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What is a Sockpuppet?

By Donn Saylor
Updated May 16, 2024
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A sockpuppet is a fake online identity created by an individual or organization for the discussion or promotion of that individual or organization's work or opinions. Sockpuppets appear on Internet message boards, discussion forums, product review sites, and other Internet communities. A sockpuppet might also be an individual who has more than one account on an online forum and utilizes one of those accounts to make anonymous postings.

The term "sockpuppet" has its origins in the more popular definition of the word, which denotes a hand puppet crafted from a sock. Online sockpuppets entail someone speaking through a fictional persona in much the same way a real sock puppet operates. The term was coined and first utilized by a LISTSERV user named Dana Rollins in 1993. It has since become an increasingly common word in online communities to describe those who partake in Internet trolling and other forms of virtual deception.

There are several different types of online deceit directly related to and associated with sockpuppeting. Astroturfing, for example, is a campaign launched by an organization to initiate the online reputation of a new idea, product, or person. The expression gives the impression that the popularity of the idea, product, or person is a result of grassroots rallying, when, in reality, the whole campaign is a meticulously orchestrated public relations operation. In this instance, a sockpuppet would create false online identities to boast about the effectiveness or benefits of the subject's agenda.

False flag endeavors are created in order to deceive the public about the true nature of an idea, product, or person. With false flag situations, a sockpuppet might craft a fictional persona to mislead the masses about the exact intentions of the subject. This duplicitous act could be done to boost profits, improve a tarnished reputation, or as a means of gathering support for a questionable cause.

A sockpuppet can also come in the disguise of an Internet shill. A shill is an assumed role in which someone claims to be a satisfied user of a certain product or service when he or she actually has an interest — financial or otherwise — in the stated product or service. In this scenario, a sockpuppet utilizes one online identity to ask for recommendations of a product or service, then logs in under another identity and responds with a recommendation for a specific company, singing that company's praises with the hope of generating more business.

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Discussion Comments
By RoyalSpyder — On Nov 04, 2014

Krunchyman - Going off of what you said, some of your examples remind me of a person who pretends to be my friend in real life, yet when I try to talk to them on Facebook, they want almost nothing to do with me. Has anyone else had this happen to them before? Whenever I would send them a message asking them a question, I noticed that it said the message was "seen", and yet I never got a response back.

Sometimes I think we need to realize the difference between true friends, and people you've added on Facebook just because you saw them in the hallway. Not to mention that many times on Facebook, people will try to make their life look a lot better than it is. It's an online persona that shouldn't be.

By Euroxati — On Nov 03, 2014

@Krunchyman - Not only do you make some very good points, but even more so, I can even relate to some of the examples of you give, especially in the sense that many people online are very different then how they are when compared to reality. One of the best examples of this are the infamous YouTube comments. It's one of the most vile places on the internet, and it's a persona you rarely even see in real life.

More than often, you'll have people saying incredibly harsh and downright cruel things to one another, usually taken to extreme levels. While it's true that people can be mean in real life, they would still never say those things to your face, for the most part. Such as people who make tons of racist comments against black people on YouTube videos involving people of different races. It's almost like we're starting to forget what's reality and what's fiction.

By Krunchyman — On Nov 03, 2014

If I recall, in one of my social media classes, we discussed sockpuppets, and I thought it was rather interesting how one can create an online identity that's simply used for discussion and promotion. Does anyone else agree? In fact, if you think about it, this topic can expand even further.

After all, even though the article is very specific in the term that's being discussed, don't forget that compared to the real world, the internet is a completely different realm, and it really shows here.

More than often, it's almost like we have two personalities. The one we have in real life, and then there's out virtual identity, that can define how we are on the web.

For example, one can be really shy in real life. However, if you were to have a discussion with them online, they would be extremely talkative, and you wouldn't really be able to tell the difference unless you were to meet them in person.

On the other hand, you can have those people who are very talkative in real life, or those who pretend to be your "friend", and yet when you talk to them online, they want absolutely nothing to do with you. It's almost like the internet and social media have become a extension of our personality, for the better and for the worse.

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