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A sockpuppet, also known as a sock, is an account on a website, wiki, or forum run by someone who already has an account.
Sockpuppets are often against the Terms of Service of a website. Breaking a site's Terms of Service isn't illegal in and of itself in the USA, as the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled. However, if the sockpuppet residing in the US (or country with similar laws) deliberately tries to evade a site IP block, and the site's ToS doesn't explicitly allow such thing, the sockpuppet is probably criminally violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Originally used as a term to describe second identities, it is now used for any account created exclusively to cause
spam mischief or mayhem at a site without the original user being identified (IP recognition and blocking notwithstanding).
The name has also led to sites that generate such users being referred to as a "sock drawer." Clever, that.
The reasons for sock puppetry can include:
- Rigging voting results (Modern Library, anyone?); also often seen whenever a wiki attempts to make a decision by "consensus".
- Rigging discussions by creating a sockpuppet who "agrees" with your argument.
- Rigging discussions by creating a sockpuppet who makes deliberately extreme or moronic (usually strawman) arguments against your own view.
- Attempts to avoid rules, blocks or scrutiny.
- LANCB — but returning under an assumed sock
- Wandalism, especially on RationalWiki
- Advertising and promotion, where you want to boost a product without your identity being known, similar to astroturfing; reviewing your own book under a pseudonym is a popular pastime for authors
- Trolling and harassing internet users without any repercussion.
The term comes from the classic children's toy, which is a sentient organism bearing a suspicious resemblance to a sock over somebody's hand. Any suggestion that it is being controlled by the person who owns the hand (or sock) is mischievous trouble-making. Sock puppets are popular with educationalists such as Shari Lewis and Mick Foley.The Jargon File defined it in the modern sense in 1999:
(USENET: from the act of placing a sock over your hand and talking to it and pretending it's talking back) In Usenet parlance, a pseudo through which the puppeteer posts follow-ups to their own original message to give the appearance that a number of people support the views held in the original message.The first use of the term in the mainstream media is recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary from March 2000 in US News and World Report: "Jennifer Brand, a 24-year-old student who backed President Clinton in 1996, called Gore ‘a sock puppet’ and Bush ‘a wimp’."
A sock puppet is also sometimes called a "meat puppet", which is considerably ickier (most people would rather put their hand inside a sock than a lump of meat).
- Casey Chan. It's Not a Crime to Break a Terms of Service Agreement (So It's Okay to Never Read Them), Gizmodo. Retrieved February 4th, 2021.
- David Kravetz. IP Cloaking Violates Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Judge Rules Wired. Retrieved February 4th, 2021.
- Randroids and Scientologists, fight the tyranny of the literary scholars!
- Amazon Glitch Unmasks War Of Reviewers, New York Times, 14 Feb 2004
- Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media, The Guardian
- See the Wikipedia article on Sock puppet.
- Jargon File, v. 4.1.0, 12 MAR 1999
- See the Wikipedia article on Sock puppet account.
- "sock, n.1". OED Online. December 2020. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed-com.nls.idm.oclc.org/view/Entry/183797?redirectedFrom=sockpuppet (accessed February 09, 2021).