Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey is not the only person using a fictional identity online to fluff his ego and advance his business aims. The New York Times refers to the practice as sock-puppeting , "the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one's self, allies or company." It provides several examples of executives, writers, politicos, and bloggers whose alter egos ultimately caught up with them. Most notable is conspiracy theorist and CEO of Overstock.com, Patrick M. Byrne.
Byrne, not shy to open his mouth, often uses the handle "Hannibal" (which he apparently wants everyone to know is a reference to the historic general who failed to conquer Rome rather than the fictional cannibal) to post at Overstock.com's Investor Village and other discussion boards. The CEO claims "he never hides his true identity and always signs his name when he posts under his online handle," but Gary Weiss observes that Byrne does not always make his true identity transparent.
Paul Kedrosky, who we enjoy and link to often, tells the Times he thinks the practice is widespread:
'I'm convinced it's broader than anybody knows," he said, "I'm convinced this is the tip of the iceberg.' Mr. Kedrosky said that one chief executive recently told him that he almost had to 'chew off my right arm to keep from participating' in an online forum. He declined to name the company but said, 'It's a hard temptation to walk away from.'
Unlike his CEO pal, Kedrosky is man enough to jump in the comments under his own name when the temptation to respond online is too great to resist. I, myself, have to admit to making the mistake of using a false identity. But not everyone is gutsy enough to admit it. So, readers, do you know of, or suspect, any executives or bloggers who are secretly posting online under a false identity? If so, send them in.