Those pathetic professional sock-puppeteers

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.

17 thoughts on “Those pathetic professional sock-puppeteers

  1. David

    while I have no doubt that most of your readers do not like or agree with my comments, I just want to say I’m not a sock puppet and I only comment under my own name.

  2. Helena

    Sorry about that coding error, awesome. I fixed it soon after you commented.
    David, someone like you, I respect and am happy to engage with.

  3. Henry James

    Blog trolls are ugly, but they are just a nuisance. It is pretty to tell a live experienced commentor from a fake.
    But this news story raises a much more important question – what about twitter revolutions? Are online activists really locals? Do they work for free or paid from abroad? Do they exist at all or they are just fakes?

  4. Elizabeth

    I actually did go to high school with a boy named
    Roy Frank Tremont, so maybe ….

  5. Carmine Difazio, The Pride of Passaic Hills, NJ

    Let me get this straight Helena. You actually believe that the guys who just inserted STUXNET into Iran’s nuclear weapons development program took time out of their busy schedules to bother you? Please get control of yourself. This is no time to come unglued.

  6. Henry James

    [You actually believe that the guys who just inserted STUXNET into Iran’s nuclear weapons development program took time out of their busy schedules to bother you?]
    Blog spamming is much simpler than disrupting the centrifuges!

  7. Small Town Girl Originally from Jacob's Ladder, TN

    You are probably right about these sock-puppeteers getting
    paid, but as a long-time reader of JWN (and up-to-this-time non-commentator), I would have to say that quite a lot of what they are posting here about you is accurate, even if some of
    it is exaggerated. After all, no one looking at your posts could accuse you of being a supporter of US foreign policy in the Middle East such as those policies that have been carried out by
    Pres. Obama in recent days. And there is no denying the fact that you and many of your
    posters are long-time sympathizers with the policies of Hamas, Hezbollah and Assad; and have also consistently supported Iran’s mullahs and Ahmadinejad over the years. As for Israel, it
    goes without saying that the only outcome for it that you truly believe in is its total demise and takeover by the Palestinians. Correct me if I am wrong, but you also believe that Iran and
    Syria have a perfect right to have nuclear weapons, as long as Israel does. So why bother to deny or disguise what are obviously your true beliefs in the first place? America is
    supposed to be a free country where people are free to express their thoughts. I believe you should continue doing so without being ashamed of them in any way, and without wasting your
    time worrying about what some ignorant hasbarista sock-puppeteers are saying.

  8. Henry James

    [After all, no one looking at your posts could accuse you of being a supporter of US foreign policy in the Middle East such as those policies that have been carried out by Pres. Obama in recent days. And there is no denying the fact that you and many of your posters are long-time sympathizers with the policies of Hamas, Hezbollah and Assad; and have also consistently supported Iran’s mullahs and Ahmadinejad over the years. As for Israel, it goes without saying that the only outcome for it that you truly believe in is its total demise and takeover by the Palestinians. Correct me if I am wrong, but you also believe that Iran and Syria have a perfect right to have nuclear weapons, as long as Israel does. So why bother to deny or disguise what are obviously your true beliefs in the first place? America is
    supposed to be a free country where people are free to express their thoughts. I believe you should continue doing so without being ashamed of them in any way]
    Absolutely wonderful 🙂
    Just ignore whatever the blogger writes, put something like this and you are all set!
    Then the author can spend the rest of his miserable life proving it is not true, without commentor spending any effort in argumenting anything.

  9. Edward

    @Small Town Girl
    Is this a spoof?
    1)”So why bother to deny or disguise what are obviously your true beliefs in the first place?”
    How did this become the issue? This post concerns a comical yet troubling effort to manipulate internet discussions critical of U.S. and Israeli policies. I am glad to have learned about this at JWN.
    2) “…without wasting your
    time worrying about what some ignorant hasbarista sock-puppeteers are saying.”
    Israel’s hasbara efforts are a very important subject; they have been misleading the world for many decades.
    I might add that the Israelis know that fair-minded people will not accept what they are doing. It is an indictment of Zionism that they must resort to such tactics.

  10. Helena Cobban

    And another thing. Those robo-socks nearly always go majorly off-topic and in other ways violate the guidelines. I guess they just need to fill up their quotas somehow. (I’m guessing that Ntrepid’s software keeps careful count of how many ‘comments’ they post, where, and at what length, in order to keep track of how much to pay these sad sacks.)

  11. brian

    small town girl…zionist sockpuppet:
    ‘As for Israel, it
    goes without saying that the only outcome for it that you truly believe in is its total demise and takeover by the Palestinians. Correct me if I am wrong, but you also believe that Iran and
    Syria have a perfect right to have nuclear weapons, as long as Israel does’
    If israel has nukes (andn it has hundreds) then why shouldnt Syria and iran have them?

  12. Barbara O'Brien

    Helena,
    My name is Barbara O’Brien and I am a political blogger. Just had a question about your blog and couldn’t find an email—please get back to me as soon as you can (barbaraobrien(at)maacenter.org)
    Thanks,
    Barbara

  13. John W. Brian, Nashville, TN

    Brian, you moron, Small Town Girl was just trying to get Helena to own up to her beliefs.
    Hundreds? Have you actually actually counted
    Israel’s nuclear weapons?
    I’m putting you on notice. Any more idiotic posts like this last one from you, and I’m suing you
    for criminal impersonation, as per Helena’s
    suggestion.

  14. Neil M

    Good post, Helena.
    Reflecting on the fact that 95% of blog commenters sign on with nothing more than a cryptic nom-de-plume, the idea of crediblising one’s anonymity by adding an uncheckable geographical location is hilarious – and made more so by the evidence that people are actually doing it.
    Thanks.
    (A bit of levity goes a long way)
    NM.

  15. kassandra

    There was a sublime moment on AlJazeera yesterday. As with most news stories re Palestine, AlJazeera bends over backward to get a representative from the Zionist entity to comment. Following a story on Fatah and Hamas unity, there was Mark Regev (the one with the metal teeth) breathlessly grimacing the same old line about terrorists taking over. The newsperson tried to ask a question. Each time she was told by Regev not to interrupt, while he went on with his tirade. And then AlJazeera just faded him out. It was such a good metaphor. Israel is indeed fading out, it is becoming irrelevant. Mark Regev and his disciples can rant all they want. Israel is fading out.

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