The Problem with Sock Puppets

People don’t much like sock puppets. How do I know? Well, check out a sampling of comments regarding the implosion of the You’re Not Helping blog.

I have no respect for people who want to loudly proclaim their beliefs, yet are unwilling to sign for them on the dotted line. I have even less respect for people who want to create an illusion of consensus through fraud to bolster those beliefs with.


The bad part of YNH is the way he handled getting caught. He had sock puppets. They became obvious. He attacked those who mentioned that he had sock puppets. His sock puppets attacked. The attacks were accusatory and mean.

I may not agree with the harsh language P Z often uses against religion in general, but you will never catch me using sockpuppets to misrepresent myself here or anywhere else. Just seeing others pull such childish stunts disturbs me. Lying is lying, and sockpuppetry is a form of lying, period.

I did a round of sockpuppetry before I knew what it was. Still feel bad about that. But it sure as flying spaghetti monster wasn’t on my own blog.

That’s a lot of vitriol with nothing to balance it. I haven’t seen a positive comment about sock puppetry in the reaction to the blog closing. Admittedly, some of that may have to do with the fact that most of the people commenting on the situation were none too happy with YNH to begin with.

That’s almost certainly not all of it, however. When it comes right down to it, we don’t like people who don’t play fair. We’ll take a hit to our own self-interest if it will let us punish a cheater. And sock puppets are cheaters.

There is an important distinction between pseudonymity and anonymity. When dealing with the anonymous online, we don’t have any idea who we’re relating to. Every social transaction is a mystery, Every time, we are forced to choose how much we risk without any history on which we can rely to make that decision. The anonymous poster hasn’t accrued a reputation, the social capital with which they can buy at least our temporary forbearance and trust.

As DrugMonkey has pointed out in prior discussions of online identity, the situation is different when dealing with a durable pseudonym. Over time, that pseudonym accretes history the same way any other name would online. It develops a reputation that follows it around. This reputation doesn’t generally attach itself to the person behind the pseudonym, but there are good, bad and indifferent reasons why that might be desirable. The pseudonymous themselves are generally approximately as mixed a bag of humanity as the rest of us, and we deal with them individually based on the reputation they built by their actions.

Those who engage in sock puppetry, however, are making a raid on reputation. They’re stealing it, either by exploiting the bandwagon fallacy to accrue unearned regard for their position or by disowning the negative effects that attacking someone else has on reputation, basically shoplifting a smackdown every now and again. YNH did both.

They wanted to have both this (mirrored since the original blog was locked):

No. You all seem to have discovered the convenience of just making things up to attack those you disagree with when you can’t do anything to attack what they’re actually saying. It would be pleasant to see some sanity from all of you and to see the wild finger ponting stop, especially since none of it to date has been true.

And this:

The continued attacks and accusations makes one wonder if it’s not all bitterness from OM about YNH getting him right.

Trolly trolly troll troll troll….

Both this:

OM was banned because he/she/it was posting as multiple sock puppets, using different names and emails but the same IP, to espouse opposing opinions in an attempt to sabotage threads. He was warned, he kept at it, and he was banned. It’s a dead issue.

And this:

As for sock puppetry: yes, I am responsible for several of the commenters (sock puppets) on this blog, namely “Patricia,” “Polly-O!,” and “Brandon”

Both this:

Remember: you do not have the right to not be offended. But if you are, you could always try sticking to reality-grounded, sensical criticism and dialogue, too.

And this:

Ophelia tries desperately hard to turn the use of the word “flustered” or “shrill” or the like into the equivalent of being a long-time victim of physical spousal abuse, overblowing it and taking it out of proportion and context as little more than a useless little cop-out from actually responding to others. It’s a fucking disgrace to women and a disgrace to those who are actually victims of sexism, not the preceived, feigned sexism victimization of a fragile little prat who lacks the guts and emotional intelligence to respond to criticism after she’s dished out a shit-load of it – often complete with the same marginally-sexist language – herself.

In other words, the blogger(s) called YNH were trying to accrue reputation for being on the side of honesty, openness and accountability, while the puppets claimed by YNH were accruing the benefits of dishonesty and baseless speculation in trashing the reputations of others. They were accounting with two sets of books. They’re cheaters.

And so, when YNH wants to claim victim status for someone apparently getting too close to their identity(ies), or when someone wants to suggest that YNH is being bullied by getting all this negative attention, remind them. This is punishing cheaters, which is what we do.

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34 Responses to “The Problem with Sock Puppets”

  1. June 29th, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Ophelia Benson says:

    Aha, cheater-detection, so it is. I hadn’t thought of that. It’s what we have minds for! It’s what we’re good at! It’s why we can’t do the Wason test with cards but we can do it with beers and cokes.

  2. June 29th, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    becca says:

    dude, saying “sockpuppets are evil cause YNH used them” is like saying “blogs are evil cause YNH used them”.

  3. June 29th, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Lorax says:

    becca is absolutely correct! How about “sockpuppets are evil and YNH used them”?

  4. June 29th, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Actually, I said sockpuppets are evil in the way YNH used them.

  5. June 29th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    K.T. Dragon says:

    Actually, she said they were cheaters, not evil.

  6. June 29th, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Cheat-ING. She said they were cheat-ING. Not cheaters.

  7. June 29th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    K.T. Dragon says:

    Doesn’t make them less evil.

  8. June 29th, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Yes it does.

  9. June 29th, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    K.T. Dragon says:


  10. June 29th, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Duz 2

  11. June 29th, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Oedipus says:

    You’ve reminded me of something I meant to mention, which is the amazing amount of projection going on in the YNH post dedicated to me.

    Note the original reason for my ban was because of a supposed affiliation I had due to “posting history elsewhere”. Nothing about sock puppetry.

    So all the accusations in the “What’s Up With Oedipus” post are entirely new — the original accusation isn’t even in there! As he wrote it, YNH was imagining things he could charge me with. What came to mind? Well, the thing which was already on his mind. That is, the thing he was doing: socks. That’s projection.

    As I’ve said before, there’s Ph.D. thesis here waiting to happen.

  12. June 29th, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Crystal D. says:

    Let’s just say it- using sock puppets is fucking crazy… Everyone’s had moments when they’re commenting and they wish someone would back them up. That is when I post a link to a friend, or I nudge my husband… It is not when I make up people and back myself up… Crazy and lame. I guess I should add lame. (Oh, and might I add that if my friends or husband don’t agree with me, I have the testes to stand on my own two feet as well…)

  13. June 29th, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I confess to having used sock puppets to disagree with myself on Tangled Up in Blue Guy. I was trying to generate comments. It didn’t work.

    Sock puppets are evil because they indicate false consensus. Will would have been better off simply saying “The Lurkers Support Me In E-mail.” No one would have been as pissed nor the wiser and he would still be blogging and not trying to find a rock to crawl back into.

    (I feel the need to confess that I was joking here. I never actually used sockpuppets at

  14. June 29th, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Glendon Mellow says:

    That’s the thing though, Mike – he still has the rock to crawl back into.

    Will is like Kaiser Söze now. Bloggers will scare their kids about how you never know if who’s lurking out there is Will from Alabammy, waiting to position pin your blog to the ground. We’ll always wonder if the next intelligent though disagreeing commenter is really a new voice, or really Will/YNHer…

    Oh. No, Wait. We won’t.

    We won’t think it’s YNHer unless the commenter engages in inflammatory extrapolations of atheists behaviour and tells others off (rudely) for being rude.

    Terrific post, Stephanie! I love the format. Punchy.

  15. June 29th, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    “Will is like Kaiser Söze now.”


    Teh Blogslayer is not afraid of Kaiser Söze

  16. June 29th, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Glendon Mellow says:

    “Teh Blogslayer is not afraid of Kaiser Söze”

    Yah. Especially when it turns out Kaiser Söze is actually Verbal Kint, not the other way around.

  17. June 29th, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Exactly. I wonder if everyone else knows that we are talking about the movie “The Usual Suspects”?

  18. June 29th, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Hitch says:

    In defense of sock puppets: I use them to entertain my nieces. They are beyond great for that!

    On the intra-webs? Have a one spine and don’t pretend to have more.

    I actually think it’s even fine to have multiple pseudonyms, just not in the same arena.

    If you have a view, make it appear consistent. Don’t pretend configurations that are not actual.

    Basically display honesty. That’s about it. Honest sock puppets are no problem at all!

    The rest we should perhaps call suck poppets?

  19. June 30th, 2010 at 4:03 am

    Stewart says:

    Yes, thumbs up for the Kaiser Söze ref. Not ROFL, but it brought me a very big smile.

    Will scientists one day be studying how altruism evolved in cyberspace?

    We may have seen the last of Will, but we haven’t seen the last of this phenomenon. There’s always going to be someone so sure he’s right that he needs to invent another person with more clout to share his view and browbeat others into it. Isn’t god the original sock-puppet?

  20. June 30th, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Glendon Mellow says:

    “Isn’t god the original sock-puppet?”

    I think god is likely a derivative from a colourful, happy pantheon of older sock puppets.

  21. June 30th, 2010 at 9:10 am

    George W. says:

    Sock-puppetry does not have to be necessarily evil. It is all in how he used them. If a blogger had used a sock puppet as a sort of rhetorical device in a thread to counter his/her own argument, sort of a devil’s advocate, to bring up a point that was missed in the original post or direct a conversation in a certain direction; I don’t think anyone would care.
    This is a known literary device that I have enjoyed in books I have read in the past. Freuds “The Question Of Lay Analysis” comes to mind. There, though, I knew from where the dissenting voice was coming from, so there is a difference.
    I guess that might be a “gray area” for sock puppets, more of a wooly than a dress sock or sport sock.

  22. July 1st, 2010 at 11:28 am

    becca's sockpuppet says:

    I am shocked and offended that such vitriol against my kind could exist in today’s modern, supposedly ‘enlightened’ society. Did you know that 9 out of 10 people ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly’ agree with the statement “sockpuppets are more disgusting than atheists!”!!?! Did you know that 99/100 sockpuppets polled agree that sockpuppets are the most oppressed minority on the internet? EVEN INCLUDING FURRIES?!!!!

    “using sock puppets is fucking crazy”
    Let’s just say it- hating sockpuppets is fucking hatemongering bigotry!!!
    And what, pray tell, is so WRONG with being ‘fucking crazy’, anyway?! What kind of abelist bullshit is that?

  23. July 1st, 2010 at 11:29 am

    sciencelizardbecca says:

    “Sock puppets are evil because they indicate false consensus.”
    Yes, that is exactly it.

  24. July 1st, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Oedipus says:

    George, uh, what? There’s no reason to deceive.

    “A counter-argument would be that…”
    “On the other hand, if…”
    “A potential objection would be that…”

    What’s wrong with starting a sentence like that?

  25. July 1st, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    sockpuppet of the becca says:

    “If a blogger had used a sock puppet as a sort of rhetorical device in a thread to counter his/her own argument, sort of a devil’s advocate, to bring up a point that was missed in the original post or direct a conversation in a certain direction; I don’t think anyone would care.”
    An excellent point. I also highly doubt that if YNH had decided to come on QuicheMoraine and remark on what a lovely blog you folks have here, it would hardly have mattered if he’d used multiple monikers to do it.

  26. July 1st, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    becca says:

    @sockpuppet of the becca- that’s just crazy talk. Nobody uses multiple monikers to talk about how wonder Quiche Moraine is. And since it’s one of the most wonderfulest wonderful blogs of wonderful, I highly doubt anyone does it *anywhere*. Crazy sockpuppet.

  27. July 1st, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Yes, there is a fine line between a sock puppet (operated by a blogger in his or her blog) and a) having two blogs and pointing people from one to the other; b) having multiple bloggers and commenting on each other’s posts c) having a loyal or semi loyal subset of readers you can count on to chime in d) having a persistant set of haters you can count on chiming in e) contacting a friend/colleague or even an enemy and thusly convincing them to comment.

    Some commenters are just commenters. Some are socks. But others, they are like the Manchurian Candidate.

  28. July 2nd, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    becca says:

    Ya know, my metacommentary of the crazy flavor would be a little easier to follow if QM didn’t remove some of the comments in which I converse with myself. Oh well. Important part is I like sockpupets and everytime they are used for evil FSM kills a kitten.

  29. July 2nd, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    No comments were removed. Comments often end up in moderation, if they have a new name/email/whatever (I’m not sure of the rules). We have been very preoccupied the last couple of days so I don’ think anyone has checked from noon or earlier yesterday through just now (which is already tomorrow).

  30. July 3rd, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Sorry, becca. I don’t ever mean to interrupt performance art. This is a crazy weekend, and I don’t mean split-personality crazy.

  31. July 4th, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Oh, and for the record, one of my best friends is a sock puppet. Just not my sock puppet.

  32. July 10th, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Yep, I just cleaned out a bunch of spam, and 7 comments were clearly spam. We use Akismet for preliminary moderation since we don’t continually sit with our computers on the lookout for comments to moderate at Quiche Moraine (which is the bloggiest of the blogs, becca.)

  33. July 11th, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Heather says:

    OK, I just got back from vacation and am catching up. Or at least trying to. Sometimes my mind gets stuck whirlygigging around a single thought, like Crystal’s comment that she has the testes to stand on her own two feet. Crystal? Testes? What on earth do such bits of anatomy have to do with standing, let alone on one’s own two feet? (My visual internal imagery resulting from that comment would be, I’m assured, rather painful.) I don’t have them (testes), and stand on my own feet just fine, except for the rotten knees part which have nothing to do with figurative standing. Not knowing Crystal, I’m hesitant to suggest sexism, but it sure smells that way to me. The whole thing severely distracts me from sock puppets, and I have the guts to say so myself.

    Oh yeah, Quiche is cool.

  34. July 14th, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Crystal D. says:

    Oh, sorry, I was not following the internet thread because I had been standing on my testes too long and they were sore. I’m not sexist at all, I was just distracted because I was baking a pie for my husband. I have yet to get preggers, but am working on producing an heir for him and his fortunes.

    Also, I am a total bigot against sock puppets, and I won’t back down from that stance. And now I will make sure all of my friends come here and help spread my hate speech.

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