2011-12-23 12:59:47Floating an idea - a blog post about sock puppeting
John Cook


I don't know if this is a good strategic idea but what do moderators think of a blog post (probably written by Daniel) about some of the sock puppeting attempts at SkS. Not as a emotive, judgemental post but more as a way of explaining how people try to mislead or promote misinformation through different means. Eg - by having discussions with themselves or by creating multiple voices or by pretending to be a warmist while casting doubt in their comments. I think there's some interesting social science there and going on the principle of the best disinfectant being sunlight, wonder whether its worthwhile highlighting some examples as cautionary tales so people can be on the lookout?

I don't know, could backfire, welcome thoughts on the idea.

2011-12-23 14:54:45
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

I'd be up for it, but would probably feel more comfortable co-authoring something, perhaps with one of the cognitive guys/gals who specialize in the stuff.

Any shrinks in the SkS Forum?

2011-12-23 15:25:28Cognitive
John Cook


Is this a psychological thing or a strategic thing? Wouldn't you be more commenting on their behaviour and techniques rather than motives?

2011-12-23 16:32:47
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

John, my thoughts on sock-puppetry are this:

  1. There are those who get banned & attempt to continue their agenda of (whatever) by adopting another identity.  Multiple examples of this exist on SkS, with the latest iteration being Jdey123/mace.
  2. Then there is someone who goes to the extent of constructing multiple on-screen identities. apparently out of some deeper, driving need.  So there is a conscious, volitional component.  But there is also a deeper, psychological component as well.  An example of this could be apiratelooksat50/sasquatch.

Number 1 is pretty commonplace.  If they're banned for something egregious (as are most who force SkS to ban them) then when I identify them to my satisfaction (I have a pretty high bar of certainty to clear, as many will complainingly attest) then I ban them as well.  A few who sneak back in disguised get a longer leash after I ID them; some get reinstated, but with a short leash.

A subset of Number 1 is the professional dissembler, such as Eric the Red (employed in the automotive industry with a home base in the Detroit, Michigan area).  They push, poke & prod.  Then pull back when the heat is turned up only to resume their agenda later.  These never go by their real names (Eric's big mistake was using a proper-name-based email address in common with his first few identities; the ISP was that of the same automotive manufacturer for each, however).

A second subset of Number 1 is the...um, "psycho".  You know, like Doug Cotton.  In his case (terminal Dunning-Kruger) a deeper ideology (religious fanaticism) drives him.  This kind is unrepentent & incorrigible.  Beyond being reached, beyond redemption to the science.  In times of war, often fragged.

Number 2 is rare in my experience.  Dunno what to say about this type another than they ain't right, in the head, but less so than the Doug Cotton types above.

Caveats:  By no means do I have any formal training in anything related to this.  But I have a lifetime in studying people & puzzling out what makes them tick, aided and abetted by some of the finest sales training the pharmaceutical industry can provide.  Additionally, I grew up in the home of a law enforcement officer (my father spent a lifetime in the corrections field [parole/probation work]; it was common to have other personnel over for dinner, so listening to "shop talk" was normative).  Plus more than a decade in Washignton DC...(exposed to politicians & military brass alike).

2011-12-26 07:40:10


I'm not sure that someone banned who returns with a different name, or even a different persona is really what is meant by a sock puppet. See  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sockpuppet_(Internet) which I think does capture the usual meaning. I havent seen much of this type of behavior on SkS but certainly has been "outed" on other forums. (Usually political). The worst is when the host has one or more sockpuppets amoung the commentators. 

2011-12-27 06:10:00


I would tend to agree with scaddenp - a "sock puppet" pretends to be someone else, misrepresenting their true opinions, whereas serial pseudonyms are not (primarily) an attempt to hide identity, but rather to avoid moderation while continuing to espose a particular point of view.

Jdey123/mace, for example, has morphed from a straightforward ranter into a concern troll - a different pseudonym, a different approach. He (as mace) could be called a sock puppet.

Eric the Red, or (gah) Doug Cotton, on the other hand, are just ranting. And the various pseudonyms, while an avoidance of moderation, do not hide the base opinions shown.

2011-12-28 08:31:01
Andy S


I saw a type 2 sock puppet case on a financial forum that rustneversleeps and I used to frequent. He was a founder of the site and an intelligent and fierce proponent of the seriousness and urgency of climate change (I learned a lot from him). He set up a sockpuppet with an ambivalent identity but a female avatar. The sockpuppet would express the real person's views but with much sharper rhetoric and sarcasm. The sock puppet would be frequently suspended by moderators (the real person was a lead moderator himself, but as far as I can remember never moderated his own creation, even people with split personalities have limits, it seems). The sock puppet always signed in through a proxy server.

He was eventually unmasked (although we never had proof) when he fell seriously ill and both identities stopped posting. This prompted someone to compare his posts and they found identical and unusual spelling mistakes in both. Oddly, the person who did the unmasking was also a founder of the forum and he also had a sock puppet identity. 

Tim Lambert details some cases of notable denialists: McIntyre et al, Monckton