Q&A Friday #38: Sock Puppet Identities

Question:Patterico is publicizing this:

“Is an L.A. Times columnist leaving comments on the Internet under assumed “sock puppet” identities — identities which he pretends is someone other than himself?”

Have you ever seen this?

And if someone did it, do you consider it a bannable offense?” -N. O’Brain

Answer: The LA Times columnist in question is Michael Hiltzik and he did have “sock puppet identities.”

In other words, he’d do a post and then he’d post under another name in the comments section and say something like:

“You’re so smart, Michael! Super Models should want to have your baby and they should put your face on Mt. Rushmore!”

…or, if someone criticized him, it would be something like:

“How can anyone disagree with Michael Hiltzik? He’s the smartest man on earth and you’re a big poop-head!”

You get the idea.

After Patterico did some sleuthing and outed him, Hiltzik admitted what he was doing on his LA Times blog and was suspended:

“The Times has suspended Michael Hiltzik’s Golden State blog on latimes.com. Hiltzik admitted Thursday that he posted items on the paper’s website, and on other websites, under names other than his own. That is a violation of The Times ethics guidelines, which requires editors and reporters to identify themselves when dealing with the public. The policy applies to both the print and online editions of the newspaper. The Times is investigating the postings.”

So, is this a serious ethics violation? Does it mean Hiltzik is another Jayson Blair? Should the LA Times fire him?


But since that’s the case, then what does this mean? It means Hiltzik is an insecure dork and this is a good time to chuckle heartily at his expense. I mean the guy has a Pulitzer and yet he still feels compelled to create identities to defend himself in the comments section of other blogs! Talk about thin skinned! It’s just pitiful!

As far as this goes on RWN, there have been people here posting under multiple identities. Sometimes I’ll notice that two IPs for two different commenters are the same. Other times I’ll ban someone and they’ll send me an email saying they were just having fun with that account and don’t want their regular, “real” account banned. Other times, I’ve managed to figure out that people who are banned are getting on different computers or using programs to hide their real IPs so that they can post again on RWN after they get banned.

Do I ban people if I catch them coming back after they were banned or creating identities and arguing with each other? Yes, I do.

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