Category: sockpuppets

Guilty Verdict and Off to Jail for Sockpuppet; Downton Abbey Gay Trope

In an interesting case involving the Dead Sea Scrolls and a sockpuppet story of epic proportions, a NY attorney was found guilty on multiple counts that range from identity theft to aggravated harassment. I swear this happened, and I have links to prove it.

This is what his attorney had to say:

“Today what happened was the district attorney of New York County and the trial court made hurting somebody’s feelings a criminal act. In New York, hurting people’s feelings or being annoying is not a crime. We call that Monday.”

For those who are not familiar with NY, it’s a tough city but it’s really not like that at all. Of course that’s a typical response from an attorney who just lost a case. We expect this from attorneys, and that’s why there are so many sleazy lawyer jokes going around all the time. Unfortunately, this attorney is underestimating a bigger problem in the world these days, and we’re going to be seeing more cases like this crop up in the courts in the future.

The entire case revolves around Raphael Haim Golb, a brilliant man with a Ph.D. from Harvard and a law degree from NYU. His father is a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, and basically the son started a huge shitstorm online to target his father’s academic competition.

Between 2006 and 2009, he created more than 80 online aliases to advance his father’s views about the Dead Sea Scrolls against what he saw as a concerted effort to exclude them. Along the way, according to a jury and a panel of appellate court judges, he crossed from engaging in academic debate to committing a crime.

This NYT article gets into more about the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I’m only focusing on the guilty verdict and the sockpuppets here.

According to the article, Golb started multiple blogs, all with different fake names and identities. These fake names started to interact with each other, becoming online sockpuppets. He also used pen names to publish more articles. While doing all this, he praised his father’s name and portrayed him as an honest scholar.

He acted as an online troll, stirring up controversy. “Was it appropriate for a scientific institution to allow a group of Christian academics to impose their agenda on an exhibit of ancient documents taking place under its auspices?” he asked of an exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum, in an Oct. 6, 2007, article. That article, he said, drew 16,000 views.

Golb then went on to brag about how much attention his father’s work was getting through all this online drama, and claimed it could only help with the overall quest. This isn’t unusual. This brand of online behavior does, indeed, create attention and usually garnishes tons of hits because everyone loves a side show. There is one mediocre author out there who is ONLY known for stirring up controversy wherever she goes. But then Golb also targeted a grad student, Robert Cargill, and things got ugly.

Mr. Cargill fought back. A typical e-mail message or blog post has an Internet protocol address that identifies the computer used to create it. Using simple software that identified the I.P. addresses, he traced the e-mails and blog posts of 82 aliases to the same few computers. Beneath one of Mr. Golb’s pseudonymous comments, he posted a message, using the pseudonym Raphael Joel, a combination of Mr. Golb’s first name and his brother’s. The message was: We know who you are.

So, there was a lot of online espionage going on all the way around. The NYT article gets into all kinds of interesting things about the case and the motives behind why Golb did what he did, and from an academic POV I do suggest reading it in full. But I find the case interesting from a different POV, because I’ve seen so much of this sort of thing online for many years. If I had to offer any commentary, it would be that I feel very sorry for Golb …in a way. I don’t think he knew what he was doing, and like so many others I think he underestimated the Internet.

After working for years on the Internet, I’ve come to learn that the only way to view anything online is to keep in mind that it’s exactly what real life is like. In other words, just because you can hide your identity and create all kinds of fake identities doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do…or the legal thing to do. For a long time no one in the mainstream paid much attention to this sort of thing. No one paid much attention to anything online. But that’s going to change in the years to come. We’re all going to have to abide by certain laws just like we do in real life.

Cases like this, with Golb and the Dead Sea Scrolls, are going to set standards for future cases that come up, and I shudder to think about how many people would wind up the big house for doing exactly what Golb did…not thinking they did anything wrong in the first place. 

Downton Abbey Gay Trope:

I’m a huge fan of the TV series, Downton Abbey, and not just because there is a gay character and a gay storyline. I’ve always been a fan of the Edwardian Era and Post Edwardian Period that led up to the 1920’s. But it’s the gay storyline with Thomas Barrow keeps me wondering what’s going to happen next week after week. And my interest in this time period is one of the main reasons why I wrote the story, “Unmentionable: The Men Who Loved on the Titanic.” The main theme of that story revolves around the fear gay people experienced in those days, and how one gay man actually had to dress up as a woman in order to travel on the Titanic with his lover. It’s all fiction, but I’ll never stop wondering if something like that actually did happen and we’ll never know about it.

This article says:

 Being gay in 1920 can’t have been fun – especially if you were stuck in the Yorkshire countryside, hundreds of miles away from the nearest gay bar (according to Wikipedia, London’s first gay pub, The Cave Of The Golden Calf, opened in 1912).

It was a time when being gay was illegal and you could go to jail. It was a time when gay people never even hinted at being gay. In fact, no one talked about anything gay and the topic was considered vulgar and disgusting. And now, in hindsight, we can look back on that time and see how absolutely ridiculous all this was, and feel for how many millions of gay people suffered abuse and psychological damage we’ll never know.

And yet, there’s still controversy surrounding gay people in the very same way one hundred years later.

Greek state television has been criticised for cutting out a gay kiss from British drama Downton Abbey.

The scene involved a kiss between a visiting duke and Downton’s footman Thomas Barrow.

That scene happened it the first season. I actually just saw it for the first time last night because I came late to Downton Abbey and didn’t start watching until the second season. So now I’m catching up with season one, and the kiss that’s mentioned above was literally nothing obscene, overly erotic, or highly sexual. It was one man kissing another, and yet they still felt the need to censor it.

I’m pointing that out because I’m still seeing this kind of treatment going on right now, all over the place. I see blogs that contain gay information and gay material that have adult only warning pages and I can’t always figure out why they have them. I could understand it if there were nude photos, graphic stories, or something inappropriate for minors. But in many cases these blogs don’t have anything but gay content in a general sense. There’s nothing sexual or pornographic about them, and the warning sign infers there’s something wrong about any gay content at all.

There is always kissing on Downton Abbey between straight couples. But don’t dare let the gay guys kiss, because that’s still considered crude, vulgar and disgusting. And in some parts of the world to this day, illegal.

Joe Konrath Says Sockpuppets are No Big Deal; Man Arrested in New Jersey for Internet Stalking With Sockpuppets

One of the things I’ve been predicting about a lot of the Internet corruption happening these days is that the law will eventually step in and take over. Charges will be pressed and these Internet crimes will be prosecuted. How Internet crimes are defined seems arguable these days. Joe Konrath seems to think that no one is completely innocent and no one can point the finger at anyone else. In fact, this is what Konrath says in a recent post:

Fake reviews, like sock puppets and trolling and flame wars, will always be part of the Internet and are no big deal.

He’s even created a few fake reviews on Amazon, here. He did this on purpose for a reason. He’s trying to prove his point and he’s speaking about a very small segment of Internet crime. I don’t want to take his post or his comments out of context; he’s trying to be funny. And if it were all this simplistic and the world were all hopey and changey and peace and love, I would probably agree with him all the way around. And what a wonderful world it would be, indeed.

But I know people who work closely with Internet crime daily and the world isn’t like that. The people I know who work in Internet crime scope the Internet daily to help expose child molesters, gambling rings, and stalkers of the worst kind. That’s just to name a few, without getting into child porn and drugs. A good deal of this crime is based on Internet anonymity and sockpuppeting. And even though what happens with online reviews of any kind can be labeled as less offensive than the things I mentioned above, it’s still sockpuppeting, it’s still misleading, and it’s still wrong. I know it’s less of a crime to steal gum at the drugstore than it is to rob a bank. But it’s still stealing. Plain and simple.

In New Jersey a young man was recently arrested for allegedly stalking juveniles with sockpuppet accounts.

Troopers arrested Craig L. Wyatt Jr. of Hamilton Township, according to a press release. He is being held in Atlantic County Jail on $35,000 bail.

The arrest came on a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The group alerted New Jersey State Police in July that a Facebook account using the name Jimmy Raketerra sent a threatening message to a juvenile from Browns Mills.

Clearly, this has been an ongoing investigation, as are most Internet crimes these days. This person allegedly used e-mail and social media to threaten juveniles under more than one fake identity and sockpuppet account. I’m not even getting into the ramifications of social media here, and where their responsibility rests. That would be a completely different post altogether. I also wonder if the people who invest in facebook stock realize that the so-called billions of facebook accounts are not all one account with one person. In some cases it’s two or three accounts to one person. In others it’s far more.

I’m certain this isn’t going to be the last time we hear about an arrest like this. And while I wish I could agree with Konrath when he says sockpuppets are no big deal, I can’t help but look at the overall picture of the Internet crime we are facing and will be facing in the future and wonder how many more times I’m going to read about Internet corruption being exposed. Because the interesting thing is this…and I know first hand from people who are involved with Internet crime…you can hide, you can try to cover all the bases, you can pretend no one will ever find out, but eventually you will get caught. Another thing of which I’m certain is that the young man who was arrested in New Jersey had no idea he’d been under investigation that long.

How many others are under investigation right now? It’s something to think about, not laugh about. And that’s because on the Internet there’s always a trail.

More Detail About Sockpuppets and How Broad a Topic It Is

There have been many things written and discussed about sockpuppets and reviews in the past few months. Most of the time I’m left slightly confused because I’m honestly not sure where some of these things are going. I’ve seen bloggers quote the bible, I’ve seen people comment out of sheer frustration, I’ve seen a handful of bloggers literally go batshit crazy berserk, and I’ve seen most go completely blank on the topic altogether.

But most of all I’ve seen confusion. I just finished reading an article that is totally unrelated to this topic, but in the article the author presented an argument and tried to back it up by saying that “psychologists agree…” And I was left wondering who these so-called psychologists actually are and how many would disagree. Psychology is one of those professions where not everyone agrees, and I think if you’re trying to back up an argument you should have the decency to inform your readers with reliable sources instead of broad statements that amount to nothing more than pure bullshit. I was left confused by this article, the same way I’ve been left confused by so many of the articles and blog posts written about sockpuppets and reviews.

And I don’t think I’m the only one who is confused. So I decided to look for links that discuss the sockpuppet issue in different ways that are not exclusive to publishing and book reviews. It’s important to state that Internet fraud is not just a publishing issue. It’s something everyone either has faced or will be facing sometime in the future.

This link is interesting. It’s from The Consumerist and it gets into fake reviews in general and how scientific methods are now being used to sniff out fakes. I highly recommend reading it in full to grasp the magnitude of the issue.

Researchers from the State University of New York, Stony Brook are using statistical methods to detect if a company has been posting bogus reviews online, says Technology Review. The method can’t root out individual fraudulent reviews, but it can see where fake reviews are distorting the statistical distribution of say, a hotel’s scores. Basically, the method can tell you when something’s fishy.

This article talks about the judge in Oracle and Google’s Java lawsuit and Google’s alleged sockpuppets.

The statement came nearly a month after judge Alsup surprised observers by ordering Google and Oracle to name paid commentators. The judge never spelled out exactly why he’d issued the unusual order, but it looks like he was trying to flush out the financial connections of any of the commentators who had a material effect on the trial.

In another article related to this same topic the judge ordered this:

In an unusual order, issued Wednesday, Judge William Alsup said that he was concerned that the parties in the case “may have retained or paid print or Internet authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have and/or may publish comments on this issues in the case.”

This article in Forbes is titled, “Do Consumer Reviews Have A Future? Why Amazon’s Sock Puppet Scandal Is Bigger Than It Appears,” and it gets into a lot of the things I’ve been reading about in publishing for the past few months. I HIGHLY recommend reading this one.

As with any debate between writers, contrary views have sprung up. On his blog, bestselling author JA Konrath used a seductive variant of moral relativism to pen his own version of “The Writer’s Code of Ethics.” Konrath makes the case that ethics is a slippery slope and that punishing Ellory, Leather & Locke was patently unfair because every author is complicit in his own way.

The same article goes on to discuss Konrath’s argument in more detail:

Konrath suggests that since there is volition in the act of cutting down a piece of work, whether you do it honestly or maliciously, it is morally and legally the same act. In other words, “it’s allowed.” For Konrath, a system that includes one-star reviews inherently invites reviewers to commit an act of violence against the described product. He suggests that Ellory had a right to publish malicious reviews even if it was a “shitty thing to do”.

This is another flawed argument (the kind you see a lot in college-level debating) because Konrath is conflating two very different types of reviews: an honest negative review and a dishonest negative review. As we’ve seen previously, a fabricated one-star review is not actually allowed; it’s against Amazon’s terms of service. It may also be illegal.

In this piece, “Sock Puppet Spectacular: Are Online Reviews Completely Worthless, or Only Mostly Worthless?” the title suggests the way many consumers are starting to feel. This one links to another article at Techcrunch.

Some years ago, Amazon accidentally revealed a clutch of other authors praising their own work and ripping into others’. Since then, hundreds of other authors have simply bought fake five-star reviews by the dozen.

I found this article interesting because it’s not about publishing or book reviews. It’s a good example of what’s happening in other industries.

During Conrad Black’s recent trial, prosecutors insisted that the former press baron had engaged in unseemly act known as sock puppetry: an Internet user who logs on to a message board or any other Web community under an assumed name for deceptive purposes. It was alleged that Lord Black himself signed onto a Yahoo Finance message board under the handle “nspector” and did battle, trashing speculators shorting shares of Hollinger International.

The one common thread I seem to find in all these posts and articles is that sooner or later the sockpuppet is revealed…or at the very least the intention was revealed.

Famous Authors Condemn Fake Reviews

There is an interesting article where some very famous bestselling authors are condemning fake book reviews, including Lee Child and Susan Hill.

In this article it states:

The practice, known as “sock puppeting”, has been given added salience by the recent disclosure that best-selling crime author, R J Ellory, whose novels have sold more than a million copies, has been using fake identities to write positive reviews of his own books, his “magnificent genius” and critical attacks on his rivals.

It also says this:

The practice of sock puppetry is not merely dishonest, it is in England and Wales illegal under the 2008 Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, which makes it a crime to pretend to be a consumer and leave positive reviews of one’s own products.

I recommend reading the article in full, here.

There are links within this article that will lead you to other articles that are just as interesting.

Barry Eisler Posts About Sockpuppet Site and Why I’m Not Removing My Name From the List

ETA: Instead of writing a new post on this topic…which I’m frankly growing extremely bored with all the way around…I’m linking to a blog post that talks about Joe Konrath’s latest blog post and his feelings about buying reviews and sockpuppetry. No comment from me. Everyone has a right to an opinion. But it’s an interesting, if not entertaining, read. You can get there from here.

I once wrote a scathing review for a local pharmacy based on my personal experiences with the pharmacist and the shabby way I was treated. I left my own name with my e-mail address and followed all the rules of the web site. Six months later I was contacted by the pharmacist who owns that particular pharmacy and he told me if I didn’t remove my negative review he would contact his attorney and sue me.

I left the review up. It was based on my personal experience and it was an honest review. I had nothing to hide. After I refreshed his memory and reminded him who I was and the experience I’d had there, I told him to feel free to contact his attorney and do whatever he wanted to do. I never heard from him again. As far as I know the review is still up and I still stand behind it.

The fact that I used my own name and I was willing to own my words, in print, gave me the courage to not back down to his bad behavior and his bullying. I’ve made a point of doing this with all my reviews that I leave everywhere, including book reviews. I learned a long time ago that whatever you put in print is forever…and whatever is posted to the Internet never goes away.

I recently posted about a web site that’s called “No Sock Puppets Here Please,” that was started by a group of authors who have become disenchanted with fake names and identities. I reluctantly signed my name to the comment thread of the post. I did it with reluctance because I wasn’t thrilled with the way the site was executed and it seemed a little too extreme for me. I don’t even know who the architects are. But I signed it anyway because I thought the basic premise was valid, because I thought it was addressing a huge Internet issue, and because this issue will become even more valid in the future.

Author Barry Eisler posted about this same web site last week. I even commented on that post and I agreed that I hesitated the same way he did when he first signed his name to the site. However, since then he’s removed his name from the list and he’s elaborated about why he removed his name in a more recent blog post.

My name is still on NSPHP and I’m leaving it there until I see something I disagree with so drastically I don’t want to be associated with it. So far, I haven’t seen that. What I have seen are people who are hurt, frustrated, and tired of fake identities. In some cases, jaded and left feeling drained. I also know this isn’t a problem that’s isolated to the publishing industry. This issue with corrupt identities and sockpuppets runs rampant on the Internet everywhere. I have friends with businesses who fight fake reviews from their competitors constantly. The people who installed my granite counters asked me to leave a good review because their competition was leaving bad fake reviews. A friend who owns a furniture/design business told me he’s so frustrated with sockpuppets in his industry he’s thinking of taking legal action. Even my mechanic, who I’ve been using for fifteen years and never had an issue with, recently suffered from bad reviews left by vicious competitors.

So when I signed my name to NSPHP I was thinking about the issue itself…in a broader sense than what happens with book reviews. I was thinking about the future, Internet corruption everywhere, and how millions of people have been subjected to this kind of online corruption in all walks of life. To think this issue is isolated to book reviews may be focused correctly in a smaller sense, but to simply isolate the issue to publishing and book reviews would be ignoring a more generalized issue of online corruption that I don’t think will be allowed to continue in the future. Could I be wrong? Of course. The heavens might open, celestial choirs might start to sing, and all Internet corruption will vanish forever.

I love Barry Eisler, and I still share a lot of the reservations he has about NSPHP. He wrote two eloquent blog posts on this issue that came from his heart and I respect his opinions…to the point where I actually feel awful about not agreeing with him. But I don’t feel awful enough to remove my name from the NSPHP list. And I don’t feel…not yet…signing my name was misguided:

And yet I doubt any of them will withdraw their names from NSPHP’s front page, or even smiply acknowledge that their premises and conclusions were in error; the actions that followed, misguided and disproportionate.

I’m not one of the original architects of NSPHP and my name is buried somewhere on the comment thread. But I’m still leaving my name up there. Big words don’t change my mind, and I don’t drink Kool Aide. As I stated, this issue isn’t isolated to book reviews, it’s all over the web. People on social media are suffering from sockpuppets and judges are siding with them. Politicians are dealing with sockpuppets who leave defamatory remarks that will stay on the Internet forever, and they are trying to pass laws to hold web sites responsible for sockpuppetry. And while NSPHP is focused on books and reviews, the issue at hand is happening everywhere and I don’t see it going away.

I almost agree with what Barry said here:

I know many people will be unpersuaded by what I’ve written here (for many reasons, including the kind of insidious resistance caused by mistakenly committing to something like NSPHP in the first place). Which is okay, obviously. We don’t all have to agree. But hopefully we can disagree with a little less vitriol…even if we think the other person is directing vitriol at us.

Unfortunately, although I agree with most of what Barry said, I still remain respectfully unpersuaded. And that’s because I believe in the laws all civilized societies need in order to function properly and keep people safe from harm. Most people who use the Internet are good, decent people who don’t take advantage of the honor system. I truly believe this. But there are those who will take advantage and they will abuse their power. And good people will suffer as a result. But I do agree with Barry that we can disagree with less vitriol, which should be a goal for everyone in these trying times.

Make no mistake, I can write blog posts about this, Barry Eisler can write blog posts about this, and so can everyone else. But there are a lot of hurt, frustrated people out there and it’s starting to show up in more than one place. And web sites like NSPHP are what I believe is the beginning of a new Internet age that’s on the verge of explosion, where we are going to have to stand behind our names the same way we’ve had to stand behind them in the past when we wrote letters to the editors of a newspaper or magazine. I was an English major in college with a concentration in journalism. Among many things, one thing I recall clearly was a professor telling me that in journalism it’s important to always stand behind your name and own your words. Try sockpuppeting with a reputable print publication and see how far you get.

Now, if by chance something happens and I feel the need to remove my name from NSPHP, I will gladly admit I was wrong and post it in public. But right now, my name remains where it is.

"No Sockpuppets Here Please:" A Message From Some Writers

These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended on-line, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers. But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large. British author Stephen Leather recently admitted that he used fake identities online to promote his work. The American bestseller John Locke has revealed he has paid for reviews of his books. The British author RJ Ellory has now confessed to posting flattering reviews of his own work and to using assumed names to attack other authors perceived to be his rivals.

I don’t know who started this new web site to stop online fraud with book reviews. A friend posted a link to my facebook timeline earlier and I thought I’d share it for others who didn’t see it. I knew it would only be a matter of time before people really started to fight back against a lot of the corruption that’s been so commonplace on the Internet for so long.

I’ve been following one sockpuppet for a while now. They don’t know it, but I know who they are and I will do something about it when I have the proof I need. There’s always a pattern…always.

In any event, if you agree with what this group of authors is trying to do, you can leave your name in support. You can also pass this along to other readers and writers who might be interested. You can get there from here.