Let's say you're having a conversation with some guy in a chat room. You're talking about something totally innocuous, like let's say, your favorite homemade enema recipes. But throughout this entire conversation, you've got no way of knowing whether you're talking to some old dude in a basement or a Tibetan monk or a room of third graders learning computer skills. This is just basic Internet anonymity, and we're usually pretty comfortable with it. And indeed, about 95 percent of the Internet hinges upon it. But what if you're talking with someone you already know, who's hiding their identity? That feels a little weird, doesn't it? Is this person using a second persona -- called a sock puppet -- to further some secret agenda of theirs? There's something a bit seedy about that. It's an act we're much less likely to condone.
"Wait," I hear you saying. "I have agendas! And I don't have any sock puppets at all! Help me Bucholz! Please, help show me what sock puppets can be used for, and also, if you can, please use this staged dialog to segue neatly into the body of your column."
Well. All right. Since you asked so nicely ...
After consulting with a team of spies, Internet con artists and duplicitous seamstresses, I've compiled the following list of things sock puppets can be used for:
To Support Your Argument
Often you may find yourself arguing with morons on the Internet, who, because of head injuries and our decaying public school system, fail to see the merit of your arguments. A sock puppet can be used in this case to publicly agree with you, making your position look more popular than perhaps it really deserves to be.
To Spar With Your Critics
If you're a public figure or otherwise have people talking about you when you're not present, you can use a sock puppet to promote yourself or provide defense against your critics.
To Sell a Product
Perhaps you have a product or service which could use a bit of "street cred." By using a sock puppet to talk up the features of your product, you can lend it the glow of something that people actually buy.
To Have a Friend
The world is a harsh and unforgiving place, and sometimes it's just nice having a friendly face around with a shoulder to cry on. Hey, you know whose shoulder is already surprisingly close?
If I know you (and for the last time, I don't, not really), you'll now be drooling at the possibilities open to you and your new puppet. But before you dive on in there fist first, please take the time to read up on these basic techniques on sock puppet maintenance and care.
Establish Your Sock Puppet
People are far less inclined to listen to new people in a community than they would with established veterans, in no small part because of miscreants like you and, I guess, myself. To make your sock puppet's words carry more weight, I'd advise you to lay some groundwork, and establish your puppet's reputation in the community first.
(Finally, months later.)
Offer a Suspiciously Useful Anecdote
With this technique, your sock puppet wanders in to a heated conversation you were having and offers an anecdote that perfectly illustrates the point you were trying to make.
Flirt With Yourself
If you're interested in hanging around this particular community to meet attractive members of whatever gender you prefer to get all up against, one great technique to make yourself look more attractive is to have your sock puppet publicly hit on you. Even try flirting back a little; you'll be sure to drive any other admirers insane with jealousy!
Disagree With Yourself Sometimes
By not always agreeing with or supporting your main online persona, you can increase your sock puppet's depth of character and acceptance within the community. Allow yourself to lose an argument or two to your sock puppet every now and then to encourage this.
Make Friends Out Of Enemies
In any community, there are going to be people you get along with more than others, and for the ones that you don't get along with, there is a 100 percent chance they are talking about you right now. By using your sock puppet to reach out to these misguided souls, you can learn what it is they're saying about you, as well as any number of other potentially useful tidbits.
There's a small problem lurking in the background of all this advice, and I've been struggling to come up with a delicate way of broaching it. Basically, if you're seriously going to spend time holding up two ends of a conversation, if you have night-terrors at the thought that people might speak about you when you're not present, there's a small chance you're completely insane. Here's a little psychological experiment I want you to try. It should illuminate how you'll be able to handle multiple personalities.
Put on a blindfold. Take a deep breath, then slowly reach down your pants and play with yourself a bit. Really get in there. After a minute or so, take off the blindfold and answer the following multiple choice question. This experience felt:
If you answered A or B you are insane. Come on man, it's like 10 in the morning. You're probably at work. You just diddled yourself because the Internet told you to.
(The correct answer of course was "D) That's preposterous." Partial credit for "C) I couldn't find a blindfold.")
But don't despair, madmen! Like a white guy with a basketball, a sane person with a sock puppet is capable of using only a fraction of its power. Now that you're through the looking glass, we can finally make the most of your lack of mental balance. Here's some advanced techniques you can try out to really unleash the sock-beast!
- Make big plans to start a band with your sock puppet, and then have a huge falling out.
- Cybersex yourself over Skype; post the results to YouTube.
- Accuse your main persona of being a sock puppet.
- Get furious with your sock puppet, start trying to get them banned from the community.
- Threaten your sock puppet that you'll stop using them to kill them off.
- Trick your sock puppet in to posting their address, mail them an inch thick document of the word BLOOD printed in 8000-point font across 300 pages.
- When the police come -- notified by the Post Office of the sticky 10-pound envelope with the return and mailing addresses pointing at each other with arrows -- calmly tell them that you can explain everything.
- Run to the bathroom and shatter the mirror you've made with the hole cut into it at waist level.
- During trial, try to cut a deal to testify against yourself.
- If that fails (it will) and you do find yourself in prison, just be careful around yourself in the shower. That's traditionally where you get you.
Check out more from Bucholz in How To Train An Army of Animals To Do Your Bidding and Everything I need to know I learned from He-Man.