Bless my buttons! Wired (via book excerpt) has cited MF re: sockpuppets! July 30, 2014 1:44 PM   Subscribe

AS SLEUTHS STARTED PICKING APART THE STORY, SOME BELIEVERS SUFFERED GENUINE ANGUISH BECAUSE OF THE CYNICISM.

Then, on May 19, the user “acridrabbit” posted a simple question: “Is it possible that Kaycee did not exist?” Not only were there some inconsistencies in Kaycee’s story—some odd-sounding descriptions of how the doctors talked about leukemia, the difficulty people were having in finding an address for flowers and cards—but it also appeared that nobody had ever met Kaycee in person.

Immediately, some MetaFilter sleuths started picking apart the story, even as Kaycee believers, like “bwg,” appeared to suffer genuine anguish because of the cynicism: “STOP! STOP!! STOP!!! this is deplorable. it’s making me sick to my stomach! i have spoken to kaycee on the phone, as well as her mother, numerous times. i can assure you kaycee was quite real.” But the truth was that Kaycee simply didn’t exist. Debbie Swenson admitted the next day that Kaycee had been a fabrication.

Excerpted from Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True? by Charles Seife.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom to MetaFilter-Related at 1:44 PM (43 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Next Up: Google News! Who'd a-thunk it !?
posted by y2karl at 1:48 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


For those who weren't around in those days, this is all a reference to this thread, and its successors.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:59 PM on July 30, 2014




Reading that thread from 2001 is a trip. The internet used to be such a different place.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:11 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Only 309 comments in that thread! We do that before breakfast these days. [sounds of mods weeping]
posted by rtha at 2:34 PM on July 30, 2014 [10 favorites]


Only 309 comments in that thread! We do that before breakfast these days. [sounds of mods weeping]

Does anybody even read the comments down there?
posted by MoonOrb at 2:52 PM on July 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


That thread is the reason I joined Metafilter. And it may have been only 309 comments, but it took an age to load on dialup. On my dialup, anyway.
posted by Grangousier at 2:53 PM on July 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


Today, we are all Kaycee.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 3:02 PM on July 30, 2014


Another more recent MeFi example.

Yeah, it's a weird thing that Mefi's been around long enough now that even though these things are generally really rare, we've still had multiple memorable-for-various-reasons run-ins with it. But Kaycee Nicole really does seem like one of those weird landmark things where it was early enough on that the general sense of credulity was a little higher to begin with. It was not yet clear that we couldn't have nice things, let alone why.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:03 PM on July 30, 2014 [24 favorites]


Metafilter's own Charles Seife.
posted by St. Sorryass at 3:18 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there also a case where a Metafilterer (?) spotted that a photograph from a building site was photoshopped, and the photographer later found to have been rather "free" with the treatment of his other photographs? Maybe five years ago, or a little less.
posted by Thing at 4:29 PM on July 30, 2014


Thing, yes, that was in 2009.

I was going to question the notion of sockpuppetry as "using false identities for deception", but
Wikipedia agrees with that definition. MetaFilter has twisted the (my?) notion of "sockpuppet" by embracing them as part of our community, either for hiding who you are to make your online activity here harder to associate with you in the real world, or as joke accounts.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:32 PM on July 30, 2014


If paphnuty was a joke account, how come he actually seems to have escaped the site?
posted by maxsparber at 4:38 PM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


If paphnuty has finally escaped, for god's sake don't tell the mods... Dammit!
posted by languagehat at 4:45 PM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Paphnuty will never truly escape because there's always a little Paphnuty inside us. Well, in those of us who ate him, anyway.
posted by Kattullus at 4:50 PM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


I hate when my cynicism is confirmed. I refuse to bow to it though.
posted by vapidave at 4:56 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


That thread is the reason I joined Metafilter.

Me too, the day right before it looks like.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:23 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


All this was back before Reddit tried to find the Boston Bombers and ruined online sleuthing for everyone.
posted by humanfont at 7:16 PM on July 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


Reddit is like alcohol
posted by edgeways at 7:38 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


The Kaycee thing was way, way before my time. I've read the surviving threads before, with a kind of horrified fascination, and been a bit disappointed that none of the original Kaycee stuff (like her blog) is still around.
posted by Salamander at 8:04 PM on July 30, 2014


All this talk about hoax deaths just reminded me to rejoice about the fact that most of you people are actually still alive. Please keep it up, you're doing a great job.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:11 PM on July 30, 2014 [15 favorites]


That Kaycee thread was fascinating. I missed it when it was all happening and it made me feel heart ache for everyone involved.

I did however laugh at the comments of the other thread is so long and not loading and questions of it being the longest thread at 300 comments.

Also Metafilter and Askme are such different beings now when I see what was left in the comments and answers. Quite amazing how site culture has changed.
posted by kanata at 9:52 PM on July 30, 2014


Oh, you kidders. paphnuty, if he had existed, which right-thinking people clearly recognize is not the case, could not reasonably expect to escape the notional Metafilter Network Inc. Corporate Rehabilitation Facility without the direct aid of some sort of e.g. haberdashero-linguistic confederate, which is a ridiculous proposition in its own right.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:33 PM on July 30, 2014 [15 favorites]


That happened right around the time I started lurking on Metafilter, after finding out about the site in this article in Brill's Content. (Incidentally, who knew the Brill's Content website was still up?) Back then, signups were only open from time to time, and it wasn't until the beginning of September that I was able to create an account.

I still read that thread every time it's referenced. It really was different back then!
posted by SisterHavana at 12:33 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wow, even Mathowie said he was 99.9% sure Kaycee Nicole was real.
posted by orange swan at 6:29 AM on July 31, 2014


Reading that thread from 2001 is a trip. The internet used to be such a different place.

It was like that in the Usenet days as well. It really hasn't changed much at all.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:11 AM on July 31, 2014


Incidentally, who knew the Brill's Content website was still up?

Wow, there's a blast from the past. Was that the last time there was a groundswell of (possibly manufactured) excitement around a new print magazine?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:28 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


haberdashero-linguistic confederate, which is a ridiculous proposition in its own right.

Legend has it he snuck out in a Banjodora crafted out of bars of soap & shoe polish.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:13 AM on July 31, 2014


What a weird thread. That was before my time here so I'm not familiar with a lot of the usernames. The people who were so vigorously defending "Kaycee Nicole's" existence and saying that they'd spoken with her — had they been MeFites for a while before the whole thing blew up and really were convinced she was real? Or were they sockpuppets?
posted by Lexica at 10:52 AM on July 31, 2014


Oh my god, this is my first time seeing the holdkriss99 stuff. I remember seeing the note from the wife, but somehow missed the MeTa where it was all a fraud! What the hell?
posted by corb at 10:57 AM on July 31, 2014


The people who were so vigorously defending "Kaycee Nicole's" existence and saying that they'd spoken with her — had they been MeFites for a while before the whole thing blew up and really were convinced she was real? Or were they sockpuppets?

I can't answer that, but I did notice there where a fair number of users in that thread who ended having only one or two (at the most a handful) comments ever. So, it's quite possible. just look for users who pop out of nowhere and say "Oh My God you are all horrible, KC is real I talked to her!!!" --- Never To Be Heard From Again
posted by edgeways at 11:13 AM on July 31, 2014


If you're not paying for it, you're the sockpuppet.
posted by arcticseal at 3:23 PM on July 31, 2014 [7 favorites]


Sockpuppets are still $5, SAIT.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:46 PM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was here under another name during the Kaycee Nicole thing. It still makes me sick to my stomach.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:49 PM on July 31, 2014


At least one user believed they'd spoken to Kaycee, but it turned out to have been Debbie putting on a voice.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 10:47 PM on July 31, 2014


So the book mentioned in TFA: Virtual Unreality, by Charles Seife; has anyone here read it?

Is it more like a book assigned for a critical thinking class?
Would this tech-savvy mid-twenties American be into it?
posted by oceanjesse at 5:20 AM on August 1, 2014


Rock Steady: "Another more recent MeFi example."

I was on the fence as to whether his suicide was a hoax. The "wife's" too-cutesy letter to the community smelled strongly like bullshit to me, but at the same time I felt like a terrible person for doubting someone who was in such a terrible situation. When I learned that my suspicions were correct, I was relieved in a way that my bullshit meter still worked. But I wasn't happy about it. I wish I didn't need a bullshit meter.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:38 AM on August 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


Another more recent MeFi example.

Wow, I just found out that was faked. I remember reading the original post before work one day and being sort of touched by it. Seemed a little too-perfect but chalked it up to mourning. I was reading metafilter less because of work and never saw the follow up. That's just horrible.
posted by milarepa at 4:15 PM on August 1, 2014


I was on the fence as to whether his suicide was a hoax. The "wife's" too-cutesy letter to the community smelled strongly like bullshit to me, but at the same time I felt like a terrible person for doubting someone who was in such a terrible situation. When I learned that my suspicions were correct, I was relieved in a way that my bullshit meter still worked. But I wasn't happy about it. I wish I didn't need a bullshit meter.

The thing that triggered my spidey sense was advice I once heard on how to be a good liar: use an economy of words; people who are trying hard to lie often prattle on. I mean, four days after the supposed death, and that really was a truck load of narrative for someone who was (supposedly) grieving. I'm sure there are always exceptions to how people grieve and lie, but at face value, it did feel a bit off, to say the least.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:04 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


What a weird thread. That was before my time here so I'm not familiar with a lot of the usernames. The people who were so vigorously defending "Kaycee Nicole's" existence and saying that they'd spoken with her — had they been MeFites for a while before the whole thing blew up and really were convinced she was real? Or were they sockpuppets?

Some were users who'd been around for yonks or known webloggers, others were probably folk drawn to MetaFilter by the story - Kaycee was really, really popular for a long time, and the hoax drew in an awful lot of folk. So, maybe there's a dodgy sock or two in there from the pro-Kaycee camp, but I don't think Debbie was running lots of socks to game folk at that point. (This is all from a fascinated lurker perspective - don't think I joined MeFi until years later)

I still want to give bwg a big hug whenever I see that thread - poor bloke was completely taken in, and then had to face accusations of involvement in the hoax when he must've been losing his marbles with grief and shock. (Please don't tell me there have been subsequent revelations since about his role!)
posted by jack_mo at 2:45 AM on August 2, 2014


This was another death hoax, which, in retrospect, was obviously and painfully fake from the get-go.
posted by Mid at 2:58 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wow, there's a blast from the past. Was that the last time there was a groundswell of (possibly manufactured) excitement around a new print magazine?

I was pretty excited about the creation of Make magazine, but that's that's the last one I remember.
posted by el io at 10:19 PM on August 4, 2014


Somehow, reading through the links on this thread and related links, I learned about dhoyt, which kind of brings it all back to another "reason" for sockpuppeting (and I think I need to hit the library for the book Virtual Unreality) and came across another entry on this topic from The Mary Sue just today:


"Woman Discovers Husband, Father of Her Unborn Child, Is A Disgusting Internet Troll"
He said he trolled/bullied people because it was an outlet for him to relieve stress. He said he didn’t view the people as real, or what he was doing as anything other than a joke, and if it hurt feelings, “those people have bigger problems and it’s not my fault.”

I told him that it wasn’t an acceptable behavior of an adult, and that he needed to stop it and find another way to express his frustrations that didn’t involve hurting strangers. He said he would think about it.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 11:40 AM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


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