I have written before about the phenomenon of ‘sockpuppetry’, where people adopt another identity and use that new identity to praise and otherwise provide support to their real selves. Basically, you create your own fan club and the internet allows people to do that somewhat anonymously.
But why do they do this?
Via Jonathan Turley, I hear of a new case, this time of Matthew Broyde, a professor of law at Emory University. He is charged with adopting an alternate name of Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser, claiming to be someone who lived in Israel and a member of a rabbinical group for 20 years. “Goldwasser” drew attention to Broyde’s scholarship and promoted it.
Emory University is now investigating the claims. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Broyde has admitted to doing this, and added that he and an unnamed friend jointly operated under the Goldwasser name. He has also admitted to using other names to praise himself.
By all accounts, Broyde was a very successful academic, and also riding high in the world of Jewish legal systems. What on earth drives such people to assume a false identity? It is true that there are some aspects of academic life that can be frustrating, especially for very ambitious people. You may feel that you have published some good work that did not receive the kind of attention you think it deserves. But that comes with the territory and the usual way to deal with it is to try and give talks and write articles about your work.
In the Haaretz interview Broyde says that he was “succumbing to the vanity of naked praise”. But how satisfying can it be to praise yourself? It seems really weird to create an alter ego to do so, a sign of deep insecurity.