What is a sock puppet?

When we looked at how people were cheating at Amazon, Goodreads, Angie’s List and elsewhere, one of the first things we encountered were fake accounts, also called sock puppets or puppet accounts. Our first thought was that fake accounts were simply people using multiple accounts with made up names or aliases. As we kept digging in, we found there was much more to it.

Accounts that were obviously fake often had verified purchases, real names or were otherwise verified. Frequently, though not always, the fake accounts would have many reviews or reviews written over a period of several years but they were often reviews of odd items, like a screwdriver, a fountain pen or a baking pan.

As we monitored fake accounts over time, we realized there often were patterns. Some fake accounts were being used to post spurious reviews. Most fake accounts were being used to post supportive reviews. All fake accounts seemed to have agendas, either good or bad.

We often were able to separate the pros from the semi-pros and amateurs. A pro was someone who’d been at the fake account game for a long time and knew what they were doing. Pros seemed to create new accounts frequently, such as weekly or daily. Pros bought and reviewed items in their fake accounts periodically. Pros seemed to have fake accounts that went back years.

We looked at the products being reviewed by fake accounts. We saw different patterns for different types of goods and decided to focus mostly on books. With books, sock puppets are used mostly by the authors themselves, people the authors know, and people authors pay. With books, sock puppets also are used to post spurious reviews. Many pros seemed to be involved wherever we looked.

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