Sock-puppets, anonymous comments and trolls

(a ‘long and boring’ post on a subject that fascinates me)

Some of you chaps must think me a bit odd to be constantly putting myself in the line of fire when it was established long ago that champion ‘bloggers’ Iain Dale and Paul Staines won’t hesitate to censor threads, retro-moderate posts, hide behind anonymous abuse and tolerate outright sock-puppeting (and worse) from their allies.

But damn it all, it’s educational material for a growing community.

And this time, it’s not me in the firing line, but Iain Dale…

Iain’s banked a lot on his latest pop at peacemaking, but recently he wasted time chasing* yet another passing ambulance and ended up falling over his own feet and then under the wheels. Entirely.

[*Iain does this a lot, this scrambling to be part of one issue or another, which is why it is more conspicuous when he avoids issues that are not as favourable to the Tories and/or his friends as they could be.]

Here’s the post that did the damage:

Iain Dale – Don’t Throw All the Blame at Ross & Brand

And here comes the educational (i.e. ‘long and boring’) part:

First of all, this issue is going to draw out of the woodwork those people who will to take any opportunity to damage the BBC and/or press their case for a change to the licence fee system. There are also people who don’t get/like Russell Brand and/or don’t get/like Jonathon Ross, and you don’t have to be all three to end up mouthing off without really thinking things through or (*gasp*) considering more than your own viewpoint/agenda.

There is also one unapologetic user of sock-puppets on the loose in the relevant thread who has no love for Iain, and at least one unapologetic user of sock-puppets nearby if not in the thread who would have Iain’s babies if he asked.

You also have to remember that all of this is happening in an environment where Iain, by continuing with his bad habit of tolerating anonymous abuse when it’s in his favour, actually encourages the use of anonymity and sock-puppetry on both** sides, even though he spends a lot of his time denouncing the practice.

[**There are many people who will not comment under their own name or usual ID because they see no point in exposing themselves to anonymous abuse from Iain’s regular supporters. So because the people fighting Iain’s corner anonymously attack anyone who opposes or contradicts Iain and are allowed to get away with it, these people start to comment anonymously also. Then the people fighting Iain’s corner start to pretend to be more than one person in order to ‘outnumber’ the opposition and make contradictory arguments without contradicting themselves, and the whole thing spirals into the sewer from there. Take a look at the present state of the site of Paul Staines (aka ‘Guido Fawkes’) to see where this is headed, and please note that we are talking about a wider view over time here, and not describing a development specific to this thread.]

So into the thread we go:

Thread marker #1

At October 28, 2008 4:54 PM , Martin said…

Good to know you are the side of people who make abusive and offensive phone calls, Iain. We should always put the blame fairly on the people who don’t cover things up properly. It’s the Tory way.

At October 28, 2008 5:03 PM , Iain Dale said…

Martin, your comment qualifies for idiotic comment of the day. I haven’t defended their despicable calls at all. I just think threat the producers deserve the blame for the fact it was ever transmitted. Read the headline again.

Iain’s first mistake is taking what appears to be the easy way out, by only answering an obvious troll*** from a known troller with a brusque slap-down.

[***A more complex and one-sided example of this technique can be seen here.]

In a thread with more supporters, this technique can and frequently does work for Iain, as often there will be a number of people (some each pretending to a number of different people) answering other comments and/or countering other points for Iain with facts/lies/distractions/distortions/abuse/love-custard.

But there is less of that kind of intervention here, mainly due to Iain picking the wrong word (twice) in an ill-advised post.

So from this point on a wave of perceived contempt begins to build as more and more people enter the thread and encounter one unanswered question/challenge after another before they themselves settle on the nature/tone of their own comment.

Iain further compounds the problem and adds to the wave of perceived contempt by responding in the post instead of mucking in on the thread. When doing so, he also makes the mistake of blaming his error on the reader(s); making this gesture appear to be even more arrogant:

UPDATE: People seem to have got the wrong end of the stick here, possibly because I used the word ‘entirely’.

Meanwhile, some familiar faces are beginning to appear (i.e. regular posters who only use one ID and/or are making this kind of comment under their main ID) and – while they may not lay into Iain with flying fists, they do make it clear which side of the debate they stand on… and generally, it’s not with Iain in this thread.

Close allies are noted by their (presumed) absence+, which can only make any anonymous attacker(s) bolder.

What’s also missing here (through no fault of Iain’s) is a clear/central role involving the Labour Party; even though there is at least one individual clearly trolling, no-one is yelling ‘troll’ in this thread. Brown gets a passing a mention and there are some vague suggestions of Daily Mail readers chipping in, perhaps without declaring an interest, but (and this is partly Iain’s fault) no-one is indentifying trolls when there are clearly trolls about or being anywhere near as wary of sock-puppets as they should be****, because these words have been reduced to meaningless partisan barbs and whines after endless false accusations in Iain’s threads (that are SFA to do with my ongoing attempts to see this nonsense curtailed and more to do with certain parties seeing ‘NuLab’ conspiracies behind every contributor not toeing the Tory line).

[****Just for starters; the mob descending on Iain is not as large as it appears.]

In fact, about the only thing that might be seen to be in Iain’s favour at this stage is the fact that he already has comment moderation on; nothing gets published without his say-so, and he doesn’t need to ‘retreat’ to this position.


1. Because Iain is busy playing peacekeeper elsewhere, comments are left uncleared for long periods of time and then published in chunks, which results in a confused and disjointed thread where there is little chance of anything approaching a conversation and a greatly increased risk of some people needlessly repeating hits/points/challenges (not knowing that they have already been made and are merely awaiting clearance).

2. It also makes it near-to-impossible for anyone but Iain to ask folks to stop and take stock of this or that in order to calm the thread. Iain certainly can’t do that at this late stage because it would involve skipping a large number of points/challenges raised by an unknown number of people, many of whom could in this thread be people who would otherwise support him. And an outsider can’t do it, because any such attempt that doesn’t benefit from perfect timing will most probably be buried in surrounding flames when it is eventually published.

3. Finally, the use of comment moderation leaves us in little doubt that it is Iain Dale who is primarily legally and morally responsible for any libel that might creep into the thread.

I think this serves as a fine example of something that might be considered libel and (if you’re reckless enough to think/act this way) could lead to action against an ‘insignificant’ blog, even if it does involve a target (or targets) in less-than-advantageous circumstances:

Thread marker #2

In this context, I’m confident that I can use this as an illustrative example, but this is not a smart thing to publish when the topic is the potential dismissal of two presenters, each with their own history including a significant/successful battle with substance abuse. (Alcohol for Ross, heroin and alcohol and just about everything else for Brand. But neither of them would be pleased to be accused of cocaine use at the present time, and neither of them should have to put up with baseless accusations about it, and the law is on their side.)

And here to help me to close the lesson is Iain Dale.

No, seriously.

Keeping in mind that Iain turned on comment moderation a few days ago (and so reads every comment before he decides to publish anything), it is easy to see that, in the very post that started it, Iain Dale himself expresses his opinion that he alone is responsible for the disaster this thread has become:

Iain Dale – Don’t Throw All the Blame at Ross & Brand

As I understand it this was a pre recorded show. While the phone calls were distasteful and ill judged, Brand and Ross are not to blame for the fact that they were transmitted. The fault lies entirely with the programme’s producer and editor. It is they who should be called to account for this debacle.

I personally disagree; I think Iain is primarily, and not entirely, responsible for the disaster this thread has become.


UPDATE(ISH) – While I was writing this (around 11pm), someone – *sigh* – anonymously submitted the following comment which identifies some major factors. It was cleared for publication at about midnight when I was tidying and spill-chucking.

Thread marker #3

At October 28, 2008 10:54 PM , Anonymous said…

“But the fire being directed at them over Brand’s phone call to Andrew Sachs is entirely misdirected.”

Iain, you suffer the same personality disorder as the BBC. You cannot, never, admit you are wrong.

How can you write the above statement saying ‘entirely’ and then claim your readers have got ‘the [wrong] end of the stick’?

Please, admit you are wrong. You have been soundly battered by your readers.

However, I have noticed you often betray a childish petulance when you are contradicted

(Psst! I could’ve written most of that myself. But it’s not my fault that there’s any uncertainty.)

Please excuse the minor housekeeping notices attached to this post. They have to go somewhere, and both are directed at proven and unapologetic users of sock-puppets.

(Hendren: Even when rewriting history and bravely making false assertions in an environment where you know they won’t be corrected or challenged by your target, you manage to contradict yourself. And that’s all you’re getting, sorry. I do not want to make the mistake of winding you up over your proven sock-puppeting antics and baseless accusations to the point where you’re calling my house and disrupting my private life again. So you ‘win’ that thread. Well done.)

(‘Martin’/Lobster/Dip: It was clever of you to ‘out’ yourself while the heat’s off and almost everyone is looking elsewhere. But what good is an identity with no credibility? And how is it in any way fair to attack someone’s reputation without banking your own against what you have to say? And that’s all you’re getting, sorry. No traffic or linky-love for you. It should be enough that a troll of yours got some attention and actually turned out to be useful for once.)

UPDATE (9:30am) – Some minor links and corrections have been added. Oh, and this:

[+ It should have occured to me last night that Iain’s closest ally Phil ‘Dizzy’ Hendren isn’t likely to turn up in this thread under his main ID, because he is fond of making nuisance calls himself, and Iain has yet to condemn that on his blog. I can’t see either of them wanting to open up that can of worms with so many people on the warpath about the calls made by Ross and Brand, and the unanswered question about where Hendren got my ex-directory number still hanging in the air.]

Posted in The Political Weblog Movement | 2 Comments

Two quick questions on the subject of terrorism

Can you recognise terrorism when you see it? (#1) (more)

Can you recognise terrorism when you see it? (#2)

Posted in US Presidential Election 2008 | Comments Off

Ted Stevens

I am here to save you a needless tube journey:

Yes, that Ted Stevens.

YouTube – DJ Ted Stevens Techno Remix: “A Series of Tubes”

Time – Can Ted Stevens Still Win Alaska?: Stevens, 84, was found guilty Monday on seven felony counts for failing to report $250,000 in improper gifts he received from Bill Allen, the disgraced executive of an oil services company.

FiveThirtyEight – Senate Projections, Baked Alaska Edition: Our projection models are designed to be fairly dynamic — but you don’t usually have the circumstance wherein a sitting senator gets convicted on seven felony counts (appeal pending!) eight days before an election. So, a little bit of creativity is going to be required…

Rolling Stone – The Sarah and Ted Show: Under the old rules, Stevens’ corruption scandal could well have blown over as a parochial scandal of the great, oily North. But since picking Palin, McCain & Co. have staked out Alaska as the living, beating heart of American authenticity.

WSJ Blogs – McCain Calls on Sen. Stevens to Resign, Palin Does Not: His running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has not called on her home state colleague to resign. While the statement released by the campaign today had the McCain-Palin logo on it, it was a statement only from the Arizona senator.

And, finally, before you even start trying to think of a witty headline, take a look at the quip on Fark that made me give up before I even started:

“Prison; it’s not like a big building, it’s more like a series of cubes.”

If there’s anyone on the planet who would like to try following that, please be my guest.

Posted in US Presidential Election 2008 | 2 Comments

Two items from Australia

a) It’s not your fault.

b) It’s not AC/DC’s fault.

Posted in Inneresting | Comments Off

Google 4 Grown-Ups: the search engine seminar and workshop

My new search engine optimisation seminar Google 4 Grown-Ups was very well received on its first outing, and I’m looking to do another one in partnership with Thoughtbubble very shortly.

Click here to find out when the next Google 4 Grown-Ups seminar and workshop will be held.

The following is a run-down of the content, my personal take on the way the seminar was seen and received, and how that might impact on future presentation and delivery.

But for starters, here are some of the nicer things that some people had to say about the first event:

“Tim Ireland is a very enjoyable, entertaining speaker.” – Gareth Herincx, GMTV

“A good overview, with good examples and learning that you can take away and use.” – Kimberley Slack, Findel Education

“Tim is an excellent presenter and manages to keep people involved and entertained.” – Angus Robertson, AMC Network

“The ecosystem analogy is very elegant and easy to relate to.” – Justin McKeating, Greenpeace

“Great people, presenter, content and delivery. An extremely insightful, well planned and creatively delivered event. From the pre-event publicity to the materials on the day, Tim and Thoughtbubble went way beyond most technical seminars, bringing the content to life and making an enjoyable educational day for anyone with an interest in Google and SEO.” – Xavier Adam, Managing Director, AMC Network

The idea when writing the seminar was to develop new, efficient and enjoyable ways in which to cover the following points, and it certainly looks like I’ve succeeded:

Google is the Daddy

Google is the Daddy!

Why search engine optimisation should be a priority for any business or body with a web presence; search engines are the source of the majority of web traffic and, in most countries *one* search engine is the source of the majority of web traffic. No prizes for guessing which one…



An early look at how search engines do work from the perspective of how they don’t work; some of the mistakes most of us have made when addressing SEO for the very first time. I need to work on extracting audience experiences in this section and the next; many people are too embarrassed to admit to things like cupboard love (e.g. thinking that spending money on AdWords will have a direct and positive impact on organic performance in the main database). They need to know why pencils have erasers and other cliches.



Why the next step (hiring someone else to deal with it) can also fraught with peril and why many of the little and large deceptions in the SEO industry exist. This time we look at how search optimisation works from the perspective of how it doesn’t work. Just one example: “Solve your SEO problems with PPC!” is like saying “Solve your cheese problems with chalk!”

Primary School

Primary School

A back-to-basics exercise where we take a look at how search engines have evolved so far and, crucially, why. Future success in search engines relies on your understanding that search engines continue to evolve in a clear direction where actual relevance and a genuine reputation matter more as each year passes.

Secondary School

Secondary School!

The meat in the sandwich for many people; in this section we take a look at issues involving indexability and the concept of coordinating your relevance behind a generic keyword strategy that is scaled in a way that earns you traffic now, and stands to earn you even more traffic as your reputation improves.

Flight School

Flight School

This section aims to demystify link popularity and give you a better understanding of the different ways in which web users influence search results. The case studies involve websites that have successfully used viral, community and/or weblog marketing and link generation techniques in pursuit of queries that earn ten thousand, a hundred thousand and a million searches each month in the UK alone.



I’ve found in the past that the most productive part of a seminar can be any period where I shut up and allow questions; Google 4 Grown-Ups has a whole *afternoon* dedicated to specific questions from members of the audience about their website, their optimisation and/or their overall online marketing strategy.

What you should walk away with after the event is not only a better understanding of search engine optimisation, but the ability to better explain your needs and goals to others.

In terms of specific skills, the event also teaches you:

– How to form a keyword strategy that will last for years

– How to deploy that strategy so it brings in immediate returns

– How to structure that strategy so it brings in ever-increasing returns, with link popularity being your only variable

– What to consider when deciding the best method of link generation for your website

Now, some concepts within the seminar are more difficult to grasp than others, but overall the only confusion arose from minor but occasionally vital specifics that an old pro like me takes for granted, so the one thing that’s going to be different about the next event is the availability of a glossary.

I’m also tempted to run as a trial a ‘clicker’ system that lets me know immediately when people in the audience are confused, but does not overly disrupt the flow of any given section. Party clickers used to sell at 20p an item, but they appear to have gone out of fashion and returned as dog-training clickers at a pound and 20p an item, but all the same my mind keeps taking me back to a lecturer I knew who used these to gauge (click-click) when he should provide a little extra information here and there, and (click-click-clickety-click-click-click) when he should go back and explain something very, very carefully.

Other than that, it appears that the only thing that can improve the event is the same thing that gets you to Carnegie Hall; practice, practice, practice.

And with that in mind, I’m very much looking forward to the next event so I can make it even better.

Click here to find out when the next Google 4 Grown-Ups seminar and workshop will be held.

Posted in Search Engine Optimisation | Comments Off


I want to make time to go and see Daniel in ZERO; “an explosive and anarchic stare at the ethics of torture, and the curse of censorship”.

If anyone wants to come along and make a thing of it, do drop me a line. The available dates in London are:

11th – 29th Nov: Tristan Bates Theatre, London

Posted in Consume! | 5 Comments

10 things that Nadine Dorries and Sarah Palin have in common

Sarah Palin and Nadine Dorries

1. They both have a womb*, and think it is their God-given right to tell other women what to do with theirs:
Huffington Post – Palin On Abortion: I’d Oppose Even If My Own Daughter Was Raped
Guardian – The end of choice? Kira Cochrane talks to Nadine Dorries

(*I am personally thankful that neither of them have a penis. Of their own.)

2. They are both aided and manipulated by fundamentalist Christians:
Buzzflash – Sarah Palin is a Manchurian Candidate for One Extremist Splinter Group of the End-Times Crowd
Bloggerheads – Nadine Dorries and Andrea Williams

3. They have both cherry-picked a single sentence out of a report clearly finding them in the wrong and used it as ‘proof’ that they had been cleared of any wrong-doing:
Washington Post – Four Pinocchios for Palin
Lib Dem Voice – What does “completely cleared” mean? (more)

4. They both have a reputation as an outsider/maverick that handily disguises a general distaste for rules, a poor understanding of those rules, *and* a distaste for taking the time to develop an understanding of those rules:
Think Progress – Palin Claims The Vice President Is “In Charge Of The U.S. Senate”
Bad Science – Oooooh I’m in the Minority Report!

5. They both like to be in complete control of any given conversation so it can flow freely in the way they want it to: – Stop covering Palin until she gives a press conference (more)
Bloggerheads – Nadine Dorries and what she has (and has not) learned from Iain Dale

6. The both believe in and/or seek to perpetuate the myth of a hostile leftist media conspiracy: – Sarah Palin and Mark Halperin’s complaints of “liberal media”
Ministry of Truth – Exclusive: Dorries to Face Standards Inquiry

7. They are both at or near that delicate age where their face is getting harder and harder to maintain, and could go Kathleen Turner at any moment.



Oh dear, I appear to be drying up.

Oh, crap… don’t go there!!!


(Psst! And before anyone has a go at me about age and appearance being a ‘woman’ thing, it’s not; it is about illusions. Remember after the 2005 General Election, when Tony Blair suddenly aged by 20 years?)

Posted in Tories! Tories! Tories!, US Presidential Election 2008 | 6 Comments

Two notes on the neo-Nazi skinhead plot

AP – Skinhead plot news sweeps suspect’s Tenn. hometown: Authorities describe the two as neo-Nazi skinheads, and an affidavit from a federal agent says they devised a plot to kill 88 people – beheading 14 of them. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community. The killing spree was initially to target a predominantly black school, which was not identified in court documents. It was to end, authorities said, with the two suspects — dressed in white tuxedos and top hats – blasting guns from the windows of a speeding vehicle aimed at Obama.


Just in case you’re in any doubt about Matt Drudge being as big a right wing tool as Paul ‘thirsty’ Staines, it needs to be noted that Drudge used his ridiculously-huge headline spot to push the lies of race-baiter Ashley Todd, but when news emerged of a plot by neo-Nazi skinheads to shoot their way into Obama’s heart, Drudge instead ran with this huge non-story ‘seed of doubt’ item about that candidate, ran this race-related item as a much smaller item buried amongst the dross, and even put the word ‘skinhead’ in quotation* marks:

Partisan twat.

(*No, the news item he linked to did not do this.)


You know, when I go on one of my killing sprees hunting expeditions, what I like to do is shoot every goddamn mouse and rabbit in the field before I move on the big game.

Just to make a statement. About my genius.

UPDATE – Better make that three.


The website Sarah’s Army (hosted at has been widely credited as a major pusher of Ashley Todd’s lies. The author of this site (David Leazenby) pushed the story as undisputed fact and even signed off with the words; “THERE WILL BE BLOOD!!”

But rather than admitting a mistake in an updated version of his post (which many right wings bloggers have done) the author has simply ‘disappeared’ his original article, just to show how sincere he is when he jumps up and down and declares all leftists to be communist operatives pushing an Orwellian future. (If you would like to bitch about that, watch others bitch about that, or simply read the author’s pissweak explanation for dumping his entire article down a nearby memory hole, start here.)

OK, enough background… let’s get to it.

Take a look at the prominent and none-too-subtle message that greets all visitors to his website. Yes, I’ve checked; this is a permanent fixture that greets all visitors…

Posted in Normal People, Tolerance, US Presidential Election 2008 | Comments Off

Two-faced git

And you thought we couldn’t do worse than send them Blair…

Iain Dale is doing his small part to bring peace to the Middle East.


And to think that only last week he was banging his war drum, encouraging a return to “tribal politics” (his words) and wanting to bring out back the big guns.

UPDATE – Meanwhile, this is what the ‘far leftists’ are up to.

Posted in Tories! Tories! Tories! | 4 Comments

Sarah Palin: keepin’ it real without the media filter

Sarah Palin Talks About $150K Clothing Scandal at Rally

“Hey, everyone! I’m not one for airs and graces! Now look at my trophies! And this one! And this one!”


Control mechanisms… weakening.

Rage… becoming… hard to control.

Must… track down… nearest Palin supporter… and… carve letter… into their face.

Not… just… quick memo…. but… entire… letter!

(thinks of calm blue ocean)
(thinks of calm blue ocean)
(thinks of calm blue ocean)

Times – Sarah Palin’s designer clothes sent back into the closet: Sarah Palin is to forgo the designer wardrobe bought for her by the Republican Party, and will go back to wearing her own clothes, she has told supporters. To emphasise the point that she really does have simple tastes, the Alaskan governor appeared at a campaign stop in Asheville, North Carolina last night dressed in jeans. Her own…. Now she is starting to fight back. At a rally in Tampa, Florida, earlier on Sunday, she pointed out to the crowd that she was wearing her own jacket and insisted that from now on she would be wearing her own clothes bought in Anchorage, Alaska. “Those clothes, they are not my property, just like the lighting and the staging and everything else the RNC purchased,” said Mrs Palin…

… who is, for some strange reason, perfectly comfortable with admitting that she’s been a Republican Barbie-doll and a bit of a fraud all this time.

I wish her luck with the ‘maverick-who-immediately-caves-to-GOP-demands-and-only-rebels-after-cunning-plan-implodes’ narrative. She’s gonna need* it.

(*Oh, who am I kidding? They’re eating it up and clapping and honking like trained bloody seals.)

Posted in US Presidential Election 2008 | Comments Off