Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sockpuppets in Comments

I've noticed a few instances lately in the comments section on my blog where someone recommends a webstore or product. While that comment completely on it's own doesn't raise any flags, sometimes I stumble on a nearly identical comment on someone else's blog.

Basically, there are businesses out there that look to build "buzz" or at least name recognition by pretending to be a reader of your blog and participate in discussions. They don't announce their affiliation and are referred to as Sockpuppets. (A famous instance of Sockpuppeting include John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods using the alias "Rahodeb" in forums to talk about Whole Foods and pump the company and in many cases defend Mackey against criticisms.)

Sometimes these Sockpuppets are being operated by larger companies in an organized effort, but usually they're just awkward companies with a poor understanding of ethics and how things work with blogs, forums and the internet.

How to spot a sockpuppet:
  • Are they commenting in a relevant way about the post? Or does it seem like a canned statement that could apply to anyone's post?
  • How did they get to your blog? Are they commenting on a new post? (Some sockpuppets chose fresh content, others will be using a search that will give them posts that are a couple of days/weeks/years old.)
  • If they've specified a location in their post, does it match their IP address?
  • Does their email address match their "name"
  • Does their email address include the domain name of the company they're promoting?
  • Are they leaving the same or similar comment on other blogs?
  • Do they return to your blog over and over again?
  • Are you able to challenge them and any statements or are they long gone?
  • Do they use a real email address or input fake info?
  • Do you get comments from the same IP address with similar content but with different "names" associated with them? Often the second will "agree" with the first.
  • Try inputting their username and the name of the product/service they're mentioning and see if anything comes up.
There's no precise way to say for sure, but when in doubt, I say challenge these interlopers who want to destroy our communications. It's your website, so it's up to you if you want to turn it into a platform for this new form of marketing spam, but I think we all have a responsiblity as hosts of these sites to do at least a cursory job at keeping these people in check.

So, if no one minds, if I notice some of these folks lurking around on my blog and yours, I might send you a note. (I have a short list of them right now, I don't want to name any names here.)

This Post was written by Cybele from Candy Blog


Allen of EOL said...

I'm fearful of being the first to comment on this post , but I promise I don't have a webstore or product to promote :-) I do find the term 'sockpuppet' absolutely hilarious -- it put a smile on my face.

I have a very small blog site in comparison to many of the folks here and I've had this issue on occasion (so, if it's effecting me, it must really be effecting you). I'll admit my stance is less democratic -- I delete their comment if it even remotely smells of marketing/promotion. :-)

DawnsRecipes said...

Oh, that's so much more fun to say than "spammers"...hahaha! Well, I use Wordpress with the Akismet spam plug-in, which catches most of them for me. I already have over a thousand comments that have been filtered out in the short time since I started my blog.

Apparently this "Padma Lakshmi" person is my biggest fan! She especially seems to like my Creole-Style Oven Hash Browns! LOL!

jasmine said...

When I spoke to a group of PR folks last year about Blogger Relations 101, the moderator (someone who works for a v. large PR firm,and has fashioned himself to be a blogging expert) told the assembled to leave comments with links on what I deem as "normal blogs" (not flogs or other marketing tools) to their corporate sites (etc), because that was okay. I jumped in and told them to NOT do that as we hate that and they run the very strong risk of getting deleted. He seemed surprised at that...

Sam said...

Jjasmine's comment is pretty shocking. Unbelievable. I had a sockpuppet visit yesterday that seemed sneakier than most and I wasn't 100% sure but I deleted it anyway. It was to do with French ready meals now available at the company headed by "Rahodeb", ironically enough. I am pretty cut throat with sockpuppets because my 'about page' states I will delete any comment I suspect of advertising, without warning.

Kalyn said...

Great post for Food Blog S'cool. I'm sure many people will find this helpful. I think some newer food bloggers are completely unaware of this practice, judging from some comments I notice. Personally, I'm fairly ruthless about just rejecting comments that make any reference to a particular product or website unless it really adds something of value to my readers that's related to the topic of that particular post.

Restaurant Mom said...

This is a very interesting thread and very topical. I just allowed a comment on my site where someone read through a sushi restaurant review and left a comment that I should try a another local sushi restaurant and provided the name. I allowed it because it seemed like he was just recommending another restaurant to try but now I'm worried that maybe he is affiliated with that restaurant.

Trig said...

I allowed one the other day because the company, based in the arctic and employing indigenous people, looked like it really needed the support. For other cases, I suggest the following procedure, which FBS readers may find useful and which these advertisers will find frustrating. Copy the text, create a new comment and publish it to your blog, removing all links and misspelling any business names. Then delete the original comment. That way you get an interesting comment to add to your total and they get nothing.

cybele said...

Trig - every once in a while I'll delete links but leave the substance of the post.

Restaurant Mom - I had an instance yesterday where I got very relevant comments ("the peanuts in that bar look huge ... they don't sell those in this area any longer.") but they got to my blog by searching for the string "payday" and "subscribe to follow up comments" and left two more comments. I decided that the URL that was some sort of payday loan website did not belong on my blog.

Okay, that's a really obvious example ... most sockpuppets are ones that say something like "I've been to X and think it's okay, but I really prefer Y" and if you google X and find blog posts about it you'll also fine that SAME person leaving similar comments.

FJK said...

I haven't done it yet, but you can also OUT a company that's sockpuppeting (a new verb is born) you in a way you find offensive rather than just normal, money or link grubbing cluelessness. Edit their comment to take out the link if need be and then post your own taking the sock puppeter to task. If it's really outrageous and you have the time/inclination, go to the site and either find an email address or appopriate place to comment and leave a complaint. Educate the clueless and let the ones trying to manipulate blogs know that this is not an okay behavior.

In the Wild Wild World of Web sometimes have to be our own police, judge and jury. Do what is appropriate for you and your blog and do not do on to others you would not like to see done to you. To me, it's the law of the Web.

FJK said...

Hey, I was just catching up with my food blog scool reading and found a really ugly sock puppet commenting on polls and statistics with some garbled key word post on oils of somekind or another. Ironic!
Sam, if you are reading this, it's here:

cybele said...

fjk - I just got it into myself to deal with one of the sockpuppets that inspired this post.

I tracked down several sites that this user had accounts and let them know of their promotional activities (Serious Eats is great, btw, about handling such things quickly) and I emailed the company.

The company denies any relationship with this person (whose IP is in their city as well), but I don't think they understand that it doesn't matter how good their quality or prices are at this point. I know that they may not be aware of it, maybe it's a PR firm or maybe their webpeople trying to build traffic but they should really know better.

I'm sure I could make a post or put something in the sidebar or down there by the comment form to tell these people that it's unwelcome, but I don't think it matters much. People know that it's slimy.

Anonymous said...

I just had the strangest thing occur and it's related to sockpuppets, but with a stalker/troll edge.

I don't want to use the user names, but there is a mental person using multiple aliases to rant on and stalk various food bloggers. The person usually rants about your blog post and flaunts their credentials. Then, he logs in using a variety of user names and creates lengthy discussions between the various user names. There are online articles noting who he is and he has been arrested previously for internet stalking. Apparently, he has a thing for food bloggers.

This person posted on my site yesterday for the first time -- I deleted the comment after I researched their name. It's some pretty scary stuff. Here is a comments thread as an example of his handywork.

Another blogger has written about the issue here.

Although it may be tempting to engage this user in a dialogue, it's best to just delete them from your blog.

Elise said...

Oh that's chiffOnade. He's attempted to leave comments on my site too. He mentioned in his comment that he was advising Serious Eats. Well that was easy enough to check. He's a blog stalker, a troll. See and delete. Ban him if your blogging platform allows.

Elise said...

Regarding sock puppets (great term), I get a few every day. I always check the sites that people leave in the URL field. Once I got a promotional comment from an obvious alias, a Mr. XYZ (fill in major product brand) from one of the largest US commercial food companies. Apparently the product team of this item had decided creating a blog would be a good idea to promote the product, and wandering around the blogosphere leaving comments promoting it was an even better idea.

I looked up the product manager's name in Google, took a good guess on his email address, emailed him with a polite message that these actions on the part of his team were damaging the credibility of the brand and the company.

Needless to say, they got back to me right away, apologizing, and from what I can tell, are no longer doing this.

stickyfingers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stickyfingers said...

In addition to the stalker post, I wrote a post about Sockpuppet style approaches, and showcased an email I got from Kraft - quite a few commenters posted examples that incensed them.

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custom aprons said...

sockpuppet, spammers, bots, junks they are all the same. 3yrs experience wordpress has the most reliable plugin. Akismet in wordpress monitor all IP that are used to comment.

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