I’ve been trying to determine if there’s an actual name or phrase for such a concept. Or if there are any examples in history or literature that actually describe or make use of this concept.

Basically I’m trying to figure out more importantly if there’s a specific word or phrase that defines the act of a person or group of people pretending that they are pro-something, to which their objective is to discourage others from being that-pro-something or starting another that-pro-something-movement and therefore achieving the result of not having any legitimate groups pro-something, and essentially making no genuine progress to that-pro-something.

Has this concept been explored in any non-fiction or fictional literature ?

  • I see three distinct mechanisms here: (1) A group using its already-questionable reputation to pollute the reputation of the target cause; (2) A group taking on a label in caricature, so as to mock the target cause; (3) A group genuinely disguising itself as the target cause, then acting badly. To clarify, which, if any of these, is the focus here?
    – Michael
    Mar 15, 2022 at 20:37
  • A related phenomenon might be impersonating with intent to sow discord, though this may have a different agenda (like starting a conflict), and it may apply to a concrete party rather than an abstract cause.
    – Michael
    Mar 15, 2022 at 21:00
  • Stalin's en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Trust. And some think QAnon is exactly the same. A psy-op run by the government to identify and sidetrack the opposition.
    – user4894
    Mar 16, 2022 at 0:33
  • @Michael definitely not the first. Definitely not the second. More like half of the third. So a group of people taking the forefront of a cause so they control the narrative and essential results that are seemingly in favour of the cause but achieve no real beneficial outcome of the cause. And their purpose would be to prevent legitimate groups in actual favour of the cause from putting in an effort to advance the cause. The answer below “bystander effect” seems to what I’m thinking about. Mar 16, 2022 at 11:16

1 Answer 1


If the goal is defacing a position, the phenomenon in question may be a type of strawmanning, perhaps more specifically strawpuppeteering. From Wikipedia:

A strawman sockpuppet (sometimes abbreviated as strawpuppet) is a false flag pseudonym created to make a particular point of view look foolish or unwholesome in order to generate negative sentiment against it. Strawman sockpuppets typically behave in an unintelligent, uninformed, or bigoted manner, advancing "straw man" arguments that their puppeteers can easily refute. The intended effect is to discredit more rational arguments made for the same position.[12]

If the goal is making the cause appear as already being attended (ie. bystander effect), or perhaps appear as lost or futile, concern troll or "Do-Nothing" may be more fitting. From Wikipedia:

A concern troll is a false-flag pseudonym created by a user whose actual point of view is opposed to the one that the troll claims to hold. The concern troll posts in web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group's actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed "concerns". The goal is to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt [FUD] within the group [...]

Wikipedia has it James Wolcott quotes Saul Alinsky as saying:

[At least some] Do-Nothings profess a commitment to social change for ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity, and then abstain from and discourage all effective action for change. They are known by their brand, 'I agree with your ends but not your means'.[66]

  • I think bystander effect is the correct objective. Now, what do you call people who try to achieve the bystander effect. Or what do you call a person or group of people who are maliciously intent on creating the bystander effect toward a cause. I’m going to mark your answer as correct because I don’t believe there’s a specific term to refer to such people or groups. I really thank you for your answer. Mar 16, 2022 at 11:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .