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Sock-Puppetting and the Current Affairs Forum

  • 05-01-2022 11:48am
    Registered Users Posts: 19,173 ✭✭✭✭ blanch152

    There is a quite extraordinary set of posts (#11301 and #11305) on the Sinn Fein thread in the Current Affairs forum where the mod Beasty outs a set of at least ten accounts that have been engaged in sock-puppeting for nearly a year on the Forum. Firstly, well done to the mods for the work that must have been done to flush out this user. However, there are a number of questions that arise.

    (1) How did it take so long to spot this sock-puppetting? These were prolific posters across a number of threads and came to the attention of the mods on more than one occasion. The McMurphy account in particular has been active for many years in various guises, is it only the last year that it has been engaged in this activity? Over the years, posters have been reassured by statements in the old Prison forum that Boards had a full set of tools to root out such activity. Have these tools been lost during the changeover, or is it just the lack of mods and the changeover that was exploited by this particular user? If there has been a loss of ability to detect such sock-puppetters, it would be useful to alert users to this now so that vigilance can be exercised to ensure it doesn't happen again. On that point, how can we be certain that all have been caught?

    (2) The mod post concludes that there is nothing at this stage to suggest this was anything more than one individual looking to use this site for their personal political purposes. Is there evidence this is the case? The accounts combined pursued a singular political party line, a party that has openly recruited for online supporters and openly encouraged its members at election time to pretend they were from a fake polling company. How can Boards be certain that it hasn't been played by someone acting on behalf of this political party?

    (3) Usernames. This issue isn't just related to this particular sock-puppetting, but might be worth raising. The character McMurphy in the book One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest has a very misogynist aspect (this doesn't come out as clearly in the movie). While I am all for freedom of expression, we have seen other usernames in the past with homophobic, racist and misogynist undertones. Is there a boards policy on usernames, or should there be one? There are a couple of examples still around that are somewhat dodgy. The borderline between low-level racism and ignorance is a thin one and difficult to police, but I would be interested to know.

    (4) Given that the modus operandi of this sock-puppetting operation appears to have been to pursue a particular political agenda in an aggressive way and also target other posters, will there be a review of actions taken against other posters as a result of interaction with this person. I am certain that there are users who have been sanctioned, threadbanned or forum-banned as a result of interaction with one of these accounts, and then reported just by the other ones. Taking one for the team in order to bring another poster down with them in other words.

    Again, well done to the mods, and in accordance with the instruction in the posts, I haven't raised these issues in the thread but taken them to Feedback to consider some of the general issues that have been raised by this incident.

    Post edited by Beasty on



  • As I stated in one of the posts referred to above this specific issue belongs in Help Desk rather than Feedback (although since the platform changeover HD no longer has a pre-approval requirement, there are different rules and Help Desk deals with issues like this so thread moved from Feedback)

  • In terms of how long it took I would mention a couple of relevant factors:

    1. As I indicated this has been going on predominantly since around March of last year. As has been well documented our powers (at Mod and Admin levels) were significantly less since the platform changeover in July. When someone does something like this you would expect some attempt to cover their tracks, but equally people may not go to so much trouble due to both passage of time, but also the fact the person in question probably realised we had less powerful tools. Just to add, since the changeover there has been significantly less activity at Admin level. That extends to myself as I have found both CA and Coronavirus forums have taken up a lot of my time.
    2. As we say repeatedly, we do rely on reports and indeed in this case there were reports of some suspicious activity. That increased in the time leading up to my actions, and those reports provided additional information. In this case it was not the original account that triggered my own review. It was other accounts that I linked and only then saw that everything linked back to the McMurphy account. The fact I do moderate CA and in doing so I have access to the Admin tools we do have which probably put me in a unique position here allowing me to uncover the extent of the deception taking place.

    On your 2nd point, the posts were being made from domestic and/or mobile IPs. I wanted to make clear there was no evidence of there being anyone else involved because there was no such evidence. When I posted all that detail I suspected there would be speculation that the party itself was possibly behind these actions and I wanted to avoid there being any suggestion this site had any evidence to this effect, or indeed was encouraging such speculation. Given there was no such evidence it was a point I was comfortable in making, but also pre-emptively sought to protect the site being dragged into a debate over possible involvement of the political party.

    In terms of usernames I've never watched the film in question. Equally even if I had made such a connection I don't think the username itself is offensive in the same way someone taking the names of the likes of Hitler may be. We do have rules against offensive usernames, and these are set out in the site ToU:

    6.1 Usernames

    We would recommend you choose a pseudonym and do not use your real name (or a derivative of it) when joining You may not select or use a username that:

    • contains "Boards" or otherwise misrepresents your relationship with or any other party
    • contains any profanity, is vulgar or offensive, or promotes an illegal activity
    • violates any trademark or other proprietary right
    • misleadingly impersonates someone else
    • Occasionally users may speculate about the identity of anonymous or pseudonymous users. Such speculation is against our Terms of Use and we delete all such posts which are brought to our attention. However please be aware that we cannot guarantee that other users will not be able to determine your identity. There should be no expectation of complete anonymity anywhere on the internet.
    • We reserve the rights to change usernames at our discretion. You cannot change your username after registration unless you become a subscriber.

    Posters can report usernames violating these rules.

    On the final point it is an exercise I would not suggest we follow. It would be time consuming, but equally is posters fell foul of forum or site rules the fact they were interacting with one particular individual is irrelevant. The rules are there for people to follow, and people should not speculate in open forums about this sort of thing. In this case people may well have been proven right, but that is not always the case (indeed I have seen reports of others being associated with this activity, but in those particular cases I am as comfortable as I can possibly be that there is no connection - someone posting such suspicions can end up unfairly creating suspicion of users going forward. Again though I would encourage posters to report such suspicions together with details of what triggered those suspicions and we will take a look

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  • It been an issue since I joined. Must be much harder to prevent now with GDPR rules and retaining data.

  • The muppet check was the tool mods had to check for sock puppets back in the day.


  • Nothing like that on this platform. I have more info as an Admin, but in some ways not much more than I had as a mod on the old platform.

  • I don't think sock puppeting was that bad. Stopping it did though mainly rely on people reporting their suspicions. The example that triggered this thread was, by a country mile, the worst I have seen on this site

    That's different from re-regs of banned (at forum or site levels) users, which Modutils was mainly used to identify

    Now it may still be going on with others, but if it is I suspect someone has to spend a lot of time and effort to cover their tracks. As I've already indicated I think there were a number of stars aligned which allowed this one to get away with it so extensively

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  • Sock puppeting was always an issue Beasty.

    CA takes a further dive now...

    You would like to think that wouldn’t you.

    iI’ll have to hand it to you even after the ‘Big 10’ debacle you have been here day and night trying to keep this issue alive single handed.

    An issue that is extremely low in the priorities of most ordinary folk I would suggest.

    these type of posts appearing on threads you have hollowed out into more or less echo chambers that totally defeat the notion of 'discussion' forums.

    A decent forum destroyed. Basically because a mod will only respond to reports-issue draconian punishments,(you get the same punishment for having multiple accounts as you do for a bit of robust repartee) no amnesties etc. And yet similar robust comment happens all over the shop and people get on with it.

    Well done on finding the multiple accounts and well done on destroying CA.

    Post edited by FrancieBrady on

  • It sure has - you can even find some examples of it happening back in 2011, Funnily enough if was prominent cheerleaders of the same political party that were at it then as well

  • No it means that sock puppeting is still the issue it always has been. Sock puppet accounts have been used right across the forums here from year dot, by soccer enthusiasts to film buffs to political commentators. (search 'sock puppet' and you'll see that)

  • Funny how certain posters managed to get away without the sanction you've linked to there

  • You doing a bit of judge and jury yourself b/w?

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  • What?

    I was Happyman in a previous account...I changed account with the full knowledge of the mods.

    Nice little bit of hanging the wrong person there b/w

  • Where the f* did I say 'sock puppet accounts should be allowed'?

  • Any chance of a link to the relevant posts btw, for a mobile user the post# isnt as far as i can see usable!

  • That account was banned a year ago. As has been a significant number of re-regs. Those accounts were not engaged in sock-puppeting

  • No idea what the accusation is here.

    I closed the Happyman account...informed the mods what I was doing and why and began posting as FB.

    What '5 year' overlap?

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