A sock puppet also does the same thing as a socbot but is not automated. Rather it is a person who takes on a fraudulent online identity pretending to be independent from the ‘puppeteer’, but to promote the puppeteer’s interests and multiply its voice or vote, that is manufacture ‘astroturf’.
In 2011 the Guardian newspaper revealed that the US military was developing sock puppets to secretly influence conversations on social media sites and “spread pro-American propaganda”. It had awarded a Californian corporate, Ntrepid, a $2.7 million contract to develop an “online persona management service” for use in the Middle East and Central Asia. One serviceperson would be able to control 10 separate identities based in various parts of the world. Each identity was to have a realistic background, history and personal profile and speak languages and appear to be based in various parts of the world. The contract also called for “traffic mixing”, that is “blending the persona controllers' internet usage with the usage of people outside” the military so as to provide "excellent cover and powerful deniability".
These fake identities would enable their controllers to send coordinated messages, blog posts, chatroom posts and responses to emerging online conversations. Critics suggested that these sock puppets would enable the US military to “create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.”
Reference: Lutz Finger. ‘Do Evil - the Business of Social Media Bots.' Forbes Magazine, 17 February 2015.
During the Arab Spring movement, we measured how the government was disrupting protesters’ activities with continuous tweets. By spamming the “stream” with tweets, important messages sent by activists were pushed lower on the page and out of sight by an automated system.
© 2017 Sharon Beder