Sock puppet account

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A sock puppet with eyes in front of a computer keyboard
In Internet terms, sock puppets are online identities used for disguised activity by the operator.

A sock puppet is a false online identity used for deceptive purposes.[1] The term originally referred to a hand puppet made from a sock. Sock puppets include online identities created to praise, defend, or support a person or organization,[2] to manipulate public opinion,[3] or to circumvent restrictions such as viewing a social media account that a user is blocked from. Sock puppets are unwelcome in many online communities and forums.


The practice of writing pseudonymous self-reviews began before the Internet. Writers Walt Whitman and Anthony Burgess wrote pseudonymous reviews of their own books,[4] as did Benjamin Franklin.[5]

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term without reference to the internet, as "a person whose actions are controlled by another; a minion" with a 2000 citation from U.S. News & World Report.[6]

Wikipedia has had a long history of problems with sockpuppetry. On October 21, 2013, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) condemned paid advocacy sockpuppeting on Wikipedia and, two days later on October 23, specifically banned Wiki-PR editing of Wikipedia.[7] In August and September 2015, the WMF uncovered another group of sockpuppets known as Orangemoody.[8]


Block evasion[edit]

One reason for sockpuppeting is to circumvent a block, ban, or other form of sanction imposed on the person's original account.[9]

Ballot stuffing[edit]

Sockpuppets may be created during an online poll to increase the puppeteer's votes. A related usage is the creation of 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 claiming to be a different enthusiastic supporter of the sponsor's product, book or ideology.[10]

Strawman sockpuppet[edit]

A strawman sockpuppet (sometimes abbreviated as strawpuppet) 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, advancing "straw man" arguments that their puppeteers can easily refute. The intended effect is to discredit more rational arguments made for the same position.[11] Such sockpuppets behave in a similar manner to Internet trolls.

A particular case is the concern troll, a false flag pseudonym created by a user whose actual point of view is opposed to that of the sockpuppet. The concern troll posts in web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group's actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed "concerns". The goal is to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) within the group.


Some sources have used the term meatpuppet as a synonym for sock puppet.[12][13][14]

Investigation of sockpuppetry[edit]

A number of techniques have been developed to determine whether accounts are sockpuppets, including comparing the IP addresses of suspected sockpuppets and comparative analysis of the writing style of suspected sockpuppets.[15] Using GeoIP it is possible to look up the IP addresses and locate them.[16]

Legal implications of sockpuppetry in the United States[edit]

United States v. Drew[edit]

In 2006, Missouri resident Lori Drew created a MySpace account purporting to be operated by a fictitious 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. "Josh Evans" began an online relationship with Megan Meier, a 13-year-old girl who had allegedly been in conflict with Drew's daughter. After "Josh Evans" ended the relationship with Meier, the latter committed suicide.

In 2008, Thomas O'Brien, United States Attorney for the Central District of California, charged Drew, then 49, with four felony counts: one count of conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which prohibits "accessing a computer without authorization via interstate commerce", and three counts of violation of the CFAA, alleging she violated MySpace's terms of service by misrepresenting herself. O'Brien justified his prosecution of the case because MySpace's servers were located in his jurisdiction. The jury convicted Drew of three misdemeanor counts, dismissing one on the grounds prosecutors had failed to demonstrate Drew inflicted emotional distress on Meier.[17][18]

During sentencing arguments, prosecutors argued for the maximum sentence for the statute: three years in prison and a fine of $300,000. Drew's lawyers argued her use of a false identity did not constitute unauthorized access to MySpace, citing People v. Donell, a 1973 breach of contract dispute, in which a court of appeals ruled "fraudulently induced consent is consent nonetheless."[19] Judge George H. Wu dismissed the charges before sentencing.[20]

People v. Golb[edit]

In 2010, 50-year-old lawyer Raphael Golb was convicted on 30 criminal charges, 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.[21] Golb defended his actions as "satirical hoaxes" protected by free-speech rights. He was disbarred and sentenced to six months in prison, but the sentence was reduced to probation on appeal.[22]

New Directions for Young Adults, Inc. v. Davis[edit]

In 2014, a Florida state circuit court held that sock puppetry is tortious interference with business relations, and awarded injunctive relief against it during the pendency of litigation. The court found that "the act of falsifying multiple identities" is conduct that should be enjoined. It explained that the conduct was wrongful "not because the statements are false or true, but because the conduct of making up names of persons who do not exist to post fake comments by fake people to support Defendants' position tortiously interferes with Plaintiffs' business" and such "conduct is inherently unfair." The court, therefore, ordered the defendants to "remove or cause to be removed all postings creating the false impression that more [than one] person are commenting on the program th[an] actually exist." The court also found, however, that the comments of the defendants "which do not create a false impression of fake patients or fake employees or fake persons connected to program (those posted under their respective names) are protected by The Constitution of the United States of America, First Amendment."[23]

Examples of sockpuppetry[edit]

Business promotion[edit]

In 2007, the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, was discovered to have posted as "Rahodeb" on the Yahoo! Finance Message Board, extolling his own company and predicting a dire future for its rival, Wild Oats Markets, while concealing his relationship to both companies. Whole Foods argued that none of Mackey's actions broke the law.[24][25]

During the 2007 trial of Conrad Black, chief executive of Hollinger International, prosecutors alleged that he had posted messages on a Yahoo! Finance chat room using the name "nspector", attacking short sellers and blaming them for his company's stock performance. Prosecutors provided evidence of these postings in Black's criminal trial, where he was convicted of mail fraud and obstruction. The postings were raised at multiple points in the trial.[24]

Book and film reviews[edit]

An computer glitch in 2004 revealed the names of many authors who had written pseudonymous reviews of their books. John Rechy, who wrote the best-selling novel City of Night (1963), was among the authors unmasked in this way, and was shown to have written numerous five-star reviews of his own work.[4] In 2010, historian Orlando Figes was found to have written Amazon reviews under the names "orlando-birkbeck" and "historian", praising his own books and condemning those of fellow historians Rachel Polonsky and Robert Service. The two sued Figes and won monetary damages.[26][27]

During a panel discussion at a British Crime Writers Festival in 2012, author Stephen Leather admitted using pseudonyms to praise his own books, claiming that "everyone does it". He spoke of building a "network of characters", some operated by his friends, who discussed his books and had conversations with him directly.[28] The same year, after he was pressured by the spy novelist Jeremy Duns on Twitter, who had detected possible indications online, UK crime fiction writer R.J. Ellory admitted having used a pseudonymous account name to write a positive review for each of his own novels, and additionally a negative review for two other authors.[29][30]

David Manning was a fictitious film critic, created by a marketing executive working for Sony Corporation to give consistently good reviews for releases from Sony subsidiary Columbia Pictures, which could then be quoted in promotional material.[31]

Blog commentary[edit]

American reporter Michael Hiltzik was temporarily suspended from posting to his blog, "The Golden State", on the Los Angeles Times website 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.[32][33] 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.

Lee Siegel, a writer for The New Republic magazine, was suspended for defending his articles and blog comments under the username "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."[34][35]

Politically oriented[edit]

In late November 2020, TYT Network reported an example of a white male Republican Trump voter having a sockpuppet Twitter account presented as that of a black gay man, criticizing Biden and praising Trump while systematically emphasizing his race and sexual orientation. Additionally, in October 2020, Clemson University social media researcher identified "more than two dozen of Twitter accounts claiming to be black Trump supporters who gained hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets in a span of just a few days, sparking major doubts about their identities," many using photos of black men from news reports or stock images "including one in which the text 'black man photo' was still watermarked on the image".[36]

Government sockpuppetry[edit]

As an example of state-sponsored Internet sockpuppetry, in 2011, a US company called Ntrepid was awarded a $2.76 million contract from U.S. Central Command for "online persona management" operations[37] to create "fake online personas to influence net conversations and spread U.S. propaganda" in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Pashto[37] as part of Operation Earnest Voice.

On 11 September 2014, a number of sockpuppet accounts reported an explosion at a chemical plant in Louisiana. The reports came on a range of media, including Twitter and YouTube, but U.S. authorities claimed the entire event to be a hoax. The information was determined by many to have originated with a Russian government-sponsored sockpuppet management office in Saint Petersburg, called the Internet Research Agency.[38] Russia was again implicated by the U.S. intelligence community in 2016 for hiring trolls in the 2016 United States presidential election.[39]

The Institute of Economic Affairs claimed in a 2012 paper that the United Kingdom government and the European Union fund charities that campaign and lobby for causes the government supports. In one example, 73% of responses to a government consultation were the direct result of campaigns by alleged "sockpuppet" organizations.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sock puppet Definition & Meaning". Merriam-Webster. July 9, 2023. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  2. ^ Stone, Brad; Richtel, Matt (July 16, 2007). "The Hand That Controls the Sock Puppet Could Get Slapped". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 4, 2020. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  3. ^ Elsner, K. (November 28, 2013). "China Uses an Army of Sockpuppets to Control Public Opinion – and the US Will Too". Guardian Liberty Voice. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved September 24, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Amy Harmon, "Amazon Glitch Unmasks War Of Reviewers", The New York Times, February 14, 2004. (Archived March 8, 2021, at the Wayback Machine).
  5. ^ "Name That Ben". PBS. Archived from the original on February 25, 2012.
  6. ^ "sock puppet". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.) The reference cites a 1996 Clinton supporter calling Gore a sock puppet.
  7. ^ Matthew Roth (November 19, 2013). "Wikimedia Foundation sends cease and desist letter to WikiPR". Wikimedia blog. Archived from the original on June 9, 2020. Retrieved November 21, 2013.
  8. ^ Dredge, Stuart (September 6, 2015). "Wikipedia founder backs site's systems after extortion scam". The Guardian. Archived from the original on December 5, 2020. Retrieved October 6, 2016.
  9. ^ Poland, Bailey: Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online, p. 230
  10. ^ Sweney, Mark (May 21, 2008). "Should stealth marketing be regulated?". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  11. ^ Thomler, Craig (April 27, 2011). "Battle of the sockpuppets" Archived March 21, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, Government in the Lab: The Online Magazine for Government and Politics Around the World
  12. ^ "meat puppet Definition: TechEncyclopedia from TechWeb". The Computer Language Company. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  13. ^ Read, Brock (October 9, 2006) The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Wired Campus Attack of the 'Meat Puppets' Archived February 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Ahrens, Frank (October 7, 2006) Washington Post 'Puppets' Emerge as Internet's Effective, and Deceptive, Salesmen Archived February 11, 2017, at the Wayback Machine Page D01
  15. ^ Gent, Edd (April 6, 2017). "Sock puppet accounts unmasked by the way they write and post". New Scientist. Archived from the original on February 14, 2021. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  16. ^ Yasseri, Taha. "Wikipedia sockpuppetry: linking accounts to real people is pure speculation | The Policy and Internet Blog". Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  17. ^ Tossell, Ivor (December 4, 2008). "Cyberbullying verdict turns rule-breakers into criminals". Globe and Mail. Toronto, Canada: CTVglobemedia. Archived from the original on December 9, 2008.
  18. ^ "Lori Drew is a meanie". Slate. The Washington Post Company. December 3, 2008. Archived from the original on February 6, 2011. Retrieved December 12, 2008.
  19. ^ Zetter, Kim (December 15, 2008). "Lori Drew Files New Bid for Dismissal on Grounds that MySpace Authorized Access". Wired News. Condé Nast Publishing. Archived from the original on April 26, 2009. Retrieved December 26, 2008.
  20. ^ "Lori Drew cleared of MySpace cyber-bullying". Sydney Morning Herald. July 3, 2009. Archived from the original on March 7, 2021. Retrieved July 15, 2009.
  21. ^ Eligon, John (November 18, 2010). "Dispute Over Dead Sea Scrolls Leads to a Jail Sentence". New York Times. Archived from the original on December 6, 2010. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
  22. ^ "Case of Dead Sea Scrolls, Online Aliases Ends With Probation" (April 16, 2018) Archived October 30, 2020, at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ New Directions for Young Adults, Inc. v. Davis Archived December 9, 2020, at the Wayback Machine (17th Jud. Cir., Broward Cty. September 26, 2014) (slip op.).
  24. ^ a b BRAD STONE and MATT RICHTEL, "The Hand That Controls the Sock Puppet Could Get Slapped" Archived March 8, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, July 16, 2007.
  25. ^ Martin, Andrew (July 16, 2007). "Whole Foods Executive Used Alias". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 20, 2021. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  26. ^ Richard Lea and Matthew Taylor "Historian Orlando Figes admits posting Amazon reviews that trashed rivals" Archived February 18, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, April 23, 2010
  27. ^ "Orlando Figes to pay fake Amazon review damages" Archived March 8, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, BBC, July 16, 2010.
  28. ^ Kerridge, Jake (September 4, 2012). "Do Consumer Are RJ Ellory's faked reviews the tip of the iceberg?". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on January 12, 2022. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  29. ^ Hough, Andrew (September 2, 2012). "RJ Ellory: detected, crime writer who faked his own glowing reviews". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on January 12, 2022.
  30. ^ Streitfeld, David (September 4, 2012). "His Biggest Fan Was Himself". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 4, 2013. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
  31. ^ Horn, John (June 2, 2001). "The Reviewer Who Wasn't There". Newsweek. MSNBC. Archived from the original on June 9, 2001. Retrieved June 9, 2001.
  32. ^ Weiss, Michael (April 21, 2006). "I Spy Your IP". Slate. Archived from the original on September 21, 2018. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  33. ^ Howard, Kurtz (April 21, 2006). "Los Angeles Times Yanks Columnist's Blog". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on January 25, 2021. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  34. ^ Aspan, Maria (September 4, 2006). "New Republic Suspends an Editor for Attacks on Blog". NY Times. Archived from the original on March 9, 2021. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  35. ^ Cox, Ana Marie (December 16, 2006). "Making Mischief on the Web". Time. Archived from the original on January 13, 2007. Retrieved March 30, 2007.
  36. ^ Kasparian, Ana; Uygur, Cenk (November 26, 2020). "Republican Gets BUSTED On Twitter". YouTube. The Young Turks. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  37. ^ a b Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain, "Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media", The Guardian. March 17, 2011. Retrieved March 24, 2011. (Archived June 10, 2016, at the Wayback Machine).
  38. ^ Chen, Adrian (June 2, 2015). "The Agency". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on April 28, 2020. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  39. ^ Background to "Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections": The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution, January 6, 2017
  40. ^ Christopher Snowden (July 2012). "Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why" (PDF). IEA Discussion Paper. Institute of Economic Affairs. No. 39. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 25, 2021. Retrieved April 20, 2016.

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