Sockpuppet (Internet)

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A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception within an online community. In its earliest usage, a sockpuppet was a false identity through which a member of an Internet community speaks with or about himself or herself, pretending to be a different person,[1] like a ventriloquist manipulating a hand puppet.

In current usage, the perception of the term has been extended beyond second identities of people who already post in a forum or blog to include other uses of misleading online identities. For example, a NY Times article claims that "sock-puppeting" is defined as "the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company."[2]

The key difference between a sockpuppet and a regular pseudonym (sometimes termed an "alt" which is short for alternate, as in alternate identity) is the pretense that the puppet is a third party who is not affiliated with the puppeteer or acting under their control for their benefit. The earliest known[1] usage of the term was on July 9, 1993 by Dana Rollins in a posting to bit.listserv.fnord-l,[3] but the term was not in common usage in USENET groups until 1996.


Notable public examples

Notable examples involving public figures in recent years include:

  • John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, who, between 2000 and 2003, posted under the "sock puppet" name of "Mary Rosh",[4] praising Lott's teaching, and arguing with Lott's critics on Usenet. The name was also used to post outstanding reviews of his books, and panning books of rivals on online book sites. Lott admitted he had frequently used the name "Mary Rosh" to defend himself, but claimed the book reviews by "Mary Rosh" were written by his son and wife.
  • Lee Siegel, writer for The New Republic magazine, was suspended for defending his articles and blog comments using the user name "Sprezzatura". One such comment, defending Siegel's bad reviews of Jon Stewart: “Siegel is brave, brilliant and wittier than Stewart will ever be.”[5][6]
  • In 2006, a top staffer for then-Congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH) was caught posing as a "concerned" supporter of Bass's opponent Democrat Paul Hodes on several liberal New Hampshire blogs, using the pseudonyms "IndieNH" or "IndyNH". "IndyNH" was "concerned" that Democrats might just be wasting their time or money on Hodes, because Bass was unbeatable.[7]
  • In January 2007, the press secretary of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Peter Ragone, admitted that he posted pro-Newsom comments to the blog SFist from his computer variously as "John Nelson" (a friend) or as "Byorn." The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ragone stated that "he answered Newsom's critics using others' names because being online 'was fun — it's where people are having fun.'"[8]
  • In 2007, the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, was discovered to have posted on the Yahoo Finance Message Board, extolling his own company and predicting a dire future for their rival Wild Oats Markets while concealing his own relationship to both companies under the screen name "Rahodeb"[9]
  • On January 13, 2009, Bournemouth councillor Ben Grower was exposed by the Daily Echo newspaper for repeatedly posting comments praising himself, and fellow Labour councillors, on the newspaper's website using many sock puppets, one of which was named 'Omegaman'. When questioned about the matter Grower was initially ambiguous in his response but later he admitted it was true saying "I have done nothing against the law. And probably next time I will just use a different pseudonym."[10] The story of Grower's sock puppetry was covered widely in the media.[11][12][13][14][15]

Strawman sockpuppet

A strawman sockpuppet is a false flag pseudonym created by a user with one point of view, but acts as though the puppet has an opposing point of view, in order to make that point of view look bad and generate negative sentiment towards that view. Such sockpuppets will typically advance foolish or weak "straw man" arguments that their puppeteers can then easily refute. They often act in an unintelligent, uninformed, or bigoted manner. The effect is to discredit more rational arguments for the same side.


The term meatpuppet or "meat puppet" is used as a pejorative description for a number of quite different online behaviors. An early recorded use is in cyberpunk novelist William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984).[16] The term had a long history before the internet, including the alternative rock band Meat Puppets, and a TV series broadcast in 1980 and featuring Wil Wheaton. Editors of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia use "meat puppet" to deprecate contributions from a new community member if the new member was (apparently) recruited by an existing member only to back up the recruiting member's position.[17] The person is implied to be analogous to a sockpuppet in function and goals, but a real separate person (i.e. "meat") rather than fictitious. Wired columnist Lore Sjöberg puts "meat puppet" first on a satirical list of "common terms used at Wikipedia," giving its supposed Wikipedia meaning as "someone you disagree with".[18]

A number of other online sources, however, use the term "meatpuppet" for varied 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, engages in the kind of behavior more widely known as astroturfing. A 2006 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education claimed that "[t]he 'meat puppet' is a peculiar inhabitant of the digital world—a fictional character that passes for a real person online."[19]

Ballot stuffing

Sockpuppets may be created during an online poll to submit multiple votes in favour of the puppeteer. A related usage is creating multiple identities each supporting the puppeteer's views in an argument, attempting to cast the puppeteer in a positive light 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 or book or ideology.[20][21] A single such sockpuppet is acting as a shill; creating large numbers of them to fake a "grass-roots" upswelling of support for a cause is known as astroturfing.

U.S. legal implications of Lori Drew verdict for misrepresenting identities online

In 2008, 49 year-old Missouri resident Lori Drew was prosecuted and convicted in Los Angeles for creating a fake MySpace account where 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's conviction was for misrepresenting her identity, in violation of the MySpace terms of service. The Los Angeles US Attorney successfully claimed that this was covered by federal computer fraud legislation against "accessing a computer without authorization via interstate commerce."[22][23] Drew appealed the verdict, saying that her use of a false identity did not constitute unauthorized access to MySpace, based on a 1973 breach of contract dispute where a court of appeals ruled that "fraudulently induced consent is consent nonetheless."[24] On 3 July 2009, the appeal was tentatively upheld. [25]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Definition of sockpuppet". 
  2. Stone, Brad (2007-07-16). "The Hand That Controls the Sock Puppet Could Get Slapped". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-16. 
  3. Dana Rollins (1993-07-09). "Arty/Scotto:". bit.listserv.fnord-l. (Web link). Retrieved on 2009-06-03. "... one is merely the sock puppet manifestation of the other..."
  4. "Scholar Invents Fan To Answer His Critics (". 2003-02-01. Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  5. Aspan, Maria (2006-09-04). "New Republic Suspends an Editor for Attacks on Blog". NY Times. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  6. Cox, Ana Marie (2006-12-16). "Making Mischief on the Web". Time.,9171,1570701,00.html. Retrieved 2007-03-30. 
  7. Saunders, Anne (2006-09-26). "Bass aide resigns after posing as opponent's supporter online". Boston Globe. Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-03-30. 
  8. Sward, Susan (2007-02-18). "Tough times for Peter Ragone". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  9. Stewart, James. "Whole Foods CEO Threatens Merger, Fuels Arbitrage". SmartMoney. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  10. "Website praise for Bournemouth councillor comes from... councillor! (From Bournemouth Echo)". 2009-01-13. Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  11. Published: 2:31PM GMT 13 Jan 2009 (2009-01-13). "Councillor posted messages on website praising his own work". Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  12. "Mystery author who heaped praise on hard-working councillor is revealed... to be the councillor himself | Mail Online". 2009-01-13. Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  13. littledragon666 wrote: (2009-01-15). "Councillor used pseudonym to praise own work - UK Politics, UK". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  14. Jan 13, 2009 (2009-01-13). "AFP: Councillor used false name to praise own work". Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  15. "Pat on own back: Councillor says Daily Echo should take responsibility for his online alter ego | Editors' Blog". Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  16. Nayar, Pramod (2004). Virtual Worlds. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. p. 123. ISBN 0761932283. 
  17. Česky (2008-02-21). "Wikipedia policy on meatpuppets". Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  18. Lore Sjöberg (2009-01-04). "The Wikipedia FAQK". Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  19. Read, Brock. (9 October 2006) The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Wired Campus. Attack of the 'Meat Puppets'. See also, Ahrens, Frank. (7 October 2006) Washington Post Emerge as Internet's Effective, and Deceptive, Salesmen. Page D01
  20. "Should stealth marketing be regulated?"". Guardian. 21 May 2008. 
  21. "I'd Love This Product Even If I Weren't A Stealth Marketer". The Onion. 14 December 2005. 
  22. "Cyberbullying verdict turns rule-breakers into criminals". The Globe and Mail (CTVglobemedia). December 4, 2008. 
  23. "Lori Drew is a meanie". Slate (The Washington Post Company). December 3, 2008. 
  24. "Lori Drew Files New Bid for Dismissal on Grounds that MySpace Authorized Access". Wired News (Condé Nast Publishing). December 15, 2008. 
  25. "Lori Drew cleared of MySpace cyber-bullying". 

External links

de:Sockenpuppe fr:Faux-nez ko:멀티 (커뮤니티) it:Sockpuppet li:Kloon (internet) nl:Kloon (internet) ja:自作自演 (インターネット) pt:Sockpuppet ru:Виртуал#Сокпаппеты fi:Sukkanukke zh:馬甲 (網路名詞)

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