Sockpuppet (Internet)

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A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception. The term, a reference to the manipulation of a simple hand puppet made from a sock, originally referred to a false identity assumed by a member of an Internet community who spoke to, or about, themselves while pretending to be another person. [1]


The use of the term has expanded to now include other misleading uses of online identities, such as those created to praise, defend, or support a person or organization, [2] to manipulate public opinion, [3] or to circumvent restrictions, suspension or an outright ban from a website. A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym [4] and the creation of a sockpuppet is that the sockpuppet poses as an independent third-party unaffiliated with the main account operator. Sockpuppets are unwelcome in many online communities and forums.

A "sockpuppet", in non-Internet terms, refers to a hand puppet made from a sock. MrSock.jpg
A "sockpuppet", in non-Internet terms, refers to a hand puppet made from a sock.


The first Oxford English Dictionary entry was "a person whose actions are controlled by another; a minion", with a citation from U.S. News and World Report , March 27, 2000. [5]

The history of reviewing one's own work under another name predates the Internet. Writers Walt Whitman and Anthony Burgess both reviewed their own books under pseudonyms, [6] as did Benjamin Franklin. [7]

On October 21, 2013, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) condemned paid advocacy sockpuppeting on Wikipedia and, on October 23, specifically banned editing by the public relations firm Wiki-PR. [8] In August and September 2015, the WMF uncovered another group of sockpuppets known as Orangemoody. [9]


Block evasion

One reason for sockpuppeting is to circumvent a block, ban or other form of sanction imposed on the person's original account. After access is restricted, people may try to get around the sanctions by using alternate accounts. [10]

Ballot stuffing

Sockpuppets may be created during an online poll to submit multiple votes in favor of the puppeteer. A related usage is the creation of multiple identities, each supporting the puppeteer's views in an argument, attempting to position the puppeteer as representing majority opinion and sideline opposition voices. In the abstract theory of social networks and reputation systems, this is known as a sybil attack.

A sockpuppet-like use of deceptive fake identities is used in stealth marketing. The stealth marketer creates one or more pseudonymous accounts, each one claiming to be owned by a different enthusiastic supporter of the sponsor's product, book or ideology. [11]

Strawman sockpuppet

A strawman sockpuppet (sometimes abbreviated as strawpuppet) is a false flag pseudonym created to make a particular point of view look foolish or unwholesome in order to generate negative sentiment against it. Strawman sockpuppets typically behave in an unintelligent, uninformed, or bigoted manner and advance "straw man" arguments that their puppeteers can easily refute. The intended effect is to discredit more rational arguments made for the same position. [12] Such sockpuppets behave in a similar manner to Internet trolls.

A particular case is the concern troll, a false flag pseudonym created by a user whose actual point of view is opposed to the one that the sockpuppet claims to hold. The concern troll posts in Web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group's actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed "concerns". The goal is to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) within the group.


Some online sources use the term "meatpuppet" to describe sockpuppet behaviors. For example, according to one online encyclopedia, a meat puppet "publishes comments on blogs, wikis and other public venues about some phenomenon or product in order to generate public interest and buzz"—that is, he/she is engaged in behavior more widely known as "astroturfing". [13] A 2006 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education defined a meat puppet as "a peculiar inhabitant of the digital world—a fictional character that passes for a real person online." [14] [15]

Investigation of sockpuppetry

A number of techniques have been developed to determine whether accounts are sockpuppets, including comparing the IP addresses of suspected sockpuppets and comparative analysis of the writing style of suspected sockpuppets. [16]

In 2008, 49-year-old Missouri resident Lori Drew was prosecuted and found guilty by a Federal Court jury in connection with the creation of a MySpace account on which she claimed to be a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Drew's goal had been to create a relationship with Megan Meier, a 13-year-old girl who had been in conflict with Drew's daughter. After "Josh" ended the relationship with Megan, Megan committed suicide. Drew was found guilty in connection with misrepresenting her identity in violation of the MySpace terms of service.

Although the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney claimed that this conduct was covered by federal computer fraud legislation against "accessing a computer without authorization via interstate commerce", [17] [18] the trial court granted a motion by Drew to throw out the verdict. Drew successfully argued that her use of a false identity did not constitute unauthorized access to MySpace, citing a 1973 breach of contract dispute where a court of appeals ruled that "fraudulently induced consent is consent nonetheless." [19] The prosecution appealed the trial court judge's decision to throw out the guilty verdict, but later dropped its appeal. [20]

In 2010, in People v. Golb , 50-year-old lawyer Raphael Golb was convicted on 30 criminal charges, including identity theft, criminal impersonation, and aggravated harassment, for using multiple sockpuppet accounts to attack and impersonate historians he perceived as rivals of his father, Norman Golb. [21] Golb defended his actions as "satirical hoaxes" protected by free-speech rights. He was disbarred and sentenced to six months in prison, but the sentence was reduced to probation on appeal. [22]

In 2014 a Florida state circuit court held that sock puppetry is tortious interference with business relations, and awarded injunctive relief against it during the pendency of litigation. The court found that "the act of falsifying multiple identities" is conduct that should be enjoined. It explained that the conduct was wrongful "not because the statements are false or true, but because the conduct of making up names of persons who do not exist to post fake comments by fake people to support Defendants' position tortiously interferes with Plaintiffs' business" and such "conduct is inherently unfair." The court, therefore, ordered the defendants to "remove or cause to be removed all postings creating the false impression that more [than one] person are commenting on the program th[an] actually exist." The court also found, however, that the comments of the defendants "which do not create a false impression of fake patients or fake employees or fake persons connected to program (those posted under their respective names) are protected by The Constitution of the United State of America, First Amendment." [23]

Examples of sockpuppetry

Business promotion

In 2007, the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, was discovered to have posted as "Rahodeb" on the Yahoo! Finance Message Board, extolling his own company and predicting a dire future for its rival, Wild Oats Markets, while concealing his relationship to both companies. Whole Foods argued that none of Mackey's actions broke the law. [24] [25]

During the 2007 trial of Conrad Black, chief executive of Hollinger International, prosecutors alleged that he had posted messages on a Yahoo! Finance chat room using the name "nspector", attacking short sellers and blaming them for his company's stock performance. Prosecutors provided evidence of these postings in Black's criminal trial where he was convicted of mail fraud and obstruction. The postings were raised at multiple points in the trial. [24]

Book and film reviews

An computer glitch in 2004 revealed the names of many authors who had written reviews of their books using pseudonyms. John Rechy, who wrote the best-selling novel City of Night (1963), was among the authors unmasked in this way, and was shown to have written numerous five-star reviews of his own work. [6] In 2010, British historian Orlando Figes was found to have written Amazon reviews under the names "orlando-birkbeck" and "historian", praising his own books and condemning those of fellow historians Rachel Polonsky and Robert Service. The two sued Figes and won monetary damages. [26] [27]

During a panel discussion at a British Crime Writers Festival in 2012, author Stephen Leather admitted using pseudonyms to praise his own books, claiming that "everyone does it". He spoke of building a "network of characters", some operated by his friends, who discussed his books and had conversations with him directly. [28] The same year, after he was pressured by the spy novelist Jeremy Duns on Twitter, who had detected possible indications online, UK crime fiction writer R.J. Ellory admitted having used a pseudonymous account name to write a positive review for each of his own novels, and additionally a negative review for two other authors. [29] [30]

David Manning was a fictitious film critic, created by a marketing executive working for Sony Corporation to give consistently good reviews for releases from Sony subsidiary Columbia Pictures, which could then be quoted in promotional material. [31]

Blog commentary

American reporter Michael Hiltzik was temporarily suspended from posting to his blog, "The Golden State", on the Los Angeles Times website after he admitted "posting there, as well as on other sites, under false names." He used the pseudonyms to attack conservatives such as Hugh Hewitt and L.A. prosecutor Patrick Frey—who eventually exposed him. [32] [33] Hiltzik's blog at the LA Times was the newspaper's first blog. While suspended from blogging, Hiltzik continued to write regularly for the newspaper.

Lee Siegel, a writer for The New Republic magazine, was suspended for defending his articles and blog comments under the user name "Sprezzatura." In one such comment, "Sprezzatura" defended Siegel's bad reviews of Jon Stewart: "Siegel is brave, brilliant and wittier than Stewart will ever be." [34] [35]

Government sockpuppetry

As an example of state-sponsored Internet sockpuppetry, In 2011, a California company called Ntrepid was awarded a $2.76 million contract from US Central Command for "online persona management" operations [36] to create "fake online personas to influence net conversations and spread US propaganda" in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Pashto. [36] The activity was part of Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), a programme first developed in Iraq as a weapon of psychological warfare.

On September 11, 2014, a number of sockpuppet accounts reported an explosion at a chemical plant in Louisiana. The reports came on a range of media, including Twitter and YouTube, but US authorities claimed the entire event to be a hoax. The information was determined by many to have originated with a Russian government-sponsored sockpuppet management office in Saint Petersburg, called the Internet Research Agency. [37] Russia was again implicated by the US intelligence community in 2016 for using paid trolls in the US Election. [38]

The Institute of Economic Affairs claimed in a 2012 paper that the United Kingdom government, and the EU, fund charities whose purpose is to campaign and lobby for causes the government supports. In one example 73% of responses to a government consultation was the direct result of campaigns by alleged "sock puppet" organizations. [39]

See also

Related Research Articles

Internet troll Person who sows discord on the Internet

In Internet slang, a troll is a person who starts flame wars or intentionally upsets people on the Internet by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, either for the troll's amusement or a specific gain.

A pseudonym or alias is a fictitious name that a person or group assumes for a particular purpose, which differs from their original or true name (orthonym). This also differs from a new name that entirely or legally replaces an individual's own. The pseudonym identifies one or more persons who have true names but do not publicly disclose them. Most pseudonym holders use pseudonyms because they wish to remain anonymous, but anonymity is difficult to achieve and often fraught with legal issues. True anonymity requires unlinkability, such that an attacker's examination of the pseudonym holder's message provides no new information about the holder's true name.

A shill, also called a plant or a stooge, is a person who publicly helps or gives credibility to a person or organization without disclosing that they have a close relationship with the person or organization. Shills can carry out their operations in the areas of media, journalism, marketing, politics, confidence games, or other business areas. A shill may also act to discredit opponents or critics of the person or organization in which they have a vested interest through character assassination or other means.

Internet forum Online discussion site

An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are often longer than one line of text, and are at least temporarily archived. Also, depending on the access level of a user or the forum set-up, a posted message might need to be approved by a moderator before it becomes publicly visible.

Sock puppet Puppet made from sock

A sock puppet is a puppet made from a sock or similar garment. The puppeteer wears the sock on a hand and lower arm as if it were a glove, with the puppet's mouth being formed by the region between the sock's heel and toe, and the puppeteer's thumb acting as the jaw. The arrangement of the fingers forms the shape of a mouth, which is sometimes padded with a hard piece of felt, often with a tongue glued inside.

Comment spam is a term referencing a broad category of spambot or spammer postings which abuse web-based forms to post unsolicited advertisements as comments on forums, blogs, wikis and online guestbooks. Related topics include:

Stephen Leather author

Stephen Leather is a British thriller author whose works are published by Hodder & Stoughton. He has written for television shows such as London's Burning, The Knock, and the BBC's Murder in Mind series. He is one of the top selling Amazon Kindle authors, the second bestselling UK author worldwide on Kindle in 2011.

The web brigades, also known as Russia's troll army, Russian bots, Putinbots, Kremlinbots, troll factory, Lakhta trolls or troll farms, are state-sponsored anonymous Internet political commentators and trolls linked to the Russian government. Participants report that they are organized into teams and groups of commentators that participate in Russian and international political blogs and Internet forums using sockpuppets, social bots and large-scale orchestrated trolling and disinformation campaigns to promote pro-Putin and pro-Russian propaganda. It has also been found that articles on Russian Wikipedia concerning the MH17 crash and the 2014 Ukraine conflict were targeted by Russian internet propaganda outlets.

Puppet Inanimate object or representational figure animated or manipulated by an entertainer

A puppet is an object, often resembling a human, animal or mythical figure, that is animated or manipulated by a person called a puppeteer. The puppeteer uses movements of their hands, arms, or control devices such as rods or strings to move the body, head, limbs, and in some cases the mouth and eyes of the puppet. The puppeteer often speaks in the voice of the character of the puppet, and then synchronizes the movements of the puppet's mouth with this spoken part. The actions, gestures and spoken parts acted out by the puppeteer with the puppet are typically used in storytelling. Puppetry is a very ancient form of theatre which dates back to the 5th century BC in Ancient Greece. There are many different varieties of puppets, and they are made from a wide range of materials, depending on their form and intended use. They range from very simple in construction and operation to very complex.

A puppet is an inanimate object or representational figure animated by a puppeteer.

Jeremy Duns is a British author of spy fiction and the history of espionage. Born in Manchester, he now resides in the Åland Islands.

A real-name system is a system in which users can register an account on a blog, website or bulletin board system using their legal name.

Wiki-PR editing of Wikipedia Consulting firm that commercially edited Wikipedia

Wiki-PR is a consulting firm that formerly marketed the ability to edit Wikipedia by "...directly edit[ing] your page using our network of established Wikipedia editors and admin[s]". The company and all of its employees, contractors, and owners, were then banned from editing Wikipedia by the Wikipedia community.

Students of George Mason University, as part of Professor T. Mills Kelly's course – "Lying about the past", have created two popular hoaxes: the "Edward Owens hoax," and the "Reddit serial killer hoax." It is a goal of the course to create a sweeping internet deception. As Prof. Kelly stated in the course's syllabus:

What's our goal? Buzz, of course! Viral! We want our hoax to be picked up and spread around the Internet like wildfire!

Catfishing is a deceptive activity where a person creates a sockpuppet presence or fake identity on a social networking service, usually targeting a specific victim for abuse or fraud. Catfishing is often employed for romance scams on dating websites. The practice may be used for financial gain, to compromise a victim in some way, or simply as forms of trolling or wish fulfillment. Catfishing media has been produced, often featuring victims who wish to identify their catfisher. Celebrities have been targeted, which has brought media attention to catfishing practices.

Joshua Ryne Goldberg American criminal

Joshua Ryne Goldberg is an American terrorist, convicted of attempting a bombing on the 14th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, while posing as an Islamic terrorist affiliated with ISIS.

New Directions for Young Adults, Inc. v. Davis is a 2014 decision of a Florida state circuit court holding that using sock puppet accounts online is tortious interference with business relations, and awarding injunctive relief against it during the pendency of litigation.

People v. Golb is an extensively litigated New York case in which Raphael Golb was convicted for sock puppetry conduct relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls. His conviction was partially reversed on constitutional grounds, but was substantially affirmed.

Internet manipulation refers to the co-optation of digital technology, such as social media algorithms and automated scripts, for commercial, social or political purposes. Such tactics may be employed with the explicit intent to manipulate public opinion, polarise citizens, silence political dissidents, harm corporate or political adversaries, and improve personal or brand reputation. Hackers, hired professionals and private citizens have all been reported to engage in internet manipulation using software – typically Internet bots such as social bots, votebots and clickbots.

Account verification is the process of verifying that a new or existing account is owned and operated by a specified real individual or organization. A number of websites, for example social media websites, offer account verification services. Verified accounts are often visually distinguished by check mark icons or badges next to the names of individuals or organizations.


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