And how would you feel to learn that it's all a scam? A ploy to get attention and sympathy?
There is a name for this type of behaviour--the creation of a fake story via the Internet used to garner support and consideration--Munchausen by Internet. People who engage in this behaviour not only create the situation, but often the people as well. In other words, the teenage girl dying of cancer turns out to be a healthy, forty-year-old man. More often than not, people who suffer from Munchausen are not writing these stories for financial gain, though people are often moved to contribute money or gifts when they are invested in the life. Instead, they crave the attention, comments, and sympathy garnered from the tale.
There have been plenty of famous cases--most notably Kaycee Nicole, whose existence (or lack thereof) was only discovered when readers of her blog became distraught after her "death." Imagine reading someone's story for two years, becoming emotionally invested, communicating with them via email, and then finding out, after dedicating hours of emotional energy, that the whole thing was a hoax. Wired magazine had an article this spring on death bloggers. It explains the impulse may come from the fact that it "feeds the desire of the narcissist and provides the lonely with the attention that they may never previously have known."
Niobe recently wrote about the fact that this could happen--that the Internet is ripe for hoaxes and scams, especially with the fact of even earnest, honest people writing under assumed names. She asked if readers had "ever read someone's story on a blog or forum (no names, please) and suspected that it was was, well, not exactly true? What made you suspicious? And what do you think motivates people like this?" 67 comments later--some repeating the sentiment "how could this happen" and others agreeing that they've read things that have made an internal alarm sound--and it makes you suspicious of everything you read thereafter.
The fact is, the infertility community--even more than other areas of the blogosphere--is ripe for these types of hoaxes. People become emotionally invested in each other's stories and it is too easy to set up a blog and start typing out a tale of woe and find the support you're craving. More than knitting or food, infertility, adoption, and loss are all emotional topics to start. And it does not even have to be an out-and-out hoax to fit this conversation on Internet scams. Someone actually going through IVF can easily stretch the truth and describe OHSS symptoms worse than they are or keep readers on the edge of their seat with dramatic moment after dramatic moment in a cycle.
And in the end, who is hurt by the all-out-hoax or the stretching of truth if no money has been exchanged and the only loss is emotional energy? Limeybean, a story quoted in the Wired article, even threw out the fact that even if a story turns out to be a lie, if a person felt better upon reading it; that it gave them hope or inspiration, was it all bad? It is the question asked at the end of Armistead Maupin's The Night Listener, where a writer befriends a little boy with an amazing tale of enduring abuse and AIDS only to discover that the boy is a fake. The writer still asks the question of the worth of what he learned about himself and life in general through the hoax--and not just the negative idea of not trusting people, but also the true lessons he learned about the ways we endure and triumphant over hardships.
I think we can all say definitively that no one wants their emotions jerked around through lies or fibs. I think most are savvy enough to know how to protect themselves financially or from phishing scams. But how do we open up our heart enough to let a story in while still protecting ourselves emotionally so we're not sucked into a story such as the ones outlined in the Wired article?
Niobe's post stems from an incident that rocked the ALI blogosphere when a woman admitted that she had submitted her children's names to the Names in the Sand project even though they were alive. She wrote on a message board: "If you write born sleeping somewhere on the page she will write your kids names for you - how would she know if they were alive or not, I mean its sad and all but I can't to the beach."
In addition, she writes of a second incident that happened on a message board where a woman claimed to have multiple second trimester losses as well as a neonatal death. Ryan Was Here writes of the incident
This woman (or so I'm assuming) has seemingly disappeared from these online forums, but not without a widespread trail of confused hearts and angry minds. Why on earth would someone WANT to be a dead baby mama, when those of us who had to say goodbye to our beloved babies would give anything to cuddle and caress our little ones just one minute longer? It's infuriating that someone would pretend to have walked in the same shoes as me and many of my friends - and take advantage of our broken hearts.It is difficult to not become cynical when you read stories of Munchausen by Internet and lose your faith in fellow writers who are trying to record their story while connecting with others in a similar community. I have empathy for those who crave the attention so badly that they would resort to fraud, but my true sympathy lies with those who are taken on a ride, who spend hours worried about the person or crying after the loss. Especially when the situation reflects or effects another loss within their life, compounding grief. Those who have lost a child not only mourned with the woman described in Ryan Was Here's post, but also in turn mourn their own losses fully again through the grief of another.
How does one protect themselves from Munchausen by Internet or lesser frauds? How does one still remain open and trusting instead of cynical? Is there any good that come out of fraud, as per Limeybean's suggestion? And, as Niobe asked, have you ever suspected that you were being taken for an emotional ride and if so, did it cause you to step back or keep reading?
Cross posted on BlogHer