On Politics and Sock Puppets

Here’s a blog post that we, as a newsroom staff, have been working on for more than a month. The delay in posting it reflects the care we took to weigh an appropriate response to a specific incident or rather series of incidents. At one point we thought it might dictate some sort of policy about blog comments. In the end, it became more of a philosophical issue, one on which we invite you to weigh in.

After I wrote about McCormick Woods a few months ago, Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola commented on this blog to clarify his position on what he thought was a critical story. His response was followed by several other comments in his defense, several under the screen names ‘Gumshoe’ and ‘LocalPoliticalJunkie.’

At least one other reader noticed similarities in tone and word choice between those two users and Coppola, both on that blog entry and elsewhere, including Coppola’s personal blog, which he has since (as of Dec. 1) turned over to guest writers.

We thought the similarities suspicious as well, and checked on where the posts were coming from.

We can’t get specific detail on a commentor’s residence from the registration form our users submit, nor can we even confirm the identity they use when they register. People comment anonymously on our site, and we allow that. But we can check the Internet Protocol Address of each user, which is a unique number for a computer or network hosting a number of computers. Using the IP address, our system can give general details, such as a residence in Port Orchard, or a government building. We don’t regularly check the IP addresses of users, but we can, and so we looked at those being used by Gumshoe and LocalPoliticalJunkie.

Their IP addresses matched the one used by Lary Coppola, who had registered and posted under his own name. That gave some credence to the suspicion that all three online users were the same person. We asked the mayor about it, and he said it wasn’t him. He didn’t have an explanation for why the IP addresses would be the same, but said he suspected the others were copying material from his personal website and using them on the blog here.

We can’t confirm Lary is either one of the other posters, but, in light of the evidence we found and his response, whether to report on our discovery became a protracted discussion in the newsroom. It’s an issue we haven’t come upon in the past, but as the nature of journalism moves increasingly online, it’s sure to come up again. So we’ve decided to bring it up now, even though we have seen little of gumshoe or LocalPoliticalJunkie over the past month.

There’s nothing explicitly wrong with readers using more than one screen name to register at kitsapsun.com. There is no law against using a second online identity to support comments you’ve posted using your first online identity (known in the online community as “using a sock puppet“). But the idea of an elected official doing so bothers us.

What would happen, for example, if a public official began to post misinformation on an upcoming vote, or a candidate for public office acted under many personalities in the course of campaigning? That doesn’t seem like behavior voters would look for in a public servant.

People are going to manipulate the system at some time, on some level, and there’s too much information and opinion out there to catch it all. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be skeptical at the appearance of such behavior.

We think elected officials should be held to a higher level of transparency in this new age of communication. Do you agree?

On a final note, we commend Lary for the comments he has made as a Mayor of Port Orchard. He is one of the few Kitsap officials to take part in the public conversation on the blogs, and we would encourage others to follow his lead.

Chris Henry, South Kitsap reporter
David Nelson, Editor

56 thoughts on “On Politics and Sock Puppets

  1. You will decide what you decide. I do believe you will work hard at it. It appears that our difference is that you think the positive pressure of a change outweighs the negative. I believe the opposite. Those who apply themselves in the system as it exists will do so after a change but with increased pressures. Those doing poorly now will most likely do worse with the increased pressure. That is just human nature as I have observed it for 67 years.

    This change comes with a huge opportunity cost. As I remember $95 million less the cost of a Jr High remodel. It is a change that due to the nature of government can not be reversed. We should be a lot more sure the results will be what you expect before that kind of money is spent. Most everybody else is doing it does not provide that assurance.

    I am a product of a school system where the 9th grade was physically located in Jr High School. Regardless of excuses of protestation we made to our parents and teachers, my classmates were extreemly aware that we were freshmen and made sure all around us knew it.

    Our national passtime seems to be turning wants into needs. Please be very sure you are not trying to find a justification for turning the want for a new High School into a need for a new High School.

  2. Larry,

    We are a rural community with the largest 10-12 high school in the state. Out of all the high schools in the state, including those with 9th graders on their campus, we are the third largest. We have only lost the first position because of growing pains in the Marysville area.

    I believe that smaller schools have better academic accountability for students. Students are more accountable because more staff know them individually. Teachers feel more accountable becauase they know the students more individually. Further, a second high school doubles the extra-curricular opportunities for our students to gain leadership skills and indivual identification with their school.

    There are good arguments for and against moving 9th graders to the high school. I appreciate your perspective. At this point, however, I still disagree with it. When the time comes for these discussions on a more formal level with the school district, I hope you will participate and we can engage the discussion further.

    Kathryn Simpson

  3. Interesting – an opinion from a politician who sends his correspondence through another party whilst complaining about integrity and openness. At least he acknowledges that those with serious comments do use their own name or an easily recognizable screen name, which is my point — serious comments irrespective of who is making them.

    As has been noted, there are many ways to get around any rules which might be set in play regarding names and numbers to identify posters. Implementing 1984 to offset a minority of rude posters, be they anonymous or otherwise, is a waste of resources.

    I also agree with Elliott. Though it is being made into one, the real issue here is not anonymity but its abuse, which includes the creation of multiple accounts to compliment or support one another. No one should be doing it, whether John or a public official.
    Small minds talk about people, average minds talk about events, great minds talk about ideas

    Spot on, Karen. But then, you were just indulging in the first two in your post.

    The 9th grade discussion is interesting. In other schools across the nation, children graduate from 8th grade then enter high school – which is grades 9-12.

  4. The only way I can see that a poster could post from McCormick Woods and Lary’s office at the same time with the same IP address ….

    Was this established – that it was at the same time? I didn’t read that anywhere in the original post or subsequent blog comments, though it was a question I asked. What do you know that we don’t?

  5. Registered Voter – No time stamps from the commentors in question show that postings were made on precisely the same date at the same time.

  6. Let’s not forget that the mayor can’t live in McCormick Woods. If he did, he wouldn’t be a resident of Port Orchard and therefore wouldn’t be eligible to run for mayor.

    If the mayor used a sockpuppet, that’s one level of deception. If that mayor’s sockpuppet claimed that he lived in McCormick Woods, then it’s no longer just a deception.

    It’s now a bald-faced lie.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you post, please complete the prompt below.

Please enter the word MILK here: