Sock Puppets and Radical Transparency

Scott Adams Sock Puppetry

WNYC’s “On the Media” had an utterly superb segment on “Sock Puppets” back on April 22, 2011 (Listen Here).  As defined by Wikipedia, a “Sock Puppet” 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.”  (More)

In the program, they detail some case studies of entities attempting to comment anonymously on message boards on their own behalf.  Here’s a brief run-down:

Sock Puppetry is nothing new; but what is new is the technological advancements that can uncover it.  Even without moderators of forums nudging puppeteers into the sunlight, algorithms can sweep the digital text and compare similar writing styles, IP addresses, and time stamps.
Doubtless there are many people inserting false commentary into the public discourse with false identities who are getting away with it … for now.  That won’t always be the case.  Unfortunately for those people, their work remains in the digital ether for future technological advances to unearth.  Think of it as Digital Archaeology.
That’s why it’s always the best policy to be transparent online.  The meager benefits of covertly shilling on one’s own behalf are outweighed by the damage done when (not if) that deception is uncovered.

3 thoughts on “Sock Puppets and Radical Transparency

  1. Robin Luymes says:

    Great post Derek. I hadn’t realized the “sock puppet” name had been applied to that practice … it’s totally appropriate. I think using a pseudo personality to make comments about your public personality is just so … desperate. Similarly, I think using an anonymous identity to make critical remarks of anything is just so … gutless (and lacking in credibility).

    Why not speak out on issues, whether you are for or against something, using your real identity? I think it’s because people are either A) embarrassed about their true identity, or B) saying stuff that will get them in trouble in real life. That’s especially true for all the people who say horrible things in the “comments” section following a news story. They are embarrassed that they are, deep down, crappy people who say mean things. And, they know it might get them in trouble in their real jobs.


    1. Derek DeVries says:

      Thanks – I actually wasn’t familiar with the term until the NPR program and I fell in love with it. Indeed; if it’s something one doesn’t feel comfortable saying as themselves, often time that’s probably a good indication that it shouldn’t be said.


  2. Robin Luymes says:

    Meanwhile, Mel Gibson’s new role in The Beaver has him talking only through a beaver hand puppet. There are many times in his real life he probably should have filtered himself in this way.


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