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A sockpuppet is a phony name or identity created by an online user to argue, bully or review products as another person. Sockpuppets have a long and storied history; they were once well-known for responding to their own Usenet or blog posts. Nowadays, they also post on social media sites and even review their own work on Amazon.com.
The term sockpuppet stems from its literal meaning, which refers to a puppet created by placing a sock over one's hand. The origins of the term imply that the disguise is generally crude and unsophisticated.
In the U.K., the term sockpuppet recently garnered a lot of press when acclaimed criminal writer R.J. Ellory admitted to giving his own work glowing reviews on Amazon.com, while slamming books by other authors. The practice is believed to be widespread among authors because Amazon and similar sites lack the resources to police user identities.
A key benefit of the Internet is the ability to remain anonymous, but while sockpuppetry has ethical implications, a few sockpuppets also have faced legal trouble for harassment, criminal impersonation and computer fraud. These cases raise significant legal challenges because while sockpuppets have no constitutional rights, their puppeteers do have the right to freedom of speech.