You're Not Helping was a group blog (mirror available here) which largely consisted of people whinging and whining and wailing about how disgusting and repulsive the New Atheists were. Their declared enemies included PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Greg Laden and Ophelia Benson. The words "group", "people" and "their" should not be taken literally, as in June 2010 it emerged that the entire membership was in fact a network of sockpuppets operated by a lone individual, later outed as Walter "Wally" Smith.
At the time of the You're Not Helping debacle, Walter Smith was a graduate student at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. He is now an instructor of biology at The University of Virginia's College at Wise. He once had a fairly substantial web presence, but nuked most of it after being outed. Remnants include a conservation blog and fragments of his painfully bad poetry.
You're Not Helping
In 2010, a particular nasty and dishonest blog, aimed at the New Atheists, made its debut. The blog always referred to itself in the plural, and seemingly attracted a loyal following. It attracted speculation from Ophelia Benson that many of the posters were sockpuppets, but nothing could be proven. Unfortunately, Benson made the mistake of attributing the site to a commenter known as Kees, who (although a nasty little weirdo in his own right) was completely unconnected.
In May, the blogger Oedipus Maximus, who was somewhat sympathetic to YNH's aims, criticised a personal attack on Ophelia Benson. Predictably, his posts were subjected to a storm of derision by the sockpuppet army, and he was quickly banned. In June, he wrote an article describing this encounter. This article became the stage for YNH's downfall, during which it received 17 updates and 873 comments.
To start with, Wally falsely accused Oedipus Maximus of various crimes, including sockpuppetry and "spamming several other blogs". This second accusation was suspiciously similar to a comment made by the user Milton C., effectively outing him as a sockpuppet. A far more revealing mistake occurred six days later, when Wally muddled up the sockpuppets Polly-O! and Brandon. He attempted to control the damage, by getting Polly-O! to declare that the suspicious comments were posted by an imposter. When this failed, YNH announced that Brandon and Polly-O! were indeed aliases of the single user, and "banned" them. This also failed to convince anyone.
Eventually, Wally replaced the blog with a whiny blame-avoiding pseudoapology. Using the name "William", he admitted to being both Brandon and Polly-O!, and also admitted to posting under the name "Patricia". Shortly afterwards, he removed the site entirely, and offered a seemingly contrite apology. This apology, together with a second post, revealed the names of many more (but far from all) of Wally's sockpuppets.
See also The Intersection
As You're Not Helping unravelled, it was revealed that Wally was also behind the "Tom Johnson" story, as trumpeted by the ever-gullible pseudojournalist Chris Mooney on his Intersection blog. According to this story, religious people at a nature conservation event were mocked and ridiculed by the wicked New Atheists. Although this never happened, the lies were based around a real conservation event, which Wally had attended in a professional capacity. This apparently got Wally into trouble with his graduate advisor. It also became apparent that these sockpuppets had been producing a substantial fraction of the Intersection's comments, including attacks on people who dared to point out how ridiculous the Tom Johnson story was.
Return and outing
After You're Not Helping collapsed, Wally's identity was largely kept secret, in return for him ceasing his activities. For some time, this deal appeared to be holding, but then Ophelia Benson started to become suspicious of a poster named "Hammill", who would follow her and Jerry Coyne around the internet, posting malicious lies. A month later, she obtained proof that "Hammill" was indeed Wally, and outed him.
List of sockpuppets
- Bilbo (One of several people to use this name on Pharyngula.)
- Milton C.
- Philip Jr.
- Tom Johnson
- William (False name used in pseudoapology.)
- Hammill (Caught out by Ophelia Benson.)
- Michael L. Thomas (A post under the name of admitted sockpuppet "Milton C." was five weeks later edited to give it this name.)
- WHS (A post under this name was later edited in the same time-frame as the above "Milton C." to "Michael L. Thomas" switch. The name matches Wally's initials, and the posts contained then-private details of his life.)
The YNH comment section absolutely swarmed with "individuals" who did little else but echo the original post, and attack any dissent. While some of these could be traced to real people, it is probable that the majority were sock puppets. The most suspicious of these included:
- The Accuser
- Bad Monkey
- Bill S.