone who wishes to maintain his anonymity with a different ID? And how does one become anonymous then? New Swiss IP address? I am open to suggestions.

      1. On my blog, if you wised to do that you’d have to contact me and ask if I minded you changing to a new identity. There may well be valid reasons why someone would want to do so, but in my opinion simply doing so would, initially at least, be regarded as a form of deception. Being anonymous myself, I have no issue with others being anonymous, the only issue would be those who wish to change identity on a single site.

        In the case in question here, if the person involved had contacted me to ask if they could change their identity, I would have said “no, you’re banned”. Changing their identity was fairly clearly to avoid their comment going straight into the spam folder had they commented under the same identity as before.

      2. > how do you distinguish someone who wishes to maintain his anonymity with a different ID?

        Only one pseudonym is needed to “maintain anonymity”.

        Using two pseudonyms to pretend you’re two different persons leads to another conception anonymity maintenance.

    2. While you may see sock puppets as deceptive types, the same can be said of numerous other bloggers hiding behind clever, anonymous titles they have invented for themselves, often strangely at odds with what they write, and using their anonymity to attack real people with real names. So what is the difference? Only that you place a weighted importance on majority views. As Einstien once said why does Hilter need 99 scientists to prove me wrong? One would be enough. In the end, it’s just words and language.

      1. You’re all over the place, Eve Elizabeth.

        The problem under discussion is sockpuppetry. However lame you may find the use of pseudonyms, anonymity is an important right on the Internet:

        https://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity

        That “it’s just words and language” does not prevent sockpuppetry from being a problem, at least for those who, like me, like to comment under one pseudonym.

        Fighting sockpuppetry won’t solve all the problems in the world. It may only solve the problem of sockpuppetry. So never mind what Enstein might say about truth, God, or Hitler.

      2. Like me willard, you’ve been flitting between Rachel’s place here and ATTP. I have a vague notion of what Eve’s position is in relation to climate change and I think we can safely say she has just “pulled a Roy”. It was subtle but essentially I think she would dearly have liked to use Galileo as her example but using Einstein gave her the opportunity to invoke Godwin’s Law.

        On sock puppetry and anonymity you have nailed it. The two are very different. Sock puppetry tends to have a singular purpose and that is to deceive unsuspecting readers into thinking there is broad agreement about a particular point of view. Now, sock puppets also use pseudonyms as it is the only way they can conceal their deception, but that makes the pseudonym merely a tool. It is all about intent. Many people like you and I use pseudonyms to protect their identity and for a raft of reasons. For me, my family was threatened by someone who didn’t agree with me.

      3. While you may see sock puppets as deceptive types, the same can be said of numerous other bloggers hiding behind clever, anonymous titles they have invented for themselves, often strangely at odds with what they write, and using their anonymity to attack real people with real names. So what is the difference?

        Touche? The difference is quite simple. The difference is between someone who uses a single identity and someone who changes identity without making it clear that they’ve done so.

        As Einstein once said why does Hilter need 99 scientists to prove me wrong? One would be enough. In the end, it’s just words and language.

        True, but that doesn’t mean that because 99 scientists think you’re wrong, that you’re likely to be right. You’re much more likely to be wrong. Einstein’s are rare.

      4. “Einsteins are rare”

        Indeed. This is similar to the response I give to climate……cynics when they suggest that Galileo is a good example of one person defeating a consensus. Aside from the fact that Galileo as a scientist (of sorts) was battling against religious dogma, the big difference between him and the anthropogenic climate change denying “scientists” of today is that Galileo was correct and had evidence on his side.

  6. Thanks for that explanation but if I had to contact you about changing to an new identity on your site then I would no longer be anonymous in your eyes at least. It rather defeats the purpose.
    Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the circumstances of the example from your own blog site.
    But the world of blogging is full of cleverly invented anonymous titles……
    Which brings me back to the Swiss IP address…

    1. You don’t need to contact anyone to change your new identity, Eve Elizabeth. You only need to identify yourself in a signature. Something like “the-commenter-formerly-known-as-Eve-Elizabeth” would be alright.

      Thank you for your concerns,

      w

    2. No, you wouldn’t have to de-anonymise. You have to comment with an email address. All one would need to do is email and explain. That doesn’t require outing who you really are, just identifying yourself through your original pseudonym.

  7. You may often identify sock puppets by their style. Georgoe Monbiot discussed it in http://www.monbiot.com/2010/12/13/reclaim-the-cyber-commons/ :

    “… two patterns jump out at me. The first is that discussions of issues in which there’s little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance. These are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption.

    The second pattern is the strong association between this tactic and a certain set of views: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Both traditional conservatives and traditional progressives tend be more willing to discuss an issue than these right-wing libertarians, many of whom seek instead to shut down debate.”

    Of course, identifying them is one thing, but what to do about it is another. I kept after the Tulsa World editors until they banned the two worst offenders for hostile and bullying comments. I moderate 3 Newsvine groups, and fortunately they have a strong Honor Code and I have pretty much free rein to delete suspect posts. The author may appeal, but sock puppets won’t as may call attention that they may have been banned before and re-registered. I don’t get too many comments on my site,( I have multiple spam filters), so I read them all and those that attack others of claim obvious lies as fact just don’t get posted. Censorship? Hardly, .

    1. JC Moore,

      I had not seen that George Monbiot article before. Thanks. Scary stuff. In his reference list is a preview for the astroturf film. I think it’s worth posting here:

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