Sock Puppetry

I’m sure I’ll be accused of it at some point so I want to get this out of the way.

I generally post on blogs under the handle, Brandon Shollenberger, as that’s my name. Preceding this were two other handles, Docevus and zz1000zz. Both came about from video games and message boards, and I still use them there.

However, sometimes I find I’ve been capriciously banned at a site and I decide to try one of the other handles. My reasoning is simple. I believe the minor deception of not announcing my identity is justified by the far larger deception imposed upon the readers by inappropriate moderation decisions.

Some would call that using sock puppets. I don’t know if I agree. What I do know is people should be allowed to be informed of matters without worrying a site host is deceptively trimming his or her comment stream.

I only post under a different handle if there is a specific issue or concern I feel a site’s readers should be aware of, I never post under a different handle to troll, and I never post under a different handle for more than a few comments.

I think that’s reasonable. I think if someone is unfairly gagging you, it is reasonable to try to resist the gagging a bit.

Maybe others will disagree.

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25 comments

  1. There was an interesting development on this issue. It turns out a user at the blog I used a “sock puppet” (details here) going by the handle badgersouth is Skeptical Science team member John Hartz. I personally don’t have a problem with his use of a pseudonym, but other people suggested the handle should be considered a sock puppet. This led to an interesting discussion involving Rachel, a moderator at that site. My first comment on the exchange came about after a strange comment by Rachel:

    I think my confusion was appropriate. Only Rachel and the blog host (Anders) could see badgersouth’s e-mail. As such, only they could
    find his identity “evident.” That means Rachel is claiming John Hartz wasn’t being deceptive because the administrators knew who he was. Why? I don’t know. Personally, I think this sounds like an implicit acknowledgment of deception. After all, if showing his name to administrators made his posting non-deceptive, it’s natural to assume people his name wasn’t shown to were deceived.

    Regardless, I was intrigued by this supposed standard and commented:

    The identity of the handle “Docevus” is incredibly evident. A single internet search for it will turn up my full name. I had even written a post on this blog (which I had linked to) in which I showed Docevus is a pseudonym of mine. Rachel has even stated she knew who I was while moderating my comments. Given that, what is the standard she uses for “evident”? I don’t know.

    What I do know is it is easier for the readers of a blog to find out the identity of “Docevus” than it is to find out the identity of “badgersouth.” Given that, it seems amazing to claim John Hartz wasn’t being deceptive because his identity way “evident” to the administrators of a blog. To those two people, perhaps his identity was more evident than mine. But to anyone else? Mine was way more evident.

    I commented on this, trying to figure out what standards were being applied. It led to this exchange:

    It’s been half an hour since I responded to Rachel’s comment pointing out it is completely untrue. This post has an explicit statement of my view on whether or not I used a sock-puppet:

    Some would call that using sock puppets. I don’t know if I agree.

    There is no way Rachel could have actually read this post and failed to see that. As such, I have to assume she didn’t read it but only looked at the headline/skimmed it. That’d means she made a specific claim about what I’ve said based upon an impression she got rather than any actual words I wrote. That’s incredibly obnoxious.

    The truth is I don’t know just what should and should not qualify as using a sock puppet. I think it’s a subject worth discussing. I think it’d be good if everyone could agree to a set of standards on the issue. It shouldn’t be an accusation people can just throw around whenever they want. It should be clearly defined and easy to judge. I’d love it if people would come here and try to do just that.

    But until something like that happens, I don’t know if what I did should count as using a sock puppet. I don’t know if what John Hartz did should count as using a sock puppet. I don’t know what standard one would hold that’d say I was using one but he wasn’t.

    Hopefully Rachel will acknowledge what she said was wrong.

  2. Brandon S,

    You commented on the same blog under more than one handle using completely different email addresses and referred to yourself in the third person – as though you were someone else. This is a pretty clear case of a sock puppet to me but you are free to have your own definition.

  3. Rachel, I’ll note you failed to correct your untrue claim – that I admitted to having used a sock puppet. Given there is no way you are unaware of the claim, and given there is no way you can possibly support it, I must ask you to correct it.

    In my experience, when a person says something completely untrue, it is impossible to have a meaningful conversation until they fix it. Also, as a moderation policy, I do not allow claims to be challenged yet remain unsubstantiated.

  4. I misunderstood your post. Please accept my apologies. You will have to spell this out for me (I am dim, remember), am I correct then, to assume that you do not believe you created a sock puppet on the andthentheresphysics blog?

  5. Rachel, I explicitly quoted my view on the issue in this post. When you commented here, I directly quoted that statement. I then repeated the view expressed in it, bolding words to make myself clear.

    If you wish to claim you are too stupid to be able to read a simple sentence, so be it. There is nothing I can do to help you if that is true.

    However, if you possess the mental faculties necessary to participate in simple discussions, you are more than capable of reading what I wrote and seeing the answer to your question. That would mean you’re intentionally choosing not to.

    I’ll let you choose whether you want to be viewed as willfully obtuse or just incredibly dumb.

  6. Brandon,

    I have read your post many times. You say, “The truth is I don’t know just what should and should not qualify as using a sock puppet. ”

    My first comment above was my understanding of a sock puppet, “You commented on the same blog under more than one handle using completely different email addresses and referred to yourself in the third person – as though you were someone else. This is a pretty clear case of a sock puppet to me”.

    So you can disagree with me and answer my question (which is did you or did you not create a sock puppet?) with a no, or you can agree with me and answer it with a yes. You can also continue to say that you do not know what a sock puppet is. There is a good definition on wikipedia.

    On the basis of how it is defined on wikipedia, then you did indeed create a sock puppet on the andthentheresphysics blog.

  7. Could someone produce the sock comments? I can’t read them, It’s hard to know otherwise. Brandon’s -reasons- for using a second handle doesn’t sound like tending toward sock-puppetry.

  8. I gave a link to you on Twitter, but you probably missed it. I documented all the comments in this post. Incidentally, I document all comments I ever make which might be considered from a sock puppet. I also freely share them so people can determine for themselves whether my behavior was acceptable or not.

  9. Rachel, before I respond, I need to point out I told you my moderation policy here. You have neither substantiated nor retracted your claim. As such, you are in violation of my moderation policy.

    Saying you misunderstood my post is not an acceptable answer as it does not say what your misunderstanding was or what you acknowledge you got wrong. It is not acceptable to leave these things to the reader’s imagination. If you’re going to retract a claim, you need to specify what it was so people can be sure they understand each other.

  10. Ok Brandon. I tweeted that Brandon had admitted to creating a sock puppet when he made no such admission. I was wrong.

    I am wondering though, whether you have changed your mind now that you have read a bit more about sock puppets?

  11. Now to respond separate of moderation issues. You say:

    My first comment above was my understanding of a sock puppet, “You commented on the same blog under more than one handle using completely different email addresses and referred to yourself in the third person – as though you were someone else. This is a pretty clear case of a sock puppet to me”.

    But this ignores the fact the comment you responded to directly showed you had misrepresented this post. I directly accused you of misrepresenting what I wrote, and you simply ignored me.

    You did, however, say I am “free to have [my] own definition.” Promptly after this, with me having given absolutely no indication my views had changed, you asked:

    am I correct then, to assume that you do not believe you created a sock puppet on the andthentheresphysics blog?

    Nothing I had ever written suggested this. I had previously stated I didn’t have an opinion one way or the other. You ignored that, and you asked me what my opinion was. There was no reason to believe my opinion had changed, and you gave no indication you were aware of what I had stated to be my opinion.

    Even worse, I told you on Twitter, multiple times, I had already answered your question. That’s a clear indication my view hasn’t changed. I obviously wouldn’t tell you I’ve answered your question multiple times if I had changed my mind since. How exactly would you have someone interpret this behavior?

    As for your definition, Wikipedia’s definition contradicts itself, and it is different than definitions one can find in many other soruces. I’m not inclined to randomly pick one source for my definition. I’m certainly not inclined to pick one which is internally inconsistent.

  12. To answer your question Rachel:

    I am wondering though, whether you have changed your mind now that you have read a bit more about sock puppets?

    I haven’t “read a bit more about sock puppets.” I’ve read about them, discussed them and even helped people write code to identify comments from them for over five years. The reason I’m unsure on whether or not what I did should qualify as using a sock puppet is there is no standard everyone agrees upon. I’ve seen standards which would say John Hartz used a sock puppet. I’ve seen ones which say I didn’t. If I can get different answers depending on who I ask, I’m hesitant to say one answer is right.

    Incidentally, you’re mistaken when you say I used the third person to comment “as though [I] were someone else.” There are many reasons for illeism. Dishonesty is one, but it is not the reason in this case. The reason in this case is twofold. First, it’s a form of humility. I don’t believe I need to promote everything I’ve said and done. If I do or prove something, I’ll often say it was “done” or “proven” rather than taking credit. I’ll do it while posting under my full name and linking to material written under the same. That ties into the second reason: depersonalization. Disagreements often involve personal issues which distract from the topics being discussed. Not saying who did what is a way to combat this. Put simply, the “anonymity” of illeism can help reduce distractions. Those are the reasons I used the third person. They’re the same reasons I use it in many conversations, including a number on blogs.

    If I had intended to pretend to be someone else, I would not have used a handle which is publicly tied to my name. I wouldn’t have linked to a blog which openly shows that handle is mine. And I wouldn’t have posted in the exact same style I normally post, from the same IP I normally post.

    The only intent to deceive I had was using a different handle to bypass a ban.

  13. I find it very hard to have a discussion with you, Brandon. I seem to be constantly accused by you of being dishonest or of misrepresenting what you say and I sincerely do not intend to do those things. I will no longer presume to know what you mean so think it best if I leave this discussion and try to avoid reading your blog in the future. But just to reiterate, I acknowledge that I said on twitter you had admitted to creating a sock puppet when you in fact made no such admission. I got that wrong. I am sorry.

    I will only say for the record, that you have been banned from the andthentheresphysics blog and that you cannot comment there under any handle whatsoever and using more than one handle on the same blog is something I call sock puppetry.

  14. Rachel, whether or not you leave is your call, but I’ll note this is the second time now I’ve asked you to judge behavior of you or a friend of yours, and both times, you have promptly decided to stop responding. It seems opportunistic to take issue with how people view you yet refuse to discuss why they view you that way. I have clearly explained why I respond to you the way I do every time I’ve been critical of you. Not once have you done anything to indicate my reasons were unjust. As such, there is no particular reason anyone should believe you’ve been mistreated. Everyone will agree I’ve been unkind to you, but the relevant question is have I been unfair?

    Related to that, here are a couple simple guidelines you (and everyone else) should follow when having a conversation here or anywhere else:

    1) Before you claim somebody said something, make sure you have a direct quote or a paraphrase you’re comfortable says it.
    2) When someone tells you you’ve misrepresented them, address the issue promptly and directly. If you don’t understand why they say it, ask. If you don’t agree, quote what you read and explain why you think it says what you think it says.
    3) If there has been trouble with misunderstandings between you and another person, don’t assume you know what they think. If you cannot find them clearly stating something, ask them what they think. Alternatively, you can simply discuss multiple options to cover whatever views they may hold.

    Those are simple guidelines everyone should follow. I try to, and I find it greatly reduces the amount of confusion. It’s especially helpful in avoiding problems with comments that can be taken in more than one way. I strongly suspect if you had followed those guidelines, we wouldn’t have had any problems despite disagreeing about some things.

    In any event, you’re welcome to comment here whenever you want. I won’t ban anyone from this site, and I won’t hold grudges with anyone who tries to make amends for past slights.

  15. Rachel and her boss will eventually realise that blogs which apply capricious and discriminatory moderation rules eventually go the way of Skeptical Science, where nobody except the hard core regulars ever go – and many posts go completely uncommented.

    It’s obvious that the sudden popularity of ATTP is simply the result of the SkS “Crusher Crew” getting bored with talking among themselves and deciding to infest somebody else’s blog where there a few new people to harangue.

    ATTP is suffering a viral infection – I wonder whether its immune system is strong enough?

    Perhaps your blogs needs medical help Rachel – don’t risk being seen as a vaccine denier. 😉

  16. Brandon’s comment about deprecating “self” in discussions of IDEAS is spot-on. Who you are, who I am, usually ought not to matter.

    But I’ll admit that in the realm of climate advocacy it DOES matter who you are, certainly on the extreme portions of the spectrum. It’s a religion filled with prophets, acolytes, and throngs of congregations of all flavors — and a few unhinged devotees that you hope never to meet in person.

    Consequently it is useful to have debates where names are “familiar” but whether it is the person sitting next to you on the bus you have no idea.

  17. Michael, your point is aptly demonstrated by my current situation. I’ve had multiple people, including some from Skeptical Science, accuse me of criminal offenses. One (John Hartz) even claimed I had confessed to a crime.* Things like that can damage a person’s reputation. It’s possible I may come to regret publishing under my real identity.

    *The comment was in this thread. Sadly, it was removed after I highlighted it, and I hadn’t thought to make a copy.

  18. Brandon May 15, 2014 at 4:21 pm “One claimed I had confessed to a crime.”

    Without further inspection, what I suspect is that a standard search utility, probably Google, was installed on the web server. Such things search and index *everything* within its power and permission. Needless to say there’s no such thing installed on my web servers even though it would be pretty handy.

    So long as you don’t actually circumvent security there is no crime. But you are right that to re-publish carries at least some risk. A thing made available to YOU is yours to keep but not yours to republish. Some sources claim you have no right to even keep a copy (news sources frequently make this claim) but the fact is your computer has already automatically kept a copy.

    The law seems a bit lagging in this area, I use for my own ethical guideline the concept established by the Supreme court that enabled video recordings of TV shows — it is indeed a copy of a copyrighted item but since it had been *broadcast* an exception was made for VCR’s. If a thing comes to me in a broadcast-like way; published on a website or transmitted via medium like USENET, then I have no problem keeping a copy FOR MYSELF. Your computer does so automatically anyway in the CACHE.

    “It’s possible I may come to regret publishing under my real identity.”

    You already do. And yet your choices are to hide under a rock and join the throngs waiting to see how this all plays out OR hoist your flag, large or small, and be counted. The number of heroes in this conflict are few and we probably know most of their names — Anthony Watts as the standard-bearer for cautious scientific inquiry vs he-who-shall-not-be-named as the standard bearer for using science as a new religion.

    But put this all in perspective. What exactly is the conflict? Over on that other blog you mentioned people are wondering why 97 percent is such a big deal. So what if it turns out to be 96 percent?

    But the very person asking that question is part of the conflict. Why is HE involved in the fight? Because we probably all know that the battle isn’t over a few percentage points; the battle is as ancient as life itself, Malthusian, the natural enemy of man is other men.

    The left wing consists of those whose response to this threat is to form “herds”. It’s a good strategy but within a herd is constant shuffling and pushing to be at the safe center of it, and not at the edges where you are to be plucked by predators. The problem with herds is that it is only a matter of time before you are pushed to the edge and eaten by a predator.

    Facebook is a extremely telling example of this — “friending” and “unfriending” people trying to be at the safe center of a herd. The problem with Facebook is that it lacks a compelling reason to be there at all — except of course for my teenagers that would die (or so they suppose) without it. They are sheep. Also, instead of one big herd, everyone gets to try to form their own mini-herds.

    The right wing consists of those whose response to this threat is to “be prepared” (Boy Scout Motto). Libertarians take it to the extreme but small groups are better than hermits OR large herds of sheep. The good thing about being prepared is that it is NOT just a matter of time before you are pushed to the edge and eaten. There is no edge. While you don’t LIKE predators, going your entire life prepared and never meeting one seems like a bit of a waste. I wonder sometimes if elderly survivalists don’t just go a little bonkers and decide they need to do SOMETHING with all that ammo before it goes bad and before they die of old age.

    Global warmists have packed themselves into a herd. Group unity is maintained like any religion. Dogma enforced by ridicule, punishment of shunning (temporary suspension of commenting privileges), excommunication (lifetime ban).

    Whether you CARE about being banned depends entirely on your need to belong to a herd. I’m not on Facebook. I don’t need no steenkin HERD but I do enjoy the company of talented persons passionately pursuing something. I don’t use Twitter because not a single thought I possess would fit in just 140 characters or whatever it is. The Twitter Generation really does not know how to express complex thoughts.

    ABOUT THAT HERD. Being “prepared” works for predators, but the only preparation that helps in case of a stampede is not to be in the way of the herd running perhaps to the edge of a cliff. Step out of the way.

    Climate alarmism has created a rather substantial herd — but it isn’t nearly as large as its members imagine. Nevertheless, they are many and you are ONE (to paraphrase Greenpeace). Since their ultimate goal is World Domination, and that isn’t going to happen, they are relatively harmless so long as they don’t focus their entire attention on YOU.

    So you do what you already are doing. Say a few things, hang out your shingle so that other cautiously scientific persons know they aren’t alone; and while you aren’t exactly creating a “herd” of your own, there’s a lot to be said for partnership, friendship, associations of like-minded people, just good clean fun at times, LIBERTY.

  19. Brandon Shollenberger said in the lead post,

    “However, sometimes I find I’ve been capriciously banned at a site and I decide to try one of the other handles. My reasoning is simple. I believe the minor deception of not announcing my identity is justified by the far larger deception imposed upon the readers by inappropriate moderation decisions.

    Some would call that using sock puppets. I don’t know if I agree. What I do know is people should be allowed to be informed of matters without worrying a site host is deceptively trimming his or her comment stream.

    I only post under a different handle if there is a specific issue or concern I feel a site’s readers should be aware of, I never post under a different handle to troll, and I never post under a different handle for more than a few comments.

    I think that’s reasonable. I think if someone is unfairly gagging you, it is reasonable to try to resist the gagging a bit.”

    – – – – – – – – – –

    Brandon Shollenberger,

    I was reading Judith Curry’s blog post ‘The 50-50 argument’ at ClimateEtc where I ran across a link to this thread. I was curious because in the link were the words ‘sock puppetry’.

    Just read the lead post and all comments. Given your own statement (quoted above) where you stated that it was your goal to circumvent the subject blog’s moderation of you with an alternate identity on a thread where you had already used another identity, then I consider it reasonable to maintain you were prima fascia using some kind of sock puppetry in the andthentheresphysics blog thread .

    John

  20. John Whitman, I don’t know if you’re right or not. I’ve seen a lot of different definitions of “sock puppet,” and there doesn’t seem to be any clear consensus on what counts as one.

    I can’t say I care though. Whether or not what I sometimes do qualifies as using a “sock puppet” doesn’t matter to me. The phrase “sock puppet” is just a general description of a type of behavior. If you have specific information describing the behavior, a general description isn’t necessary. Whether or not people call it using a “sock puppet” doesn’t matter if they all know what was done.

    I’d be curious about whether or not there is an agreed upon definition for “sock puppet,” but otherwise, I don’t see why anyone should focus on the phrase itself.

  21. Brandon Shollenberger,

    A good conception of ‘sock puppetry’ would essentially have the ideas of multiple identities and of some anonymity use.

    It was good that you had this post. That is honest, I respect you for openly discussing it.

    Please keep doing your posts at various blogs, I enjoy them always.

    Have a good Labor Day weekend.

    John

  22. Thanks! ^.^

    One of the common threads I’ve seen in definitions of sock puppets is the idea one identity should pretend to support the other identity while pretending to be independent. I think that’s a sensible definition. If two handles don’t encourage each other’s points, I’m not sure how one could argue the use of multiple handles causes a problem. And if everyone knows the two handles belong to the same person, I really can’t see how it would pose a problem.

    For instance, I’ve posted under a different handle at Judith Curry’s blog. That handle, Vague Genie, stemmed from a joke I made at that blog where I said I should start posting under that handle. The joke was I thought it’d be funny to post comments which were intentionally vague, so that they could be interpreted in multiple ways. Was that using a “sock puppet”? I don’t think so. I declared my intention to use the handle in advance. Anyone who followed the comments at the blog would know the handle belonged to me. And I didn’t use the handle to offer false support for my normal handle. It was just a case of me goofing off.

    But I don’t know what qualifies as using a “sock puppet.” Maybe me commenting as Vague Genie qualifies. Maybe what I describe in this post qualifies. I don’t know. I’ve never made any serious attempt at hiding myself. I know how to. I could easily create dozens of false identities if I wanted to. I know how to post with different IP addresses. I know how to post with different commenting styles. I could easily make multiple identities you could never track back to me.

    But I don’t want to. I’ll use different handles from time to time when I feel it is appropriate. I just can’t see putting any serious effort into hiding who I am. I admit I’ll sometimes try to bypass inappropriate moderation, but even when I do, I still make it obvious who I am.

    To be honest, I don’t know what the correct “answer” is. Anders is intellectually dishonest. I have no problem screwing with him. I have no problem screwing with Michael Mann or Gavin Schmidt. Maybe what I do is “wrong,” but these people are pricks. If they don’t like what I do, screw ’em. They deserve far worse.

    I am not a “nice” person. I do what I feel is right. I don’t care what people call it. They can label me a “sock puppet” or whatever else. As long as I am consistent and fair, I don’t really give a **** what people think.

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