Fun with Comments

With the recent announcement that my comments section has been grossly tainted by a hearty astroturfing effort, the most frequently asked questions I get these days are “Who is ‘Sedell soldier’?” and “What are all their real names?” I think you have to really understand the technology behind identifying internet “sock puppets” and how to definitively connect the pseudonym to the real name to fully appreciate the magnitude of the answers to those questions. Eventually, I’ll share that process with those interested here.

To get you started down that path for those of you who are interested, I located the following notable examples of “Internet sockpuppets” from Wikipedia. Check out these noteworthy incidents:

John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, who, between 2000 and 2003, posted under the “sockpuppet” name of “Mary Rosh”, praising Lott’s teaching, and arguing with Lott’s critics on Usenet. The name was also used to post outstanding reviews of his books, and panning books of rivals on online book sites. Lott admitted he had frequently used the name “Mary Rosh” to defend himself, but claimed the book reviews by “Mary Rosh” were written by his son and wife.

Lee Siegel, writer for The New Republic magazine, was suspended for defending his articles and blog comments using the user name “Sprezzatura”. One such comment, defending Siegel’s bad reviews of Jon Stewart: “Siegel is brave, brilliant and wittier than Stewart will ever be.”

In 2006, a top staffer for then-US Congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH) was caught posing as a “concerned” supporter of Bass’s opponent Democrat Paul Hodes on several liberal New Hampshire blogs, using the pseudonyms “IndieNH” or “IndyNH” “IndyNH” was “concerned” that Democrats might just be wasting their time or money on Hodes, because Bass was “unbeatable”.

In January 2007, the press secretary of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Peter Ragone, admitted that he posted pro-Newsom comments to the blog SFist from his computer variously as “John Nelson” (a friend) or as “Byorn.” The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ragone stated that “he answered Newsom’s critics using others’ names because being online ‘was fun — it’s where people are having fun.'”

In 2007, the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, was discovered to have posted on the Yahoo Finance Message Board, extolling his own company and predicting a dire future for their rival Wild Oats Markets while concealing his own relationship to both companies under the screen name “Rahodeb”.

On January 13, 2009, a councillor from Bournemouth, England Ben Grower was exposed by the Daily Echo newspaper for repeatedly posting comments praising himself, and fellow Labour councillors, on the newspaper’s website using many sockpuppets, one of which was named “Omegaman”. When questioned about the matter Grower was initially ambiguous in his response but later he admitted it was true saying “I have done nothing against the law. And probably next time I will just use a different pseudonym.” The story of Grower’s sockpuppetry was covered widely in the media.

In April 2010 the British historian Orlando Figes was exposed as having written critical reviews of books by professional rivals on the Amazon website under the name ‘historian’.

The amount of time dedicated to these types of efforts is massive. Phony comments on this blog were posted in times ranging from as early as 4:34AM to well beyond midnight. The number of “astroturf” comments was nearly 1000.  Of those, approximately 58% were posted by (…drum roll…) one single tortured soul among many of his fake monikers, spanning months!

The now deleted Booster Club articles were the ultimate demonstration in Internet Sock-puppeteering. What appeared on the first article were angry people seeking immediate action. The follow-up article resulted in even more people angry at me. Nearly 140 comments were posted between the two articles. All 140 comments were posted by less than 10 unique people. Some comments were posted pretending to be misguided supporters of “the other side” saying inappropriate things in feigned support of a candidate in a blatant effort to fan the flames. Shameless. Embarrassing.

11 thoughts on “Fun with Comments

  1. So, ya think if I started to post as the “Green Hulk” praising the art work on the Mitch Green Go Green yard signs, that might be a bit too transparent?

    Just asking . . . 🙂

    [Shameless plug]

    The Mitch Green Go Green yard signs will be delivered to the Simi Valley Democratic Club this evening by 6:30 p.m. (Lets hope they are open!) Be the first on your block to be roundly criticized by your neighbors for sporting an independent attitude or alternatively, the first on your block to be turned in to the local authorities as certified 5150.


  2. Oh, Mitch, you are so witty! And such classy signs, too! I think everyone should have a Go Green Vote Green yard sign in their front yard!



  3. Oh, yeah, I shoulda changed by e-mail address, huh?

    Darn, I suffer the curse of the Eagle Scout. I can’t pull off anything underhanded.

    My bad . . . 🙂

    So, you still want a yard sign? I’m told by the voices in my head they are really classy!


  4. I understand your issue with trying to keep the people that were using multiple screen names and blasting numerous and sometimes contrary positions on the same topic, that is just foolish; however, this is a public forum and sometimes quite entertaining.

    I think you overstepped your bounds by threatening to reveal peoples identities on what you designed from the onset to be an open forum about politics in a contentious election year. In many cases, the content YOU posted was controversial and itself designed to solicit conversation and input on heated political topics. As a moderator your goal was to keep the forum clean from offensive language and racial/sexual slurs. Rather than control the tone, you made a decision that it was getting too hot for whatever reason. Your actions? Shut down the site for “maintenance,” later delete the whole conversation (you started), and then threaten to “out” people who had said they were in a precarious position by even talking on here.

    You offered a place for open, anonymous, and public debate, only to back down and threaten to reveal people making comments you disagreed with. By revealing them, you could have serious detrimental effects on their livelihood because it became uncomfortable for you or those you support. That is embarrassing and shameful when placed in a position of trust. It is very reminiscent of playground dodge ball… when you start getting beat, take the ball and move to a new game.

    Good luck sir in your future endeavors but realize you have failed in a basic obligation of offering a community forum for the exchange of ideas. Your reduction in site traffic will reflect the lost confidence in your abilities to be unbiased.


  5. I’m sorry you feel that way, but we’re not going to agree on this topic.

    The phony commentators were on multiple posts, not just the controversial booster club post. My site was taken down for maintenance because I had over 20 derogatory comments posted about a candidate’s wife that I couldn’t delete fast enough posted in a time frame of about 5 minutes. All from only four very angry, very determined people.

    The guilty commentators posted hateful messages about people under fake names. Under assumed monikers, they “posed” as supporters for the other side and said things they knew their fellow supporters would find offensive to drum up anger. They did not debate anonymously — they cheated and lied. They created a phony mob, and then openly praised each other for their honesty and integrity, all while attacking the other side for comments they themselves had posted. This carried on for months.

    I am not convinced they deserve their anonymity. Nevertheless, they still have it. They’re going to need a less angry and more convincing profit than the likes of you, Kent.


  6. Hello dear commentators, my what a tangled web we’ve woven, eh? And to think, with but the most elementary pattern analysis, even the densest of us finger waivers can figure out the score.

    So delicious. And yet sad. Can’t wait for the next service club meeting.

    4 Way Test?

    The Green Finger Knows


  7. It is one thing to post anonymously, but quite another to post under multiple names in order to deceive people into thinking that there are multiple people who either feel the same way or to make false claims in order to harm a candidate by claiming to be a supporter and say things that would look bad.

    Personally, I would say that it is perfectly fine to out such people. They violated the agreement and the rest have a right to know what they have done, as well as their character.


  8. (Sing to the tune of “Runnin’ Blue” by the Doors:)

    “Poor Sedell Soldier dead and gone

    Left me here to sing his song

    Pretty little girl with the red dress on

    Poor Sedell Soldier dead and gone.”


  9. Glad this is getting under control Mike. I been a fan of this site for a couple of years, though I’ve only commented once or twice. I knew there was something fishy about the ever increasing frequency of controversial and derogatory posts over the last 6 mos.


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