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Sockpuppeting

 

Techniques Propaganda > Sockpuppeting

Method | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Method

A 'sockpuppet' (one word) is a false identity, a made up person which is manipulated to appear as if they have done specific things or have a particular opinion about something.

Generating sockpuppets on the internet is easy when email addresses, social media profiles and so on can be created without having to prove who you are.

To make sockpuppets work, get them having conversations, stating opinions and generally seeming human. Drop in bits about their lives, from picking up the kids to going out with friends. Create three-dimensional characters with varying attitudes and personality.

You can run entire communities of sockpuppets, having them argue and agree, subtly changing the minds of readers.

Example

A political party creates conversations online between fake members of the public who praise the politician and criticize her rivals.

A car manufacturer adds a lot of fake reviews to a customer site, praising a new car and arguing against critics.

A religious website posts fake stories of conversion from 'new adherents who have seen the light'.

Discussion

A sock puppet (two words) is a sock pulled over a hand and used as a glove puppet. Even if it has some sewn-on eyes, etc, it is still clearly a poor copy of the superior hand puppet, which itself is an obvious fake character.

Sockpuppets are often used in politics and business to create the illusion of widespread opinion about social issues or products. This is often how astroturfing aims to make it seem as if there is grass roots activity when in reality there is none. Sockpuppets can also be used to hide the real identity of the person using them, particularly where they are known within the domain of interest or where they fear criticism.

Sockpuppets work because we are strongly influenced by the opinions of others, especially when many seem to in agreement. To do so against the majority view is to risk being ostracized. They also work when the true identity of the author remains hidden. When the falsehood is revealed, the author may get reviled and a backlash effect created.

Sockpuppeting is also called sockpuppetry. Other variants include:

  • Ballot stuffing: Where multiple ballots are 'cast' by non-existent people within a vote for something.
  • Strawman sockpuppets: Where weak comments are created that can easily be refuted. This also takes the wind out of the sails of people who might otherwise offer a more robust and similar argument about the same subject.
  • Meatpuppet: Used to indicate that the person enacting the false persona is nothing but a worthless lump of meat (and not having any valuable identity of their own).
  • Sybil Attack: Where multiple false identities are used to create influence within a peer-to-peer online network (named after the book Sybil, about a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder).

While the word is relatively new, the practice is old. When times are dull and circulation falling, newspapers have long faked alarmist letters that provoked storms of complaint.

See also

Astroturfing

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