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.