The Guardian (on Facebook) reports
Sock puppets – online commenters that create a false identity – are disrupting academic freedom and scholarly debate, says Simon Tanner.
Have you encountered a sock puppet recently? The answer is probably yes even if you never knew. I met one (well several) the other day and it was quite an experience – a bit like getting mugged by a chimera. Sock puppets, referencing the cute and simple hand puppets made from a sock, are intended primarily to deceive. This is not the anonymity we all sometimes seek when online; sock puppetry is about setting up a false identity so the puppeteer can speak falsely while pretending to be another person.
Some of the craziest uses of sock puppetry are when these misleading online identities end up working in unison: simultaneously praising and defending their alter egos while attacking, stalking or even libelling and defaming people or organisations they don’t like. All the while never admitting the link or affiliation to the puppeteer.
Sock puppets have had an impact on academic discourse. I led the digitisation pilot of the Dead Sea Scrolls and I can vouch from that experience that there are plenty of attention seekers out there, with conspiracy theories agogo. But these are relatively easy to spot. The case of Raphael Golb shows the real invasive power and perfidy of sock puppets. He was convicted in 2010 of using online aliases to harass and discredit his father’s academic detractors in a heated fight over the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A Manhattan jury convicted Golb of 30 counts, including identity theft, forgery and harassment; he got six months in jail.
As reported by Robert R Cargill in Archaeology Magazine the attacks on him included detailed criticism in the comments sections of literally every news article that referenced his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls with links back to refuting texts self published by Golb’s father, Norman. It went much further, discussions were going on between several “people”, but all arguing in the same direction – the names used included: “Charles Gadda”, “Richard Moss”, “Jessica Friedman” among others. And then the “Gadda” sock puppet went after Cargill and others personally in what Cargill called a “smear campaign”. Golb kept up this practice for years, publishing on news sites, blogs and Wikipedia and then referenced back to these items to give the appearance of proper referencing, peer review and a growing body of academic acceptance for the ideas of his father. There were letter writing campaigns and even worse a senior academic in the field, Lawrence Shiffman, was directly impersonated by the sock puppets. This puppetry carried on for years and academic discourse was severely disrupted while those innocent academics involved in Dead Sea Scroll research were libelled, defamed and smeared.
Aside from the writer’s inability to spell Larry Schiffman’s name correctly and missing out on libeled as well… he’s pretty much spot on. For academics, there’s just no justification for the cowardice of online aliases. As I always say, if you can’t own your words, you don’t have any right to have them heard.
Although I’m fairly sure that loads of Amazon book reviews that use fake names are by those book’s authors or publishers. But that’s just because they want to sell stuff isn’t it.
Read the rest. And stop using fake names, ya gits.