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 himself while pretending to be another person.[1] The term now includes other uses of misleading online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a third party or organization.[2] A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym[3] and the creation of a sockpuppet is that the sockpuppet poses as an independent third-party unaffiliated with the puppeteer.

The term "sockpuppet" was used as early as July 9, 1993[4] but did not become common in USENET groups until 1996. The first Oxford English Dictionary example of the term, defined as "a person whose actions are controlled by another; a minion," is taken from U.S. News and World Report, March 27, 2000.[5]


Notable public examples

Notable state examples

Strawman sockpuppet

A strawman sockpuppet 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 in behalf of the same position.[23] Sometimes, the demarcation line between strawman sockpuppets and trolls may be fine or indistinguishable.


The term "meatpuppet" (or "meat puppet") is used as a pejorative description of various online behaviors. The term was current before the Internet, including references in Ursula Le Guin's science fiction story "The Diary of the Rose" (1976),[24] the alternative rock band Meat Puppets, and the cyberpunk novelist William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984).[25] Editors of Wikipedia use the term to deprecate contributions of new community members if suspected of having been recruited by an existing member to support his position.[26] Such a recruited member is considered analogous to a sockpuppet even though he is actually a separate individual (i.e. "meat") rather than a fictitious creation. Wired columnist Lore Sjöberg put "meat puppet" first on a satirical list of "common terms used at Wikipedia," defining the term as "a person who disagrees with you."[27]

Nevertheless, other 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 is engaged in behavior more widely known as "astroturfing."[28] 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."[29][30]

Ballot stuffing

Sockpuppets may be created during an online poll to submit multiple votes in favor of the puppeteer. A related usage is creating 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 or book or ideology.[31][32] 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 sockpuppeting

See also


  1. ^ "Definition of sockpuppet". 
  2. ^ Stone, Brad (July 16, 2007). "The Hand That Controls the Sock Puppet Could Get Slapped". New York Times. 
  3. ^ A legitimate pseudonym is sometimes termed an "alt," short for "alternate identity."
  4. ^ Dana Rollins (July 9, 1993). "Arty/Scotto:". Groups Google Groups. (Web link). "... one is merely the sock puppet manifestation of the other...". Retrieved June 3, 2009. 
  5. ^ OED, online edition, June 2011 (accessed August 18, 2011). The reference is to one Jennifer Brand, a 24-year-old student who backed President Clinton in 1996, by calling Gore ‘a sock puppet.’
  6. ^ Morin, Richard (February 1, 2003). "Scholar Invents Fan To Answer His Critics". Washington Post. Retrieved June 5, 2009. 
  7. ^ Aspan, Maria (September 4, 2006). "New Republic Suspends an Editor for Attacks on Blog". NY Times. Retrieved June 11, 2007. 
  8. ^ Cox, Ana Marie (December 16, 2006). "Making Mischief on the Web". Time.,9171,1570701,00.html. Retrieved March 30, 2007. 
  9. ^ Saunders, Anne (September 27, 2006). "Bass aide resigns for fake website postings". Concord Monitor. Associated Press. Retrieved September 18, 2010. 
  10. ^ Sward, Susan (February 18, 2007). "Tough times for Peter Ragone". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved June 26, 2008. 
  11. ^ Martin, Andrew (July 12, 2007). "Whole Foods Executive Used Alias". New York Times. 
  12. ^ "Website praise for Bournemouth councillor comes from... councillor! (From Bournemouth Echo)". Bournemouth Echo. January 13, 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2009. 
  13. ^ "Councillor posted messages on website praising his own work". London: Telegraph. January 13, 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Mystery author who heaped praise on hard-working councillor is revealed... to be the councillor himself". Daily Mail (London). January 13, 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2009. 
  15. ^ Lesley Richardson, Press Association (January 15, 2009). "Councillor used pseudonym to praise own work". The Independent (London). Retrieved June 5, 2009. 
  16. ^ "Councillor used false name to praise own work". AFP. Google News. January 13, 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2009. 
  17. ^ "Pat on own back: Councillor says Daily Echo should take responsibility for his online alter ego". Editors' Blog. Retrieved June 5, 2009. 
  18. ^ Richard Lea and Matthew Taylor "Historian Orlando Figes admits posting Amazon reviews that trashed rivals", The Guardian, April 23, 2010
  19. ^ Chen, Adrian (April 15, 2011). "Dilbert Creator Pretends to Be His Own Biggest Fan on Message Boards". Gawker.!5792583/dilbert-creator-pretends-to-be-his-own-biggest-fan-on-message-boards. Retrieved April 16, 2011. 
  20. ^ Johann Hari"A personal apology", The Independent (website), September 14, 2011; Richard Seymour, "The Johann Hari Debacle", The Guardian, September 16, 2011.
  21. ^ a b Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain, "Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media", The Guardian. March 17, 2011. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  22. ^ Lewis Bazley, "Combating jihadists and free speech: How the U.S. military is using fake online profiles to spread propaganda", Daily Mail, March 18, 2011. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  23. ^ Thomler, Craig (April 27, 2011). "Battle of the sockpuppets," Government in the Lab: The Online Magazine for Government and Politics Around the World
  24. ^ Le Guin, Ursula (1976). "The Diary of the Rose". In Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. Future Power: A Science Fiction Anthology. Random House. p. 17. ISBN 0-394-49420-2. Retrieved April 31, 2011. 
  25. ^ Nayar, Pramod (2004). Virtual Worlds. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. p. 123. ISBN 0-7619-3228-3. 
  26. ^ Česky (February 21, 2008). "Wikipedia policy on meatpuppets". Wikipedia. Retrieved June 5, 2009. 
  27. ^ Lore Sjöberg (January 4, 2009). "The Wikipedia FAQK". Wired. Retrieved June 5, 2009. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ Read, Brock (October 9, 2006) The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Wired Campus Attack of the 'Meat Puppets'
  30. ^ Ahrens, Frank (October 7, 2006) Washington Post Emerge as Internet's Effective, and Deceptive, Salesmen Page D01
  31. ^ Sweney, Mark (May 21, 2008). "Should stealth marketing be regulated?". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  32. ^ "I'd Love This Product Even If I Weren't A Stealth Marketer". The Onion. December 14, 2005. 
  33. ^ Tossell, Ivor (December 4, 2008). "Cyberbullying verdict turns rule-breakers into criminals". Globe and Mail (Toronto: CTVglobemedia). 
  34. ^ "Lori Drew is a meanie". Slate (The Washington Post Company). December 3, 2008. 
  35. ^ [dead link]Zetter, Kim (December 15, 2008). "Lori Drew Files New Bid for Dismissal on Grounds that MySpace Authorized Access". Wired News (Condé Nast Publishing). 
  36. ^ "Lori Drew cleared of MySpace cyber-bullying". Sydney Morning Herald. July 3, 2009. 
  37. ^ "Dispute Over Dead Sea Scrolls Leads to a Jail Sentence" (November 18, 2010) New York Times
  38. ^ "NY lawyer gets jail in Dead Sea Scrolls case" (November 18, 2010) AP.

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