Sock Puppets, Jack Puppets, and Spotting Sexual Predators

Alexa Di Carlo Pat Bohannon

Sock puppets are a huge annoyance to anyone who runs a forum or manages comments on any public site that allows them. A sock puppet or “sock” is an account or username created to obscure the identity of its user, so that person can comment on threads or edit materials – usually relating to them, their perceived enemy, or their pet topic, without getting called on it. One person using multiple sock puppets can give the appearance of swaying majority opinion.

Socks are an oft-used tool of those who like to whip up controversy about themselves, as well as emotional infants who can’t accept contradicting ponts of view – not to mention people who just want to promote themselves, and are not always malicious trolls. Trolls who use sock puppets include those who want to push a particular pet topic (“Morgellons is caused by government chemtrails!” for instance), or people who want to attack a particular person or cause.

Socks might become “the only option” once a particular poster gets banned from a forum. Sock puppets are also used in the political arena to voice political claims that might be inaccurate and/or insane, that the person behind the sock can’t risk getting called on. Trolls often use sock puppets at the intersection of sex and the internet, for various reasons. Not all socks are evil, though I wouldn’t say many of them are good.

But sometimes the sock turns out to be a rarer but still pathetic brand of hosiery: the sock puppet may actually be the celebrity being talked about, as Sarah Palin was caught doing on Facebook. And now Scott Adams is the latest in a series of celebrity trolls with crusty socks.

Scott Adams, Dilbert creator and previously admitted troll who thinks women are socially equivalent to the developmentally disabled, is probably entitled to break the rules because Scott Adams, as his biggest fan Planned Chaos has told us, is a “Certified Genius.” But as reported by Gawker last week, Adams admitted he was Adams supporter Planned Chaos, only after being caught by a Metafilter admin. Another user then pointed to the same “high-fiving by proxy” using an account of the same name at Reddit that made it a policy to praise – need I say it? Scott Adams!

The Metafilter occasion was a thread discussing Adams’s bizarre and virtually incomprehensible op-ed about education in the Wall Street Journal. What was it about specifically? I haven’t got the foggiest idea, because the article itself starts out with some bold and faux-clever pronouncements attacking the very concept of education, and then descends into a lengthy discussion of how cool Adams was in college. Some commenters didn’t dig the WSJ article’s wandering, hard-to-follow self-indulgence. “Planned Chaos” found that certified proof of their shit-stupidness. Adams had already won the debate, said Planned Chaos:

As far as [Scott] Adams’ ego goes…Everyone on this page is talking about him, researching him, and obsessing about him. His job is to be interesting, not loved. As someone mentioned, he has a certified genius I.Q., and that’s hard to hide.

Under his Reddit sock, Adams also claimed that “Adams” had already won any debate in which people talk about him, like so:

You’re talking about Scott Adams. He’s not talking about you. Advantage: Adams.


…which hurts my brain to think about, since in posting this, Adams was by definition talking about whoever he was talking about not talking about. I’m like that computer Captain Kirk drove insane by saying “Everything I say is true; I am lying.”

Here’s why this is important.

Trolling and sock puppeting have some clear boundaries. People who create phantom accounts to have conversations with their detractors are clearly crossing any reasonable boundary of civil discourse, and yet people who fuck up the internet by violating those reasonable boundaries and disrespecting the rest of us are always the first to say, as Adams did, that they’re sorry they “peed in your cesspool.” Except Adams only claimed it was a cesspool after he had been exposed as a troll and a sock by other people. So…was it not a cesspool fifteen minutes ago? When he was trying desperately to convince everyone they were far stupider than Scott Adams?

Or is it that Adams only thinks the internet is a cesspool once he loses the game? People who only like to play games they know they can win without trying very hard — are no fun at all for the rest of us to play with. I learned that in kindergarten, where I got my real education.

Some commenters on Tiny Nibbles have suggested that outrage over Scott Adams being a douche is misplaced. But if Adams seems harmless, then keep in mind that the voice of consensus on the internet often allows far more aggressive sock puppets to continue unabated.

It’s become impossible for me to consider any case of sock puppetry without talking about the elephant in the whorehouse, Alexa Di Carlo.

“Alexa” was the fake online persona of a sexual predator reputed to be a government employee named Pat Bohannon, who was finally outed with a heavily documented trail of evidence in October of last year by the proprietors of ExposeABro. “Alexa,” who claimed to be a high-end escort, wrote erotica about her encounters with clients as well as advice to women – particularly young women…particularly very, very young women – who wanted to enter the industry. Her advice included a lot of “permission” to enjoy really hard, rough sex of the kind that the real Alexa (a man, and a sexual predator) was interested in.

No surprise, then, that “Alexa” referred escorts “she” knew online to a “male client” of hers, “Matt,” who met up with them in real life without having to go through the usual screening process — because “Alexa” had vouched for him. Alexa even tried to get some of those escorts to induce other friends of theirs to have threesomes with “Matt,” because “Alexa” was “too expensive” for Matt to be able to afford to pay for Alexa and another girl. Word on the street is that young escorts were pressured into unsafe sex because this guy was a “friend” of popular sex blogger and sex worker rights advocate “Alexa” – so he must be okay, right?

Then again, there are some people who think “whores get what they deserve” no matter what happens to them. I doubt you’re one of those if you’re reading Tiny Nibbles, but you never know. In any event, the haters of sex workers very often claim (bizarrely and disingenuously, to my way of thinking) to be the staunchest defenders of the young, right?

So those haters/defenders must have jumped on Bohannon for having previously run Caitlain’s Corner, an “advice” site for teens that dished out abyssmal advice that seemed geared toward guiding young women into being sluts. No, not as in “be proud of your sexuality, unapologetic about your sex drive and unshameable.” That’s our department – the people who are realy giving factual sex information.

“Caitlain,” in contrast had no real facts – only fantasies with an agenda. The agenda? To turn young women into sluts of the sort who were desired by — and accessible to — the (male) sexual predator operating it. In the law enforcement and child protection communities, this is called “grooming” – it’s done by sexual predators. When a predator finds someone just a bit too young for their “esoteric” tastes, they start to plant the “seeds” of victimization in their heads. At Caitlain’s Corner, women under 18 were “advised” to explore their sexualities in ways that were obviously designed to guide them, once they were legal, into the hands-on guidance of…Caitlain’s “friend,” or others like him. Three posts (onetwothree) document the deception

Caitlain’s Corner never showed up on my radar, possibly because I have no interest or experience in sex education to youth. Alexa, however, was playing in my “cesspool.” She claimed to be a San Francisco resident, then to be in an undisclosed graduate program in human sexuality (there are only a few of them in the nation), then specified that she was in the Master’s program at San Francisco State – but, gee, no students in that program (yes, they actually exist – they’re not just fantasies) – had ever met “Alexa.” Others found it suspicious that Alexa’s “photos” had all been stolen from online sources, and despite never showing her face, they still sometimes seemed like they weren’t of the same woman.

That “seasoned” sex educators and bloggers ever took “Alexa” seriously was horrifying to quite a few of us, who had always thought it agonizingly obvious that Alexa wrote like a guy. Several sex-worker activists raised the alarm in the activist community that Alexa was fake, only to be beaten down as anti-free-speech by the online “community.” As now seems excruciatingly clear, people wanted to take the side of the popular girl in the room over the strident skeptics who pissed on the parade. Especially since the popular girl seemed to be saying what everyone wanted to hear: “The reality of being a whore looks exactly like the sexy male fantasy.”

Then again, I might have finely-tuned Guydar, because I started having online sex in 1987. During the ensuing  glory days of Yahoo Chat, if you were a man-seeking-women in a BDSM chatroom, you could expect that at least 80% of the “women” you encountered were in fact “online cross-dressers” – guys who cooked up sexy, slutty, submissive, usually barely-legal personas to play in online for one reason and one reason only: because it turned them on.

These were heterosexual men, not transsexuals, cross-dressers, or transvestites. Anyone unwilling to concede an obvious or essentialist distinction between those (as I am) can hopefully accept – for the purposes of this discussion – the definition I’ll use. The majority of the biological males who played/play online with men, as women, are men who do not wear feminine clothing or underwear when they’re doing so, mostly do not have any established female persona outside the online realm, do not have secret longings to be full-time women, and mostly have no intention whatsoever of ever transitioning or, for that matter, being sexual with men. Therefore, they’re not transgender in any “lifestyle” way, and they’re not transvestites.

Once upon a time, I coined the term “jack puppets” for those online personas – they existed solely for the purposes of creating a satisfying jack-off experience for the user. These were fictional characters created by straight men, to my way of thinking, to enable otherwise straight and very possibly homophobic men to fantasize vividly about being sexual with men. If I were to speculate wildly, I’d say what I’m calling “jack puppets” might – might  – be an expression of the bisexual impulse among heterosexuals – perhaps the male equivalent of straight girls who make out at parties because guys think it’s hot. It’s a way of getting “permission” to play without consequences. I guess. I don’t really know — to tell you the truth, I don’t understand it. But you’d have to be pretty clueless to not acknowledge that it’s an enormous phenomenon in erotic online chats and forums (though far less so in blogs).

That’s men who play with men, while pretending to be women. But in chat rooms, there’s a far more insidious creature online, pretending to be biological woman — and that person is not a jack puppet. “Alexa” was not, as some of her die-hard defenders suggested, a “jack puppet,” and here’s why:

Women who did a lot of anonymous BDSM chatting with either women or men (or both) in those days (the mid-to-late-’90s and early 2000s, before Yahoo chat was overrun by phone sex bots) often encountered a different phenomenon than the jack puppet. They sometimes found that they got contacted by “women” who happened to have “male friends” who “might” want to chat with them, too.

The “women” might vouch for their male friends as being nice guys. The “male friends,” once the introduction had been made, would quickly get around to their real agenda – which was shockingly similar to the garden-variety men-who-chat-as-men-with-women. It was, more often than not, asking women almost immediately for naked pictures, and suggesting, not long after that, in-person meetings for sex. Failure to provide either could sometimes result in a torrent of abuse, or just a guilt-trip, or more compliments (for a while). Having discovered that they don’t get very far demanding nude photos and phone sex out of every “woman” they meet in a chat room, they cook up a deception to make it seem “safe.”

These are not “jack puppets.” These are not guys who get turned on chatting as women. They are, essentially, predators. They are less highly developed in their predatory behavior than the likes of Bohannon/Alexa/Caitlain. But that doesn’t mean they’re not predators.

People confuse jack puppets with sock puppets with predators. Bona-fide jack puppets, I believe, are more or less harmless. They’re not really ethical, sure, but pretending to be someone else online for the sake of getting yourself off is different than trying to trick a woman into meeting up with “your friend” you’ve vouched for, or send him nude pictures, or have phone sex. And pretending to be a real escort and sex educator who tells sexy stories and thinks young women should become escorts because it’s empowering — well, that could just be a jack-off fantasy in a chat room.

Or it could be a blog, and an extensive history of email correspondence tweeting, Tumblr pics, and interviews. And a significant portion of the online sex blogging community could buy it because they don’t have the faintest idea what constitutes good sex or escorting advice.

Lying to someone in a chat room is one thing. Creating publications as a faux “expert” in order to mislead young women into doing unsafe things — some of them, with you, because “experts say” you’re a great lay and a nice guy — that is another thing entirely

Anyone who can’t make that distinction, as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t have morals worth a damn.

That is why the internet is a “cesspool.” It becomes a cesspool because the reasonable users who want to be there for appropriate reasons are unwilling to define appropriate reasons.

What does this have to do with Scott Adams?

When people like Adams say they’re sorry they “peed in our cesspool,” they’re establishing that they think our world is a cesspool. They’re getting off on destroying our ability to create virtual worlds based on anything other than lies.

Uncomfortable with who they are, and incapable of tolerating life where their ideas can be ridiculed if other people think they’re stupid, they accuse those of us who of being something we’re not — cheats, liars, and idiots. That attitude encourages people like “Alexa” who think we’re not only cheats, liars and idiots — but prey. And like all predators, they prey on the weak.

And then people like Adams and Bohannon find no end of defenders who use, as their liar-defending soundbite, “The internet is a cesspool. You shouldn’t believe anything you read on it.”

People who believe that should get the fuck off the internet, and stay off.

Or is it only a cesspool once you get caught taking a crap in it?

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  1. random leprechaun · Edit

    I just wanted to add a little twist here, as I’ve had a different view of the same basic thing for only a few years less than Thomas.

    Lesbians are plagued by jackpuppets possibly quite a bit more than others. Not to deter from your ‘rage’, but I have to make a funny… In the olden days (and possibly still today), yahoo chat was full of pr0n-bots. They also had more than their fair share of guys whose primary language was not English and whose culture was not western. The highlight of many an evening would be watching these lesbimen hit on the bots. Some of the bots were so spammy with scripted convos that the guys actually thought they were getting somewhere. One could tell that they were really getting worked up sometimes. The best part was when they would finally get frustrated with the bot and figured out that something just wasn’t right.

    Ok, back to the serious stuff. In all these years of ‘modern web’ as well as the era before (everything from 300 baud direct dial-in up to mosaic ‘browser’), I never had a lesbiman try to get me to meet one of their ‘friends’. I’m not sure if that means we are safer in the physical sense, I was just lucky, or they simply knew it would never happen. I’m leaning towards a mix of a bit of intelligence and a lot of luck. I do still see the potential for predators in the same sort of scenario that you described, maybe with a different risk.

    In your scenario, you mention grooming and it’s basically like the guy is trying to set himself up for a date with the ‘you should meet my friend’ thing. While it doesn’t reduce the number of rapists out there, it does increase the chances that there will more desperate liars who hope for something consensual. What I’m looking at with a lesbian scenario is that the potential for a friendly date is pretty much tossed out the window. (sorry for leaving bisexuals out of this but that’s for a bisexual to write about) I think that we have much lower odds of such an encounter but that when they occur, we are more at risk of violent crimes.

    The other thing is your mention of ‘harmless’. I’m not so sure about that one. I’m going to make some generalizations here but they’re based on my experience, so please don’t get mad at me for this. Girls can pretty easily get laid. The hard part is getting what we want more than sex and that’s an emotional connection. For me, an orgasm when I’m in love with my partner is vastly more intense than when I’m not. If I’m not in love, I can have better sex by myself. Love is the ‘force’ where attention is the ‘tool’, if that makes sense. What I mean is that lots of loving and flirty attention builds sexual energy and interest to the point that it doesn’t take much skill in the sack to produce screaming orgasms.

    I’ve seen quite a few girls go through horrible emotional suffering caused by these lesbimen, myself included. My guydar has been pretty damned good for about the past 8 or 9 years when it comes to more than a simple acquaintance, but a lot of that is due to shitty experiences. You can blame it on naivete, and that is a frequent problem, but a lot of these freaks are pretty resourceful.

    Back in the day, we had nothing but text, pics, and phones. Pics are easy to steal, editing software can change a sign being held up to say anything. Pitch-shifting devices can be used on a phone if the guy can’t squeeze his nuts to have a girly voice. Ok, so now we have webcams. It’s not hard to capture video of someone then play it back for someone else. Some might roll the dice and hope they aren’t asked to do anything specific, then before the laws of probability take their toll they suddenly can’t use the webcam anymore for whatever reason. A bit more tricky and insidious, some will enlist the help of an accomplice. Just doing that a few times with the ‘explanation’ that they are using a friend’s computer because it has a cam can add a lot of believability. Oh noes, we’re not friends with that person anymore or I can’t afford my own cam or my connection can’t handle it or my computer’s usb ports don’t work, etc.

    My point is that there are a lot of things most people consider forms of ‘proof of identity’ when it comes to online interaction. Any of them can be faked. A few of the right things here and there, along with a lot of talk and attention, and many girls fall very much in love and are willing to do a lot to get these guys off. The harm that can be caused is not small. I’ve felt like a damned fool plenty of times. Friends of mine have gone through even worse, two became suicidal. Both of them were quite well-adjusted and had no such thoughts before, not even from some horrid breakups in meatspace relationships that lasted years.

    A lot of what I’ve mentioned applies to everyone, as far as online interactions. Ultimately there is no substitute for meeting in person. For lesbians, specifically, things are different. For one thing, our dating pool is a lot smaller. That tends to make many be more willing to put up with more difficulty than other people would, just for the chance of love. Most of these guys *are* just jackpuppets who will never meet in person but they can still cause serious emotional harm. It’s the few who do hop in the van to go meet up that scare me.

    I’m left wondering… How often does one of these guys show up at the meeting place and wait to see the poor girl who’s been stood up, maybe with the typical dimwit idea that a ‘real man’ can ‘convert’ a lesbian? I’ve had plenty of friends who have been stood up for an in-person meeting. I have many who have been assaulted by guys they didn’t know, some in their own homes. How many of these guys wait in the parking lot and stalk my girls to their homes, jobs, or the park she went to so she could cry about being stood up? The last one is the scariest because such a girl will usually call her friend from the public meeting place to say she’s not waiting anymore (safe call, for us kinky people).

  2. Hi again
    sorry I didn’t see your comments above re: Jack Puppets but my point still sounds. Something in your tone suggests a judgement even in the word ‘whatever’.

    Also the ‘predators’ you mention. I have come across those guys who pretend to be women then introduce you to their ‘friend’. But honestly I could handle them. I think you are making out women online need some kind of ‘protection’ from these nasty men and I don’t agree.

    Obviously the Alexa/Caitlin issue is different especially as it deals with sex education for young people. BUt in terms of consenting adults chatting online I think you are over-dramatising.

  3. Hi
    You write about a lot of issues here and I may blog a response. Though I don’t know much about the Alexa case so can’t comment much about that.

    I will say though I find your definition and description of ‘jack puppets’ a bit troubling. I expect those men are exploring something to do with a ‘bisexual’ or even a ‘transexual’ urge. But that doesn’t make them creepy to me. Or even annoying. Yes going looking for sexual experiences on the internet or via the internet with the hoping of meeting in RL can be frustrated by people who are not what they say they are. But it can be frustrated by a whole lot of other things too. Sex is frustrating there is not just a ticket to a selection of people who suit our needs and desires.

    Internet life is full of possibilities to play with identity. As someone who has been online as long as you have I don’t need to tell you that.

    I think you are being a bit judgemental about those particular people.

  4. @DucatiGuy — Interesting observation. I think that “trajectory of roles” is very interesting. Many, many aspects to it. I don’t know if I could even speculate what it means, though it’s an interesting question to consider.

    @Lia — Thanks!

  5. Azkyroth: “Bona-fide jack puppets, I believe, are more or less harmless.” I intentionally made my statement milktoast by saying “they’re unethical, sure, but…” because I don’t really think it’s a big deal.

    However, importantly, I don’t believe one has to think “all the guys they’re playing with are dumb as dirt” to think that the majority of the straight men online want to play with biological women, not with biological men. Not understanding how many hetero men play online as women doesn’t make one dumb as dirt. You said that; I did not. I think it implies that anyone who does not have the depth of experience *I* have in online chat is stupid. I don’t think that at all.

    I certainly don’t particularly feel a need to get hopped up about people who want to play sexually by pretending to be (in the real world) a different gender than they were assigned at birth (and/or now inhabit in real life) for the sake of a fantasy, especially in light of how many people do it. I mean…whatever.

    For what it’s worth, though, straight men seeking explicit sexual chats with women online DO put a LOT of energy into determining whether they’re chatting with biological women. They really, really do. Saying “I’m a guy playing as a woman because it turns me on” is guaranteed to end most chats before they begin. There are significant exceptions but they don’t represent anything approaching the majority.

    So intentionally and explicitly deceiving those guys does seem unethical, yes, but…sorta…whatever. “Bona-fide jack puppets, I believe, are more or less harmless.” Harmless, as in “I (Thomas) have a hard time envisioning how this would *harm* anyone,” so I think in the overall scheme of things we’re in agreement.

  6. Bona-fide jack puppets, I believe, are more or less harmless. They’re not really ethical, sure,

    I’m curious as to how you’d argue that playing a role online, with no expectation of a deeper or offline relationship, is “unethical,” especially given that this phenomenon is common knowledge if the jokes I’ve been hearing, oh, the entire time I’ve been online are any indication. Unless you’re assuming that all the guys they’re playing with are dumb as dirt, it seems safe to assume that they’re engaging in this knowing that they don’t know who they’re playing with and are willing to take that chance (even, I suppose, if they’d perhaps rather not know about it). Without the kind of predatory grooming behavior you describe, and with only consenting adults being involved, I’m having a hard time envisioning how this would *harm* anyone.

  7. Nice net rage. Thanks for maintaining objectivity and clarity while writing with clenched teeth. Fwiw …

    – long before we all got into cyberspace I discovered that the apparently respectable but needy were capable of doing much more harm to me than obvious rogues. Or to put that another way, if something’s too good to true then it probably isn’t. Alexa was certainly an outstanding example of that, her mixture of masculine/feminine essence was the siren’s song to guys like me.

    – your writing’s nearly always scrupulously gender neutral. But in this post you paint a pretty clear picture of a supply/demand balance that’s way out of whack.

    I gather you’ve been around cyberspace since the days when we all thought that most women were just as desperate for sex as most men, but just reticent and repressed. A couple of decades on, it’s pretty clear that while women are making good use of their new found freedoms and opportunities, they remain much more discriminating (and less inclined to the zipless fuck) than their male counterparts.

    Perhaps sometime you could take a step back from the daily deluge, and blog about the trajectory of roles and expectations since cyberspace went public?

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