A secondary, pseudonymous online identity created by an individual in order to give the impression that there are multiple people who agree with a given point, idea or action, when in reality there's only one. Sock puppets are usually used to post follow-ups that praise their owner or echo his convictions, in the hopes that they will convince real people to pay attention to him and/or his agenda. While the first Sock Puppets appeared on UseNet, they have long since spread to other electronic venues, most notably blogs.
Sock puppeteers are not limited to individuals, though. Numerous groups—political, commercial, religious and atheistic—have attempted to manipulate public opinion on the Net using false identities that purported to be "real" people. And multiple Sock Puppets are a necessary part of any Astroturf campaign. Fortunately, they tend to be fairly heavy-handed and reasonably obvious to most people.
The term is a long-standing one in electronic media, dating back to the early days of the Net in the 1980s. It originated on UseNet and is still seen there, especially in the anti-spam groups. The term itself comes from the practice of creating a cheap puppet by pulling a sock over your hand, and then pretending to talk to it. One sub-category of the sock puppet is the "concern troll", in which a sock puppet pretends to be part of a faction but makes "concerned" derogatory comparisons to another faction for whom the troll is a sock puppet. Another variety is The Shill.
This is one of the more popular "Internet Argument Techniques." very common in forums and mainly used by trolls this can be a source of frustration to users trying to have an honest debate. Can also be a source of laughs not only for the trolls and others in on the ruse, but for other users following the argument. Once discovered this is commonly used as another point against the user and/or another way to discredit their arguments.
Sock puppets are banned in many online venues. Wikipedia is notoriously plagued with them; its "anyone can edit" philosophy makes it hard to keep them out, while its bureaucratic processes provide incentives for their creation. They're also the bane of every site which accepts consumer "reviews" or opinions of individual products; Wikivoyage refers to these folks as touts.
In commerce, the counterparts to a "sock puppet" would be the "straw person" nominee director and the "shell corporation". It looks to be a different company on paper, but one person holds the puppet strings.
- In 2009, scientific journal publisher Elsevier was busted for publishing "journals" that were merely sock puppets of medical companies, containing nothing but positive reports about the drugs they produced.
- In 2010 the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on the surprising number of letters to newspapers across the United States from one "Ellie Light", who always claimed to be a resident of whatever city each paper covers. The letters were all nearly identical, and praised President Barack Obama while castigating detractors and the press for not supporting him.
- Stewart Copeland admitted to doing this to help boost sales of The Police's first single, "Fall Out", by writing letters to different music magazines praising the single.
- A Utah mayor was caught submitting glowing articles about his city to a local newspaper using a pseudonym.
- One episode of Kitchen Nightmares had a restaurant owner adding ridiculously positive reviews of his own restaurant at various websites, claiming his restaurant was even better than Gordon Ramsay's. Ramsay was not amused, to say the least.
- An attempt by Sinclair Broadcasting to buy the forty-two Tribune stations went off the rails in 2018. The feds impose stringent limits on the number of American Television Stations under common ownership, which the deal exceeded. Sinclair claimed to be willing to sell the extra stations, but the supposed buyers included a Cunningham Broadcasting owned, at least nominally, by Sinclair executive chairman David Smith's deceased mother. Presumably Cunningham would have paid Sinclair to run the stations had the deal been completed.
- In the age of online gaming where one has to have an account to play a game, it's not uncommon to find people with Sock Puppet/Alternate accounts. Due to the nature of this, please keep all examples in this section to general practices and notable instances.
- Players in an MMORPG might have a puppet account used simply as storage for excess items. These were often called "Bank" alts, depending on the game. Sometimes a guild might actually pay for an extra account just to act as an extra storage for items.
- This practice isn't just limited to free-to-play games, mind you. Some players might have a "dummy" account just to be a Griefer. This is a special form of GIFT - because even if a player is anonymous, if they can actually get banned, one would not want to lose all that time and effort they invested into their account. On a sock puppet? They have nothing to lose. Many of the worst Griefers out there are people on a dummy account just making the players' lives hell.
- Glenn Greenwald's infamous self-inflating sock puppetry is described here-but given its definitive treatment here WITH REAL SOCK PUPPETS.
- Microsoft is infamous for having paid shills to post pro-Microsoft messages in forums with notably anti-Microsoft attitudes.
- Several of the entries on Wikipedia's BJAODN (Bad Jokes and Other Deleted Nonsense) pages consist of debates that involved Sock Puppets. Somehow, several of those debates turned into parodies of the Sock Puppet concept.
- One example: someone created a sock puppet user Severus Snape, and promptly had that account nominate an article on Albus Dumbledore for deletion.
- Sadly, sock puppets aren't just for amusement anymore... as Wikipedia is a top-five website, paid conflict-of-interest editing (where a company hires someone to create a Wikipedia article, or to whitewash an existing article by removing controversy and information about lawsuits, while adding hype and minor industry awards) is big business. Some of the worst offenders operate hundreds of accounts; a search for "Wikipedia paid editing" finds dozens of hard-news articles about the problem... and the task of damage control falls inevitably to poorly-resourced unpaid volunteers.
- Another notable incident in Wikipedia sock puppetry is the deletion debate for the article on Starslip Crisis, a Web Comic by Kris Straub. The discussion overwhelmingly favoured deleting the article, which a passing admin then enacted. At this point Straub revealed he had been the nominator. And ten of the user accounts arguing for deletion. From the same IP. Using factually incorrect arguments. It's bad form to misbehave on the Wikipedia to make a point, but everyone seemed to be too busy gaping in astonishment at Straub's brilliant execution of the plot to notice.
- By way of background: one of Wikipedia's criteria for article existence is that the subject be Notable in its field, which is subjective and open to interpretation at the best of times and an absolute minefield when it comes to things which exist solely on the internet. "Webcomics vs. Wikipedia" had been a growing debate for years before Straub's experiment. Considering Wikipedia itself mainly resides on the net, this suggests the somewhat ironic question of its own notability.
- Wikipedia's own rules specifically say that deletion debates are not a vote, and thus that simply having a majority in favor of either keeping or deleting an article doesn't carry the day. The closing admin is supposed to to weigh the quality of both sides' arguments, not just the quantity. Thus, the admin was clearly Doing It Wrong, though given Wikipedia's well-known systemic bias toward deletion in such debates that's hardly a surprise.
- According to an August 29, 2006 article in the StarTribune of Minneapolis City Council member and mayoral candidate Pat Carr from Rochester, Minnesota, was caught using a sock puppet to praise himself on a local newspaper's website.
- In 2006, a senior editor of The New Republic was caught at the game. Lee Siegel, who writes a blog on The New Republic's website, was discovered to be using a sock puppet with the name "sprezzatura" to provide counterspin when most of the comments to his blog proved to be rather harshly critical. Unsurprisingly, "sprezzatura" praised and defended Siegel so obsequiously and extravagantly that the real posters on the blog quickly identified it as a sock puppet. Because of its implications about the duties of journalists in the online medium, the matter was actually covered in the September 13, 2006 New York Times.
- Siegel went on to write a book, Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob, that warns about the dangers of the internet's anonymous culture.
- Keep in mind this is also a man who seriously used the term "blogofascists" in some of his writings, and you can practically smell the schadenfreude.
- The comics author Reginald Hudlin has been caught using sock puppets to defend his work on Black Panther.
- In the Harry Potter fandom, an individual using the handle Msscribe famously created a whole zoo of sock puppets over a period of years in order to increase her popularity and become friends with Big Name Fan Cassandra Claire. She was eventually unveiled in a very long and epic chronicle of her misdeeds by... a sock puppet. The event is referred to as Puppetgate. There's even a meme; "Maybe they're Msscribe" or "Maybe I'm Msscribe."
- It's been theorized that Charlotte Lennox is, in fact, multiple people, given the staggering amount of work that went into chronicling the whole thing.
- A tool called the Wikipedia Scanner has been developed, which allows people to search for anonymous Wikipedia edits from specific IP ranges—those belonging to a specific company, for example. Hilarity Ensues.
- The PR wing of Scientology's Office of Special Affairs has an entire staff of people whose job is to create sock puppets in order to spam the comment sections of news articles and various newsgroups with either pro-Scientology messages or confusing junk posts. (Example) Unfortunately for them, the more active spammers aren't very good at hiding themselves.
- Nonetheless, Wikipedia eventually imposed a blanket editing ban on all computers associated with the Church of Scientology and its affiliates.
- Some College faculty have even resorted to boosting their own ratings on Rate My Professors with anonymous reviews. This Biology professor used to be #6 on the list of "hottest professors" (yep...they used to have a list for that) mostly through some very positive reviews that are all suspiciously capitalized perfectly, similarly indignant, and make repeated statements ("You won't get into med school," "Go to her office hours and you'll do fine," etc.). A few raters have even pointed out the obvious sock puppets.
- In New Zealand, we have a similar site, "Rate my Teacher" (be careful saying it out loud). One particular English teacher attempted to boost her ratings with a pair of all-five-star reviews in a sea of ones and zeros, again capitalized correctly and punctuated clearly.
- One lone, particularly fanatical Smallville fan had 28 separate socks, each with different opinions and writing styles. And had them fight. It was apparently related to her spontaneous proposal to actor Tom Welling (who in Real Life is happily married to someone else).
- Because Internet Spaceships are Serious Business, EVE Online's Corporation, Alliance and Organization Discussion forum requires posters to identify their in-game political affiliations.
- /b/, the haven of trolls that it is, thrives on socks, especially when one is trying to direct another poster to a questionable link or delete his own hard drive. They're charmingly referred to as samefags, though accusations like this generally get thrown around regardless of whether or not they actually think the other anons are sock puppets.
- An interviewer for Harper's magazine, trying to get in touch with The Room auteur Tommy Wiseau, first had to arrange an interview through a man named "John," allegedly the "administrator" of Wiseau Films. (John is the same guy who sent cease-and-desist letters to That Guy With The Glasses for reviewing his film.) Judging by John's peculiar brand of broken English, the writer theorized that John may in fact be Tommy Wiseau himself.
- The message boards at the official Star Wars site feature a few recurrent socks, but none as persistent as one originally known as The Rev, who has created literally thousands of fake accounts to harass the boards.
- Fantasy author Robert Stanek is notorious for this. He self-publishes his books, then creates hundred of false accounts on Amazon to praise his books, creates false fansites for his own books and photoshops himself into pictures with other fantasy authors, while forgetting to Photoshop in his legs.
- This picture is probably legit, as explained in Stanek's own blog here. You might want to take it with a grain of salt anyway.
- "Songs for Tibet -- The Art of Peace" charity compilation that appeared on iTunes. It was flooded with one-star reviews written in Engrish and/or Chinese referring to the Dalai Lama as a slaveowner and promoting the People's Republic of China.
- There was a particularly bizarre case of this on IMDb.com, involving a person with the username "GeniusIQ600". He quickly got to be disliked after reporting anything even slightly off topic, claiming that he was taking screencaps of disparaging replies to him and having his parents sue the repliers, and insisting that a female poster was mentally ill because she was bisexual. Sometime after, he changed his username to impersonate this female user (during which point in time he made a thread stating that "she" spoke out against Genius after not taking her medication) and began starting a handful of sock puppet accounts which always came to his aid and insisted that he had "good ideas". Perhaps the strangest one was when he tried to pass off a sock puppet as an IMDb mod to intimidate other users into not disagreeing with him.
- In 2003, a Price is Right fan site known as Golden-Road.net was spammed by one of the show's substitute announcers following the death of Rod Roddy. The person in question (Daniel Rosen) created numerous sock puppet accounts which bantered back and forth about how great his voice work was...when in fact he was almost universally despised by both the legit members and the show's staff. Nobody was amused.
- An example of a "concern troll" version of a sock puppet was Tad Furtado, a top staffer for then-Congressman Charles Bass (R-NH), who was caught posing as a "concerned" supporter of Bass' opponent, Democrat Paul Hodes, using the pseudonyms "IndieNH" or "IndyNH". "IndyNH" expressed concern that Democrats might just be wasting their time or money on Hodes, because Bass was unbeatable.
- Peter Pedersen, member of the Swedish parliament, once gave a suggestion that can be watched subtitled here: that somebody invent a battery that not only powers a car but also, using for instance a dynamo, somehow extracts so much energy from the car that simply by driving the car one will receive enough power to keep on driving it. When this was put on YouTube, scornful and jeering comments poured in, but one recently registered user started defending Pedersen vigorously. It didn't take long for most users to come to the conclusion that this user was Mr. Pedersen himself.
- Fanfiction author Jared "Skysaber" Ornstead, who has long claimed problems with hatemail and other shenanigans from people who do not like his work or style, used a second online identity, "Perfect Lionheart" for over three years starting in 2007 in order to escape them. Lionheart and Skysaber favorited each other on Fanfiction.net, and for several years Lionheart denied claims that he was Skysaber made by readers who found their styles virtually identical.
- There were persistent rumors during the Jericho Nuts! campaign that CBS was using paid trolls to break up the movement. Whether or not that was even possible, several sock puppets were discovered in the later days of the fandom. One person was caught having as many as seven handles, all used to spread their socio-political viewpoint (right-wing religious conspiracy theories) on the same board. There was an extreme amount of trolling going on in the fandom at the end of the second season. Some put it down to the show's Broken Base; others thought the campaign may have attracted a certain personality type; but some still point that a rather large number of those trolls were very web-savvy, very organized and rather literate compared to your usual flame-baiters.
- Kongregate allows anyone over the age of 13 have as many accounts as they want. The practice is used even by the moderators, some of which have their moderator status on a separate, alternative account with no post count and no points, used to moderate while the main account is used for actual fun. Many users, including some moderators, have a main account holding all the pizzazz, and multiple "alt" accounts acting precisely as sock puppets. Sometimes, due to no accounts-per-email limit and the fact the registration takes about a minute and the account is active immediately after, new accounts are created just for a single purpose of having a fitting name to answer a discussion. This system, however, causes people to be practically unbannable - anyone banned can just make another account and resume whatever was he or she doing.
- This is why eBay seller ratings have to be taken with a grain of salt: some sellers create fictional accounts for the purpose of giving themselves feedback.
- Sarah Palin briefly had an alternate Facebook identity that "like"d a lot of her posts.
- Scott Adams, creator of the "Dilbert" newspaper strip, got caught using a sock puppet called PlannedChaos to defend himself (and promote himself as a "certified genius") on Metafilter.
- Dennis R. Upkins, author of "Hollowstone", got caught writing a review of his own book on amazon under an assumed name. In particular, it was noted that his sock pretended to be a bisexual woman who praised the book for its female characters (his book has been criticized on some forums for poor depictions of said characters). He was caught because his sock account was linked to his real credit card, so Amazon displayed his real name next to his assumed identity.
- Lampshaded by Uncyclopedia. Their article Open-Heart Surgery for Dummies claims the book "was added to the Dummies series in 2002 in light of a sudden demand for cheaper heart surgery. The do-it-yourself method was popularised by this book, written by Gerald Carter, a freelance writer with no medical experience whatsoever". A sock puppet claiming to be Gerald Carter then proceeds to run "reputational management" by whitewashing the article, suppressing damning claims like "Gerald set the record for most lawsuits originating from a book..." (with as many lawsuits as copies sold). The sockpuppet is later revealed to be controlled by the author of the original Uncyclopedia article.
- One of the more celebrated cases happened when people noticed that someone named Mary Rosh was bombarding Usenet, email lists, blogs and even Amazon.com with posts praising and defending controversial conservative academic and pro-gun advocate John Lott. "Mary" claimed to be one of his former students and said that Lott was "the best professor I ever had." After one journalist figured out that Mary's posts and emails came from the same IP address as Lott's, he fessed up.
- A YouTube user known as "Ron Paul Hates Blacks" is suspected of having around forty sock accounts, which he uses to vote his comments up.
- Tripadvisor had highly recommended The Shed at Dulwich as London's top-rated restaurant at one point in 2017. Only one problem... it's a fiction contrived by a vice.com writer using a mobile burner phone, a completely contrived website and a few people voting the plain garden shed up in the rankings.
- A similar stunt in 2014 purchased rave reviews on multiple sites for Cheezed Off!, a mobile food truck in Toronto. Only one problem... it doesn't exist either except in the imagination of a CBC Marketplace reporter with some image editing software, a mobile burner phone, a throwaway website and far too much time on their hands. The truck is fiction.
- An absolutely massive problem on GameFAQs supposedly, with no real rules to stop people making/using multiple accounts to the point some users had over 500 of them. More to the point, after some people fail to use sock puppets to fool others on the forums, they've been known to mass suicide the lot, aka post offensive/illegal content with all the alts.
- "Webmonkey Gus", "Fast Eddie", and "Janitor" from The Other Tropes Wiki all appear to have been the same individual -- a fellow by the name of Gus Raley.
- Some ex-members believe "Fighteer" is also the same person.
- In October 2014, when mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll resigned from his position as head of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the reasons was a self-admitted arrogance and "domineering spirit" which, among other things, led him to troll online discussion forums using the name "William Wallace II", where he attacked critics and lambasted the supposed rise of of what he called "male lesbians," "feman" (men who act like women, in his definition), and "men who allow their wives to nag at them."
- Back when fandom_wank was alive and thriving, they reported several cases of sockpuppetry, including a very memorable one where a fan, disgruntled by having been "snubbed" by the main star from Smallville during a convention, created a veritable army of sockpuppets to use in a forum to smear the actor (according to the forum mod who made the discovery, around 30 different identities were discovered to be directly linked to this person).
Anime and Manga
- Lampshaded in a scene in Tenchi Universe, Washu has a puppet on either shoulder (named A and B); the two are constantly praising her.
- In Durarara!!, before the Dollars genuinely became a huge group, the founders posted under different handles to give the impression they were; and stationed in Ikebukuro. Apparently effective, exhibited when a number of people (actually just one person: Mikado) agreed they should do good things like cleaning graffiti; and amazingly, a large prominent one, thought impossible to remove especially if alone, was wiped clean overnight.
- May also be a reason so many people of different ages and backgrounds join after the password is leaked to them by Izaya; because no matter how big the group is getting, or how ordinary you are, someone would always reply.
- It's also known that Izaya has a number of sock puppet accounts (most notably Nakura). Volume 9 notes that these aren't just internet handles, but entire dummy identities with addresses, pre-established histories (he bought them off of people), and sometimes even faces (He gets his secretary Namie to play Kanra in offline meetings, for example).
- In Ender's Game, Peter and Valentine Wiggin set up opposing sock puppet accounts called "Locke" and "Demosthenes" on the online adult political forums which, in the book, serve much the same purpose as the blogosphere in real life. Each sibling argues the other's viewpoint in a long, successful bid for political notoriety for Peter.
- They also go recursive with this, as "Locke" and "Demosthenes" are only their main identities. They also used throwaway identities as opposing view sock puppets (since the main identities didn't acknowledge each other directly at first).
- Quite notable as the book pre-dated fora as a large part of internet culture, and in fact pre-dated the World Wide Web.
- Shakespeare has an example of this. In Julius Caesar, Cassius wins Brutus to his cause by leaving outside of Brutus' home a bunch of petitions written by himself in various handwriting styles, all criticizing Caesar and praising Brutus.
I will this night,
—Cassius, Julius Caesar Act 1 Scene 2.
- The Charles Stross novel Halting State discusses sock puppets, by name, extensively. An apparently missing man turns out never to have existed.
- Not only Shakespeare but also Charles Dickens, in Martin Chuzzlewit. Mrs Gamp's Imaginary Friend, Mrs Harris, is essentially a spoken sock-puppet, since she lives (by Mrs Gamp's own accounts) entirely to agree with Mrs Gamp's opinions, flatter her character and express confidence in her abilities. Nobody else believes she exists.
- One of the murder suspects in Bimbos of the Death Sun turns out to be a Sock Puppet created by some guys who wanted to yank the chains of Fan Dumb.
- In the Dean Koontz novel False Memory, pop psychology writer Derek Lampton and his son spend hours posting negative reviews of a rival writer's books on Amazon, using false names and e-mail addresses.
- There is an interactive children's mystery book in which the criminal puts on a mask to disguise her identity in order to make her story appear doubly believable to the audience.
- This Dilbert strip.
- 9 Chickweed Lane has had a week of Thorax and his pal Sphinxter, The Internet Comment Sock Puppet, but Shinxter's just an example of the numerous idiots who dare to mock his high-class strip about the beauty of music and ballet (and the orgasms induced by said beautiful arts). Then again, he does exist to make the author look good compared to the Internet, which is dumb and so goddamn crazy.
- In one episode of The Simpsons, Lisa is voted to be the most unpopular student at school and this is reflected on the school's forums until Lisa's family shows her someone is posting positive comments about her. The kids at school then believe Lisa is cool because someone thinks so until Bart discovers that Lisa had a notepad with posts on the forum Lisa planned to write. Bart then exposes Lisa as the sock puppet on the forum, causing all the kids to make fun of her.
- Of course, someone could always create fairly obvious sock puppets claiming to agree with the opposition for this very purpose, if they were a particularly Magnificent Bastard.