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A sockpuppet or sock is a type of secondary online account, often with an attached persona. This term is widely used across the internet to refer to an alternate account created (usually in a forum or other discussion context) to give its user the illusion of additional support from multiple sources and/or to attack a victim using multiple different aliases.
Within fandom, sockpuppets have been used for a range of purposes, most of them negative (see Examples of Negative Uses) that range from praising their own fanworks to carrying out attacks on other fans or engaging in other malicious behaviour without consequences. Fandom history is studded with instances of fans using sockpuppets to carry out outrageous, often highly elaborate, deceptions. (See: Notorious Cases).
While this negative association is still the most prominent, fans also use the term "sockpuppet" or "sock" more casually to refer to an alternate identity created for a specific purpose, e.g. to post NSFW fanworks, to run an exchange, or to post memes to a meme community. Ultimately, whether a secondary account is considered a "sockpuppet" or simply an additional pseud comes down to the individual fan and their usage.
Sockpuppet vs New Identity
Not every secondary or alternate persona is a sockpuppet. A fan may create a new pseud for many reasons: for a "fresh start" in a new fandom or area of fannish endeavor (like a fanfic writer who takes up vidding), to avoid being outed in RL, or to secretly write stories in a controversial genre[note 1] or post about topics that are fandom policed.
Fans who do this are not typically considered to be creating "sockpuppets." Under a strict interpretation of the original use, the term only applies when a person uses the second account to talk to or about themselves while pretending to be a different person.
Examples of Negative Uses
A fan might potentially use a sockpuppet for several reasons:
- To praise or rec their own fanworks
- To troll or flame themself in order to gain attention and sympathy
- To criticize, troll or flame others, such as a well-liked BNF, and escape the consequences
- To ripping fanworks of a specific writer, character of fandom that you don't like
- To disguise the true reason for a personally-motivated attack on a known enemy
- To back up lies or improbable claims made by the sockpuppeter's primary persona
- To come to their own defense when criticized or flamed by others
- To create the illusion of mass, fandom-wide dissent or support
- To ask for money or gifts because the sockpuppeter's primary persona is "too shy/proud/sick" to make such a request
- To sign up for a contest or project multiple times (See: Dentist)
An IP address can be useful in matching a sockpuppet to their sockpuppeteer; similarly, sockpuppets may be detected if both sockpuppet and creator have habitual spelling or grammar quirks.
- A fan who instantly acquires fawning fangirls who constantly pimp her work and create gifts (art, websites) for her, despite the work not generally being considered excellent or noteworthy
- A fan who constantly suffers aggressive trolls but does not disallow anonymous comments from being posted to their journal, and cannot show anyone the flames supposedly received through email
- Constantly mentioning their glamorous lifestyle, high-profile job, or exotic sex life
- Vague accusations against others that are never backed up with specific details or proof
- Repeated Munchausen-by-Internet incidents or personal tragedies, which conveniently occur at times when the sockpuppeter wishes to gain sympathy or avoid criticism
Sockpuppet accounts will often claim to have a long history in fandom, and to care intensely about various fannish issues, but this cannot be backed up with any proof; if asked, many sockpuppets will not be able to explain why they only decided to join the fandom's main mailing list yesterday, or why they only created their livejournal account six hours ago; unfortunately, because of some fans' use of sockpuppets, newbies who do not have an established reputation in fandom may be mistaken for sockpuppets if their first emergence from lurking is to participate in a flamewar or wank.
Rat Patrol fandom once suffered a sockpuppeter known as CatO or WolfWalker who created over 600 sockpuppets in order to, among other things, dominate a fannish mailing list. For more, see: The Rat Patrol Sockpuppet Debacle.
In a 2016 essay on slash in early Star Trek: The Original Series fandom, David Gerrold reveals that controversial fan authors/editors Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath were doing this in the 1970s in order to cement their positions as BNFs and "authorities" on Spock and the culture of his homeworld Vulcan.
They assumed ownership of the entire K/S phenomenon and proceeded to chase any fan holding a divergent view out of fandom. They did it in the social media that predated the internet -- the fanzine, they did it by creating hoax identities that abused and degraded anyone they chose as an enemy. At one point, they even told a 16 year old gay man that he could not write K/S stories because he didn't understand male homosexuality.
Listed are a few of the more notorious examples of sockpuppets:
- MsScribe (see also: Charlotte Lennox, a sock for the purpose of uncovering MsScribe) in Harry Potter fandom in 2003
- Svmaria in Smallville fandom in late 2006
- Victoria Bitter in LOTR, Harry Potter, and other fandoms; 2002-2016+
- Sybyl in La Femme Nikita in 1999
- The Rat Patrol Sockpuppet Debacle in Rat Patrol in 2000
On journal sites, some fans may use "sock" accounts to comment on entries where their main account has been banned. In these cases, the name of the sockpuppet account is often a humorous or ironic admission that the account is a sock, and there is no chance that any savvy fan would be deceived.[note 2]
- The merits of sock-puppets, Archived version by painless j (July 2005)
- mecurtin's fanthropology post "Diagnosing Malicious Puppetry", Archived version (June 24, 2006)
- Establishing one's fandom bona fides ; archive link page 1, archive link page 2 by liviapenn (December 2006)
- mecurtin in fanthropology, Diagnosing malicious puppetry June 24, 2006
- David Gerrold, "Just for the record, I always assumed Sulu was gay." Essay dated July 8, 2016.