Saturday, January 28, 2012
Dear Hoaxer, thanks for the poems
‘I write very good poems / when people die,’ I declared recently. Those lines were the start of one such poem, one of several I wrote in mourning for an online friend who had died from a brain tumour not long after her 18th birthday. I also blogged about the experience here, but have now removed those blogs.
I was not the only one intensely grieved, nor the only one to post about it. One young woman tweeted her grief and was unpleasantly surprised to receive a communication to the effect that the supposed dead girl had told a different online community that she was dying of leukemia; her supposed cousin had later advised them of her death before she turned 18, and at his request the members of that community created a memorial page for her. The administrators smelt a rat at some of the cousin’s communications, tracked the IP address, found it the same as the not-so-dead girl’s, called her on it and eventually received a confession and a promise to seek therapy. (I seriously doubt that she has done so.)
This was all happening at the same time as the same girl was telling us, in the online community where I encountered her, that she was dying of a brain tumour. No-one announced her death to us, and she was still posting after turning 18, though more and more briefly (due, we understood, to the exigencies of her condition). At a certain point her journals were deleted, and when I Googled her name I found one of her paintings on tumblr, definitely hers, with a notice under her name: R.I.P. 1993-2011 — which seemed conclusive.
Since the revelations from the other group, I’ve done a lot more research online and found a number of records from the College she attended. It is clear there was, and most probably is, a girl of that name. She is not the same girl, though, as appears in the photos she posted — they are clearly pictures of one of her classmates; in the school photos they often appear together, having both been involved in school dramatic productions. The girl of the same name was/is a writer, just like our online friend; this is mentioned by the school as one of her achievements. She had a high profile at school last year (her final year), was a prefect and something of a leader, and was obviously well thought of by her teachers. The girl belonging to the photos was apparently in the same class as the one belonging to the name.
So which one did we interact with? Or was it both, and they cooked it up between them? Did one steal the other’s identity, or part of it? Did someone else steal bits of both? It can happen. A young Aussie poet friend of mine — whom I know well in real life, I hasten to add — had her identity stolen a few years back by a crazed young woman who pretended online to be her, and stole and used her poems and other details. In that case the offender was traced, brought to justice and made to stop, but it left my friend traumatised for some time. In the present case, though, we are not aggrieved parties in the same way and there is no question of getting the police involved. However, identity theft is one possibility.
We don’t actually know who we were communicating with under that guise for those many months; could have been either of the two girls, either one secretly ripping off the other. Or maybe one of their classmates used aspects of them both. From the detailed knowledge shown, it would have to have been someone from the same class, take my word for it — or just possibly one of their teachers, though from the nature of the posts I think that less likely.
Putting together several people’s experiences with her, emails received, plus further research, I have uncovered so many lies and discrepancies that it has to have been a deliberate hoax. There is simply no way of avoiding that conclusion. We liked the person we thought we knew! — even felt great affection for her, enough to be intensely grieved at her untimely death. Therefore we have resisted believing she was false, but it must be so. Just the mere fact of a name belonging to one girl attached to photos of another points to deliberate deceit. No, it’s not a matter of transposed captions or anything like that. Many of them were photos of the one girl only, definitely presented as being of the other.
She was very convincing as to medical details, and struck just the right emotional tone in the posts after she supposedly became ill (no melodrama or anything like that). And she had built up a relationship with each of her online friends over long periods. Why???
Well, she is a young novelist, so perhaps she was exploring plot and the creation of character? By saying this, I acknowledge that I believe we were given the correct name and false photos. I believe it because she also posted her fiction and poetry online in the same community, with a connection between the two journals. But then, my real-life friend had her writing stolen and posted — under her real name but not by her real self — so it’s impossible to know for sure.
A girlfriend and I once engaged in a hoax, not meaning it maliciously. We both had poems we thought good enough to share, but so personal concerning other people that if we’d made them public under our real names it could have caused all kinds of upsets. Our approaches to poetry are similar enough that we thought we could get away with collecting them under the same fictitious name. She’s no techie, so I was the one who found a small blogging community, signed up as the created persona, and started posting.
The trouble with social networking is, you’re supposed to network. Nice people liked the poems, commented, which obliged me to comment back on their own stuff, and tried to make friends. I could either enter into full-scale deception, getting more and more entangled — which I didn’t, because I had neither the time nor inclination — or remain aloof to the point of rudeness, which I didn’t because I didn’t want to hurt nice people. Instead I closed the account. So much for that experiment!
I have been wondering if it was mere youth or actual mental disturbance which had our present hoaxer remain so unaware or indifferent about the hurt she was inflicting, letting people who cared about her imagine her dying so tragically. Then I remembered the leukemia story for the other group, and the request for a memorial page. Mental disturbance, I think.
Should it make me suspicious of all my other online friends? I don’t think so. Most people are fairly transparent and easy to track. She was trackable too, as it turned out — or at least, the person she claimed to be was — which is what revealed the deceptions.
Perhaps I should be angry, but so far not. When all’s said and done, although the truth (as far as we can guess it) is pretty creepy, it is still much better than an 18-year-old being dead of a brain tumour. I’m feeling kind of stupid with relief — or maybe shock. Also exhausted from the detective work. And I’m ready to let go of it all, in the conviction that we’ll never find out all the facts. She has stopped communicating. End of story, for us if not for her.
A long time ago I was married very briefly to a compulsive liar. After that was over, I realised there were stories he told that I was simply never going to know the truth of — maybe even he didn’t — and life was too short to continue banging my head on brick walls. I feel desperately sorry for a young girl who needs to create such deceptions, but she’s beyond my help.
I’m leaving the poems up on my poetry blog, though. They are good, and they sprang from genuine feeling at the time. ('No gain without pain'? Hey, no pain without gain!) But the accompanying photo has gone.
Postscript, a day later
This has been an education! I have now learned that this story is not an isolated incident but an example of a syndrome, sometimes known as Münchausen by Internet. If you Google that phrase, there is a lot of material.
PS 2 See also my next post.