Dean Browning is the former Lehigh County (PA) Commissioner and an ardent Trumpian. He also uses Twitter. And in using Twitter, someone recently posted a response to his Twitter account that, well, might seem a bit weird.
Wait. Dean Browning’s a black gay guy? With that Twitter photo?
No. What Dean Browning’s been doing is using an alternate Twitter account, a “sock-puppet,” in Internet parlance. This sock-puppet, calling himself “Dan Purdy,” frequently “responds” back to Browning’s virulent tweets with virulent tweets of his own.
So what we have here is someone pretending to be someone else, then using Twitter to be his own cheering section. Oh yeah, and “Dan Purdy’s” swipe at Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley was the fly on the turd pie.
Trust me, as a blogger and as a person who’s very open about his life on the Internet, I’ve dealt with sock puppets for years. Including a sock puppet from someone who I once thought was a friend.
About ten years ago, when I was blogging for the Times Union, I was friends with someone who seemed very nice and vibrant. And for the purposes of this blog, this person will be known as “Craig.”
Well, after a time, Craig and I stopped being friends. It happens. Not everybody wants to be friends with me. I get that. This friendship went sour fast than milk in a heatwave.
Well, a few months later, I started receiving strange comments on my blog. And they were vicious messages, suggesting that I was gay – as if that mystery person’s concept of being “gay” was that gay people were deviant or perverted – and just started spewing these comments all over my blog. I had to get special permission from the Times Union to remove those comments, in that the TU doesn’t want any comments removed from any post. It’s not newsworthy and it’s considered censorship.
Insert your own “TU shut down my blog for censorship” joke there.
Part two of the story. After that troll was finally cornered, I started receiving a tremendous amount of blog traffic and hits, all connected to the social media platform reddit. Long-time readers of my blog know that I have had a love-hate relationship with that specific social media platform.
This part ain’t love.
Someone had used my name – my full legal name, Chuck Miller – as a Reddit identity, and then posted in various subreddits some more horrifying, disgusting, troll-baiting comments here and there. Essentially, my real name was used to troll and to defame.
And when someone asked that redditor who they were, that redditor linked to my blog.
Oh, and did I happen to mention that they linked it to the subreddit r/gonewild? You don’t want to go there. Trust me on this.
But in doing so, that redditor made a big, big mistake.
See, I know a little something about computers and the Internet. And I know something called an IP address.
When someone posts a comment on the Times Union’s blog, that comment is left with a matching IP address that only the blogger and the site’s administrator can see. This is not big news, but it’s a little secret we bloggers have. So I checked all the vicious and disgusting comments that were left by the mystery person. Yep, same numeric combo.
Also, if someone visits my blog for any reason, while posting or not, a record of their IP address appears. This was part of my StatCounter account, where I could monitor my statmetrics as to how many people read my blog and from what country they were reading it from. For example, it could tell me if someone visited my blog after they were reading a link from another site that brought them to my blog.
Seems that a person with the same exact numeric IP address visited my blog, just moments before the onslaught of traffic from the subreddit r/gonewild appeared. So now we know that the redditor who used my name as a pejorative was also the one who was trolling me. IP addresses matched up.
Okay, let’s get the rumpled raincoat and the beat-up Peugeot, and… just one more thing. Does this IP address match anyone else who commented on my blog in the past? Someone who may have commented on a blog, and in doing so, left an IP address behind?
Yes. It matched one person.
You dirty son of a…
Okay. First thing I did was talk to the Times Union. They immediately loaded that IP address into a section of the blog portal to flag Craig and prevent him from posting on my blog ever again.
Next stop – reddit. At that time, trying to stop a redditor from abusing someone else was difficult. Reddit believed in the concept that redditors police themselves. But I found someone who would listen to my plea. Someone named u/hueypriest. Apparently he was the #2 man in the company. And within five minutes, he e-mailed me back and said that the sockpuppet account was immediately banned.
I also contacted the mods at r/gonewild and explained what had happened. They removed the post. A few more e-mails to a few more mods, as I tried to stomp out all the fires that Craig lit.
Next came an elaborate game of whac-a-mole. Craig created some more reddit sockpuppet accounts – with names that made fun of me, that suggested I was involved in photography for perverted purposes, all that – but those sockpuppets were immediately squelched. Craig then tried to lock me out of reddit, by claiming to be me and requesting a new password. Chuck’s smart enough to use two-step authentication. Nice try.
So yeah, I’ve had to deal with sockpuppets before. I’ve also dealt with online identity theft, which was another battle in and of itself. But in dealing with sockpuppets, I’ve learned a few things. And one of those things is that IP addresses are your friend. They immediately confirmed that Craig was that person who attacked me on my blog and attacked me with reddit. And you can’t claim that someone is spoofing IP addresses if you don’t know that IP addresses are being tracked.
Trust me, I still have the original e-mails that document this whole situation. And even today, more than three years after leaving the Times Union, I still check my spam filter for anything that looks like a possible sockpuppet.
In other words, don’t be a sockpuppet. It’s not worth your time, and once you’re discovered, you have no excuse for your actions.
Unless you’ve got Shari Lewis’ hand or Mick Foley’s arm up your body, just don’t do it.