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Sock puppetry reaches new heights ... or depths.
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, September 05, 2006

In the world of blogging there are few mortal sins, but sock puppetry is one of them:
A senior editor at The New Republic was suspended and his blog was shut down on Friday after revelations that he was involved in anonymously attacking readers who criticized his posts.

Lee Siegel, creator of the Lee Siegel on Culture blog for, was suspended indefinitely from the magazine after a reader accused him of using a “sock puppet,” or Internet alias, to attack his critics in the comments section of his blog. An editor’s apology replaced the blog on the Web site, announcing that the blog would no longer be published and noting that The New Republic deeply regretted “misleading” its readers.
Of course this follows a controversy charging "sock puppetry" on another left wing blog recently.

You know, I think everyone is tempted at times to give in to the lure of sock puppetry. Ezra Klein commented on that:
Ezra Klein, a blogger who had tangled with him, wrote in his blog on Friday, “The temptation to create a new persona and rally support for yourself in comments can be almost overwhelming.” But Mr. Klein said that most bloggers “resist the urge, take the lashing and move on.”
Yup. I mean think about that temptation. It allows the blogger to slip his or her "blog character" and say whatever they want however they want in defense of themselves. And lord knows there are commenters who you'd love to simply blast for their pedantic nonsense and insulting tone, but, in order to maintain some sort of sense of decorum on your site, you demure.

OTOH, as is obvious, it's easy to be a troll. It certainly doesn't take a genius. And with the anonymity of the net, trolls are free to act out however they wish without damaging their "real" personality. Thankfully most trolls eventually step over the line and marginalize themselves. But they can at times be very irritating. So irritating to some that they resort to sock puppetry. To old UseNet warriors, though, there isn't much at troll can say that they haven't seen before and said better (heh ... in fact, UseNet should have been required as basic training for bloggers).

Bloggers have few good options when it comes to battling trolls. Banish them. Moderate comments. Or, have no comments. What you hope is you'll set a tone on the blog and within the comment section which will encourage discussion and discourage trolling. That's not an easy balance to attain or maintain, but it can be done. One thing I've noticed happens in comment sections, especially when you have regular commenters like ours, is they begin to police themselves. That's the preferred way to have it happen in my estimation.

But back to sock puppetry. With today's technology, it is much harder to hide sock puppetry than it is to spot it. IP addresses are the most likely way a sock puppet will be found out. But we know that there are some Internet providers who have IP addresses which change (it's called something but I don't know what) so it isn't a surefire way to nail the puppeteer. But that is when the sock puppet is used on someone else's site. What about their own site such as happened at TNR?

Well, one thing I have noticed is "style will out". No matter how clever and careful the person is, they have a particular style, use particular words in a certain way and will eventually get careless. That appears to be how Siegel was found out.

Sock puppetry, at least to me, is in one part an admission of failure. It is used by someone who can't rally people to his or her argument so he or she invents supporters. It is also a method of slipping the social constraints you've established with your persona and blog to let someone know how you really feel (obviously hoping you won't be found out). Vicarious and satisfying at the moment, it does irreparable damage to one's reputation in the long run. But it is still irresistible to some. TNR is doing the right thing, taking the occurrence seriously and taking action against Siegal. It is appropriate action and I applaud it.

Would that it was possible to take such action against everyone who resorted to the low-down, dishonest tactic of sock puppetry.

UPDATE: Just for grins, what would you consider a blogging "mortal sin?" Something which would put you off that blog or blogger for good (and yes I know I'm opening myself up to the trolls, but I'm a big boy and I can handle it)?
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Just for grins, what would you consider a blogging "mortal sin?"
Dunno, but promoting unsubstantiated claims of sock puppetry has to be up there on the list. Of course, you could always claim ignorance of the TCP/IP protocal I guess.
Written By: davebo
URL: http://
Do you mean actions in life (such as criminal convictions) or just actions on their blog?
Written By: J.Zaner
URL: http://
On their blog.
Written By: McQ
I suppose, considering blogs are presumed to be devoted to uncovering the lies of the MSM (see Rathergate, effects of), lying would be the mortal sin. But speaking only for myself, it’s Christian-bashing. I can think of at least one blog that was a daily stop for me which I wrote off completely during the Schiavo case. This particular (right-leaning) blog had a pretty good division between partisanship and informative commentary, but its host went completely loony during that time, frothing about the imminent theocrat takeover of the US and how the Constitution was being torn to pieces by the evil fundies. That put me off.

(and, to stop trolling - I don’t give a damn what anybody’s position on the Schiavo case was. I don’t care).
Written By: Christopher
URL: http://
Lying. (For those of you who are confused by this word after its constant misuse for the last few years, that means an intentional presentation as true of things you know to be false in an effort to mislead.)

Misrepresenting others’ material as one’s own.

Advocating for enemies of the US.

Child pornography, support for NAMBLA, glorification of rape or other violent abuses.

Hyperpartisanship. (Mortal blog sin from my point of view, but a guaranteed way to get a large audience.)

Being insulting instead of presenting arguments for your positions.

I’m sure there are more.
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
Being boring, or being so inflammatory that you’re boring. There’s a fairly large area in between, but some folks find it hard to keep it between the lines.
Written By: jinnmabe
URL: http://
Once you start promoting scientology, we’re outta here...

Dale Responds: You know, I’m gonna be charitable, and assume that that’s just the Thetans speaking.
Written By: shark
URL: http://
The body thetans made you say that, didn’t they.
Or was it the bawdy thetans?
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Running an echo chamber.
Written By: unaha-closp
Beyond dynamically assigned ip addresses there are autonomous proxies out there which can even mask what ip address your computer actually uses. To take it to the extreme, you can check out tor. This changes your route each time you load a different page. So, it appears that every time you click on a link, you are coming from a different ip address. It’s funny, enable tor, go to google and you may get the Finnish google page. Click on search and you may get google search results from the google server servicing Brazil.

I would have to agree with you on style. I remember reading his blog as he railed against John Stewart and thinking that the guy supporting Lee in the comments seemed like Lee’s twin. I think style can be corrected for but it takes a lot more effort. Sort of like method acting for blog comments.
Written By: John Harrold
URL: http://
Hey, no fair! Dale can jump in at any point in the conversation!

And if Hubbard had thought of your handle, you’d be either an alien civilization responsible for programming us with goals, or an alien leader kidnapping us after we died.

As it is, he had to settle for Xenu.
Then again, I’d probably be the looker goals - ’look!’ ’don’t look’
Written By: looker
URL: http://
I agree. It is right up there with those people who call Rush Limbaugh and pretend to be either Blacks or Democrats. John Lott was perhaps the most famous conservative to fall prey to this. Unless you know a whole lot about computers and the internet, don’t attmept it.
Written By: william
URL: http://
Well, there are plenty of venal sins that would put me off a blogger for good. Really — there are a lot of blogs and life is just too short. But mortal (or is it cardinal?) sins, sins that not only would I not go near the blog on a bet, but probably warn other people off?

Deliberate deception, such as sock puppetry. Even worse than sock puppetry, to my mind, is ’ventriloquism’ — editing comments so they appear to agree with the blogger, look stupid, etc.

Shopping commenters’ email addresses out to spammers and the like.

The blogger expressing views I find utterly morally repugnant. Not ones that I just consider ill-considered, stupid, ignorant, or I simply disagree with — views that are outright evil. Just off the top of my head, advocating or condoning genocide would do it. Or rape. Or child abuse.
Written By: Achillea
URL: http://
So far, none of my comments have been edited.
Written By: william
URL: http://
So far, none of my comments have been edited.
Don’t worry about that here, William. These guys will not edit your comments even when you ask them to.
There have been numerous occasions when I commented inebriated only to find my requests to edit for my benefit fall on deaf ears. It’s like they want me to look foolish. (bastards) ;)
Written By: PogueMahone
Well, thanks, but I would never drink and drivel.
Written By: william
URL: http://
Just for grins, what would you consider a blogging "mortal sin?"
Using "demure" when you meant to use "demur"?
Written By: Terry
URL: http://
Well, I suppose, Bruce, that depends on what crowd you’re in with, for many people.

As an example, a mortal sin, amongst the Kossacks would be ever agreeing with anything GWB said.

For my own part, it would be someone who after claiming to be anything but liberal, started sounding evermore like the above-mentioned Kossacks, would certainly qualify.

Written By: Bithead
Passing something off as your own is instantly down the drain. But, along that line is quoting something or somebody without citing it. There IS a line there. For example, stealing work would be if I re-wrote and posted on a blog an article that my local paper editor wrote and I didn’t quote or cite the work; just took and changed a few words and such and posted it. Not citing a work would be me writting a comment on that article, while providing bits of it in quotes or boxes, without letting the audience know who had written the article about which I was commenting. I frickin’ hate that. I guess because I’m in college now I hate it more because I see it so often from class mates.

Another bad no no is not allowing dissent. If a blog does not allow for differing arguments, at least to some degree or another, anywhere on the blog I’ll have nothing to do with it. It doesn’t do the arena, or the blogger, any good to shield oneself from dissenting views. If a blog doesn’t allow a comments section I would look for an editorial section, or guest blogger who might present an alternate view.

This is the only blog I read where I look at comments. We do a great job, Mkultra and a couple others aside, of not posting rediculous drivel.
Written By: Ike
URL: http://
Speaking just for me, a blog mortal sin is to never seek concensus. If you just keep up the debate, rather than ever allowing a conclusion to be reached, what’s the discussion for?

I believe responsible bloggers use their public voice to test ideas, invite discussion, and leave those ideas better and more broadly defined. Politics of inclusion, as it were - which seeks to find common ground among the various dissenting opinions which can be fertile.

Of course, the challenge there is not to lose the entertainment value, but I guess every blogger at some point has to decide if they’re blogging to entertain, or blogging to achieve.
Written By: Gil
URL: http://

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