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The Sciences

More On Sock Puppets and "Tom Johnson," Part I

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJuly 9, 2010 1:03 AM


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Well, yesterday was quite a day. I'm now ready, I think, to start to go over the facts, and try to set it all straight. (Deep breath.) There are two separate issues to address, so this is just the first post: Sock Puppets. We had sock puppets on the "Intersection," and we weren't aware of it until recently, thanks to the revelations of The Buddha is Not Serious. We had not been in the habit of checking IP addresses or trying to root out these kinds of things. Indeed, at times I would just let our filters run and not even look at what most commenters were saying, especially when threads ran over 100 comments long and I was busy with other things. I see now that there were people abusing the privilege of posting comments on our blog. We've banned the offending IPs that have been discovered and we're also considering further actions to rein in some kinds of comments that don't contribute anything or engage in baseless attacks, etc. To those legitimate commenters who were annoyed by bad behavior---and had reason to be!--I'm sorry we didn't catch on to what was really happening before now. And I want to emphasize: That apology goes out to ANY commenters who may have encountered a sock puppet on our site. Since we weren't checking (and will not go back through every single thread), it's not at all impossible that there were other sock puppets--and this might well have occurred on either side of contentious issues. So we're looking into ways of doing more, starting now. And because of that, commenting here may become a bit more challenging than before, at least temporarily. We'll just have to see what happens as I continue to go over things with Sheril and we determine what to do about this problem--and how to find a way to strike a new and better balance between ease of commenting and restrictions on abuse. (For now, rest assured that if your comment is substantive, thoughtful, not an attack, etcetera, then it will appear fairly promptly, although not instantly of course.) Obviously, our catching and banning sock puppets here wouldn't have stopped bad behavior elsewhere on the Internet. But would it have stopped "Tom Johnson"? A high level of vigilance about this sort of thing almost a year ago might have, but we didn't even think to consider such measures. Moreover, if we had been catching and banning sock puppets, he might have taken more care when posting. In any event, it now seems clear that "Tom Johnson"--who also goes by "bilbo," "milton c," etc, and most recently "William"--was the real person behind all this. Accordingly, "Tom" will be the subject of the next, lengthier post...

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