Sunday, 8 May 2011
Am I Alone In Here..?
Ever had the feeling you've been sleepwalking? That unsettling jolt you get when you walk into a hall of mirrors which is apparently full of people then find you're the only one there?
I've had a kind of epiphany about the true nature of internet forums this past week. Of course I'd always suspected there were fantasists and outright liars on these boards. Many people big themselves up to cover their feelings of inadequacy which is generally harmless in most cases and easily seen through. But what kind of person invents several fake identities for the purpose of manipulating and controlling the board, not for a few weeks or months but several years? Imagine the effort involved in maintaining the pretence. Each character has to be distinct enough to avoid detection. There have to be fake names and email addresses. It's more than a prank - it's seriously disturbed.
Of course sock-puppetry is not new. It has and is used for various reasons and not always with malicious intent, but let's not kid ourselves, it's always deception. The sock puppet is cagey about giving away their real name or anything that could make them verifiable off the board. With the internet it is quite simple to google someone and find them out. And most writers are keen to promote themselves and their work online, so why would a writer want to hide their identity? It's not always easy for the administrators to identify fake accounts. Anyone can hide their real identity by creating a new email account, and their IP address using an IP blocker. And some boards are too loosely moderated for the culprit to be spotted.
So why would anyone do it? This has given me much pause for thought. Creating a new identity and living it online gives a sense of power - the I know something you don't know effect. I would guess the perpetrator is riddled with feelings of inadequacy, like the practical joker getting his kicks from being the only one in on the joke. The fact that they can successfully deceive people gives their ego a huge boost.
In any case, it's opened my eyes to the fact that there are some very sick minds on the internet, and I'll be double checking everyone I encounter from now on.