Glenn Greenwald’s Sock Puppet-A-Looza

You cannot throw a cyber stone on the right side of the blogosphere today without hitting a post about Glenn Greenwald’s sock puppets. It’s either bloggers trying to prove Glenn Greenwald has sock puppets, other bloggers getting angry at the people claiming Glenn Greenwald has sock puppets, or a third group going, “Wow, Glenn Greenwald has sock puppets!”

Now you, the reader are probably going, “Who the hell is Glenn Greenwald and what do you mean by sock puppets?”

Those are fair questions and they deserve fair answers.

Glenn Greenwald is a liberal blogger who pretends to be a libertarian (you know, like Andrew Sullivan pretends to be a conservative) and he launches a lot of attacks on the right side of the blogosphere. Hence the interest so many conservative bloggers seem to have in sticking it to him.

Now, what are sock puppet identities? They’re when a person uses fake identities to try to talk themselves up or defend themselves from attacks. For example, let’s say blogger X writes,

“Glenn Greenwald? He’s lame!”

If Glenn Greenwald replies in the comments section of that blog under the pseudonym “Ellison” and says something like…

“Stalin killed millions while you spoke ill of Glenn Greenwald. Only God knows which is the greater crime!”

…that is using a sock puppet identity.

Over at Hot Air, Bryan Preston summarizes the case for prosecution against Glenn Greenwald and pronounces him guilty of sock puppetry in the first degree:

“Five different names posted from Greenwald’s IP, defending him using similar syntax and structure, and often between posts and comments made under Greenwald’s own name, across several blogs criticizing Greenwald. And we know that Greenwald is fairly obsessive about checking in on blogs criticizing him and shouting back (which is typical of a fairly new blogger who is unaccustomed to seeing one’s name and arguments shredded with glee, and Greenwald has only been blogging for about 9 months). In one case, the gap between Greenwald and a sock puppet commenting is 9 minutes. In another, the gap is 20 minutes. If you’re only concerned with the IP and the gaps, it’s possible that a housemate posted the comments. If there’s more than one computer on the router in the house, it’s even possible for comments and posts under more than one name to be posted nearly simultaneously. It’s possible. But what the above locks in is that all of the identities are posting to several blogs–blogs Greenwald definitely reads–from the same house, if not necessarily from the same computer.

But then, there’s the syntax argument–that the sock puppets and Greenwald deploy similar arguments in similar styles to the point that they all appear to be the same person. Ace has shown that argument holds up very well. Writing style is a very individual thing; very few people share blog reading habits, similar reactions to criticism, and then follow on with similar writing styles to rebut criticism.

Greenwald has yet to offer a serious defense, conceding that the comments came from his house and insinuating that a housemate posted them. He hasn’t explained the short gaps between comments or the fact that the puppets and he share writing styles, the latter of which casts some strong doubt on Greenwald’s assertion that a housemate posted the comments.

…If I’m on the jury, at this point I convict based on the circumstantial case: Greenwald is guilty of sock puppetry.”

So, let’s break it all down.

#1) Is Greenwald guilty of sock puppetry? Yes, he probably is.

#2) That being said, it’s almost impossible to prove that he posted all the comments unless he admits it because multiple people in the same household can post from multiple computers and all of them can come up as the same IP address if they’re using a router.

#3) Given that sock puppetry is just embarrassing, not a serious ethical breach and the difficulty of proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Greenwald is guilty, it’s probably not worth spending too much time on the whole thing or worse yet, having knock down, drag out brawls over the topic.

Now you know more than you probably ever wanted to about the whole subject, but at least you’ll have a good idea of what everyone’s talking about.

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