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Online Drama Of A Fictional Nature

January 12, 2013

I am angry right now. This post will be very meta, because I am angry right now. In the interest of keeping this post from being all about me, please feel free to comment with your feelings about this incident (assuming you were part of the group scammed) or those similar that you’ve been subject to.

One of the online communities I am a member of recently got caught up in a scam so now we’re rolling through the stages of grief. I am happy in the anger phase and probably will be for a while.

Anyone who has been a member of an online community for any length of time will eventually get caught up in a scam. Sometimes it’s a tiny scam; one of those “Click LIKE and SHARE if you hate cancer!” photos on Facebook that are actually  just people trading on feelings about cancer to make money. Sometimes it’s a full on, Nigerian prince scam, wherein you laugh and delete.

But sometimes the scams are not about money. They’re about attention and those are the worst. You know the kind, when a member of the online community suddenly has a run of bad luck and then some more and then some more and then even more. These tales of woe start out plausible and grow into something so massive and unbelievable that someone eventually calls bullshit. Then someone goes Sherlocking and it turns out that it was all a lie. Hurt feelings, anger, all the stages of grief ensue.

In this specific case, it was even worse because the lie was specifically about triggery subjects like violent rape. So aside from being emotionally invested in a lie and suffering with and through the fake characters and their ordeals, many members had to revisit their own pain in the process of trying to be supportive and helpful. Further, many members of the group, being generous and wanting to help out, offered items and funds as support and straight up gifts. So there’s an element of fraud.

All of us were lied to.

That’s what happened to us and everyone is saying roughly the same thing; I don’t understand how anyone could do this.

I understand it. I used to do it.

OK, not this extent and not over that length of time but yeah. Real talk: I lied all the time as a kid. I lied about everything. I hated my life and hated myself and was so desperate for things to be different I’d make up anything, bad or good, both for the attention and in an attempt to draw focus from my real life. I actually told kids in one of my classes that I lived in a tipi. Seriously. All the time.

Yes, it was pathetic. Yes, I eventually grew the hell up and stopped.

Apparently some people don’t stop. In fact, this behavior is so common it’s even gotten its own catagory. If you’ve seen Fight Club, you’ve seen a pre-Internetlandia version of it.

The movie refers to it as “being a sympathy tourist” but it’s the same thing.

So yeah, I was in the gossip stew, because why would I miss it, but I wasn’t hating. I was judging the shit out of the person, because you do, but I wasn’t angry when I found out. I was actually kind of sympathetic. Not a lot, but I’ve been the person who lied and lied and lied until they were called out in public.

Then she tried to “apologize.”

The apology is 12 paragraphs that really should be 15 and I’m not going to pick it apart. I’ll sum up. “Not malicious, just crazy.” In other words, “not responsible because mental illness.”

Of course, that is the thing that caused me to start screaming at my computer. Because that is not an apology. That is not even an explanation. That is an excuse.

“I’m sorry,” is an apology. “I’m sorry but,” is a thing that starts out as an apology and then uses the word but which negates everything that came before it, including the actual apology. That’s how words work.

Moreover, there are a not small number of people in the group, and in the world in general who have actual mental illness and are, in fact, able to resist the compulsion to scam people. That bullshit excuse? It’s insulting to all of them. It also plays into the worst stigmas about mental illness. It scapegoats the illness and makes it responsible for the scam as opposed to the multiple cruel decisions of the person who was typing.

The very worst aspect of this is the inevitable backlash that will fall not on the liar, who deserves every bad thing that is being said about her, but on the next person whose life has major drama. They’re going to get the side eye as a consequence of this scam. I’ve seen these people mobilize to get get people money, food, a fucking car, to relay people out of abusive situations and to give people advice and support through trials great and small. We’re still going to do those things, because no one can take that from us, but we’ll be less likely to believe and others will be less likely to ask for help due to this incident.

Words matter people. On the internet, words are pretty much the only things that matter because they’re all we have.





7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2013 6:40 AM

    I first encountered this kind of behaviour over a decade ago on Knitflame. In that case, the perp ‘explained’ it was research for a class she was taking. She’d pretended to be her disabled daughter to see if people would send her stuff, and they did. There were actually three people involved; one was pretending to be in Canada, when they were all sitting in the same place in the UK. Someone got suspicious and tracked their IPs. I hadn’t sent any gifts but I;d been considering it. The whole mess of it left me very wary of getting attached to anyone I met online, and especially of those who seemed to be trawling for presents. It has meant that when anyone online offers to gift me something, I panic. Not sure why I panic, but probably because I’m scared someone will think I’m scamming, and then I might piled on.

  2. Emeraldwednesday permalink
    January 12, 2013 4:40 PM

    I’m here from the forum you’re talking about. I’d always had a thought in the back of my mind that that thread was a fake, but I was hoping it was a sociology project or something.
    That said, I still feel betrayed. I did care about the (fake) people. My mind and heart were in different places with that, obviously.
    Would you be able to point me to where (else) this is being discussed? I’d sort of like to grieve with the others.

  3. January 12, 2013 10:05 PM

    When I was a freshman in high school, an older boy who I thought was my friend told me he had HIV and was dying. I bought into it hook line and sinker. When I found out it was a lie, it was like being punched. To this day I have no idea why he would do that–he never tried to get in my pants or anything. It was just so bizarre and heartbreaking, and completely killed my trust for quite a while.

  4. January 13, 2013 6:29 PM

    It wasn’t a 12-paragraph apology. It was 12 paragraphs of an attempt to continue the fantasy – now with her characters as invisible “personalities” instead of external people. That entire teal deer contained one SENTENCE of half-assed apology.

  5. henofthewoods permalink
    January 14, 2013 2:05 PM

    I had been FB friends with her. She posted that she wished she had left one of the threads up. As if it were real. Or not going to be full of people telling her to drop dead since everyone is mad. Argh. I am extremely easy-going and still I am so damn pissed off. This is only my second unfriend ever. (I did get some benefit from responding to the threads, some help dealing with the rape of a male I know – but that didn’t cancel out my sense of betrayal. Plus, if her imaginary friends are real to her, why is she constantly brutally raping them?)

    • January 14, 2013 2:10 PM

      I was too and the last post I saw from her before I unfriended her, was something about hearing from Josh at roughly the same time she was posting that apology tl;dr on Rav.

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