I guess in eight-plus years of blogging here at JWN, I’ve seen just about all the trends there have been in trolling, sock puppeteering, etc. (Who else here remembers the character who called himself all versions of “LeWi$”, “LEw1s”, “LewiS”, etc and kept trying to come back.)
More recently, over the past couple of months, we’ve had had an infestation of “commenters” coming here announcing not only an alleged name but also an alleged hometown. What was going on, I wondered?
Then I read this recent article in the Guardian, about a project the U.S. military has to try to “sway the discourse” in various online venues by flooding them with an army of sock puppeteers, each of whom would be ‘controlling’ numerous sock puppets.”
Under a project called “Operation Earnest Voice”, Centcom signed a contract with a California-based company called Ntrepid to provide software that would allow each of up to 50 operators to control ten fake online personas, each apparently based in a different place around the world… so it would seem that the Centcom-favored point of view has 500 supporters located all over the world! Wow!
Now, the Centcom contract was specifically only for commenters working in languages other than English. But if Ntrepid can provide that service for Centcom, why should it (or a similar company) not provide a similar English-language service for another client– say, some part of the IDF?Israeli government worldwide hasbara machine?
Why do I suspect this is what is happening with all these extremely goofy (one might even say “earnest”) commenters here at JWN who announce their names and hometowns? Because, according to the Guardian report,
- The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details…
And then, if you are sitting there at your desk, posting comments through your multiple sock puppets under some kind of Ntrepid-related contract– hey, maybe one operator on these other, non-Centcom contracts, could be controlling more than ten sock puppets!– then the challenge is, as the puppeteer, how on earth you keep track of each one (and his or her, “convincing background, history and supporting details… “)? Welcome to the strange and wonderful world of “Roy Frank Tremont. Pine Bluff, AR”, “Winston Overbrook, Seattle”, “Bernard Weintraub, Taos, NM”, etc.
These guys are all so clunky, you have to laugh. I suppose they are successful up to a point, in that they render the comments boards a bit more muddled, hostile, and bothersome than they would otherwise be. But really, their comedic value counters that effect significantly.
A word to all those sock puppeteers out there, however. Your activities may well constitute criminal impersonation, so you might want to check your liability to prosecution under U.S. law.