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. The term now includes other uses of misleading online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a third party or organization, or to circumvent a suspension or ban from a website. A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym and the creation of a sockpuppet is that the sockpuppet poses as an independent third-party unaffiliated with the puppeteer. Many online communities have a policy of blocking sockpuppets.
The term "sockpuppet" was used as early as July 9, 1993 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.
The history of reviewing one's own work under another name predates the internet. Walt Whitman and Anthony Burgess were both famous for having reviewed their books under pseudonyms. Another famous example was Benjamin Franklin.
Examples of sockpuppetry 
Roger Jon Ellory 
In September 2012, the British mystery writer Roger Jon Ellory used fake usernames on Amazon.com to create numerous 5-star reviews using pseudonyms, by writer and journalist Jeremy Duns. Ellory used pseudonyms such as "Nicodemus Jones" to post both positive reviews of his own work and negative ones of competing authors. A group of authors were sufficiently upset by Ellory's negative reviews of other authors' work that they launched a petition to condemn his actions.
Ben Grower 
On January 13, 2009, Ben Grower, a councillor from Bournemouth, England, was exposed by the Bournemouth Daily Echo for repeatedly posting comments praising himself and fellow Labour councillors on the newspaper's website using several sockpuppets, including the screen name "Omegaman." When questioned, Grower was initially ambiguous but later admitted the truth of the allegations, saying "I have done nothing against the law. And probably next time I will just use a different pseudonym."
Michael Hiltzik 
American reporter Michael A. Hiltzik was temporarily suspended from posting to his blog, "The Golden State," on the Los Angeles Times 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).  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.
John Locke 
Best-selling author John Locke paid for over three hundred reviews of his books. Reviewers were paid on the basis of whether they gave the books four or five stars; many of the pseudonymous reviewers wrote multiple reviews. Locke has written 14 books.
David Manning 
Lee Siegel 
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."
Example of governmental sockpuppetry 
In 2011, a Californian company, Ntrepid, was awarded a $2.76 million contract under the auspices of US Central Command for "online persona management" operations with the aim of creating "fake online personas to influence net conversations and spread US propaganda" in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto.
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 for the same position. Such sockpuppets behave in a similar manner to internet trolls.
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), the alternative rock band Meat Puppets, and the cyberpunk novelist William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984). Editors of Wikipedia use the term to label contributions of new community members if suspected of having been recruited by an existing member to support their position. 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."
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." 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."
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. 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.
Legal implications of sockpuppeting in the United States 
In 2008, 49-year-old Missouri resident Lori Drew was prosecuted and convicted in Los Angeles for creating 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 convicted for misrepresenting her identity, in violation of the MySpace terms of service. The Los Angeles U.S. Attorney successfully claimed that this was covered by federal computer fraud legislation against "accessing a computer without authorization via interstate commerce." Drew appealed the verdict, arguing 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." On July 3, 2009, the appeal was tentatively upheld.
In 2010, Raphael Golb was convicted on 30 of 31 counts, 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. Golb defended his actions as "satirical hoaxes" protected by free-speech rights. He was disbarred and sentenced to six months in prison but remained free on appeal on $25,000 bail.
See also 
- False flag
- On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog
- Online reputation
- Passing (sociology)
- Troll (Internet)
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- Stone, Brad (July 16, 2007). "The Hand That Controls the Sock Puppet Could Get Slapped". New York Times.
- A legitimate pseudonym is sometimes termed an "alt," short for "alternate identity."
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- 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.’
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- "RJ Ellory, Author, Caught Writing Fake Amazon Reviews For Books," Huffington Post, September 4, 2012.
- "RJ Ellory: detected, crime writer who faked his own glowing reviews". - Daily Telegraph. 02 Sep 2012. Using one of his pseudonyms "Nicodemus Jones", Ellory described his novel "A Quiet Belief in Angels" as a "modern masterpiece." The review on Amazon reads: "All I will say is that there are paragraphs and chapters that just stopped me dead in my tracks....it really is a magnificent book." In addition to praising his own work, he left negative reviews for books by fellow novelists Stuart MacBride and Mark Billingham.
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