Would I lie to you?
February 26, 2011 10:01 AM   Subscribe

"There's confusion about where the line lies between being a bad person and being ill. Someone who's doing this, I'm afraid, could be both." The Guardian discusses 'Munchausen by Internet'.

MsScribe was never hospitalised, Limeybean never died from tuberculosis, April Rose's mother didn't even have a baby, let alone a terminally ill one, and Kaycee Nicole never existed at all.

Faking serious illnesses online isn't a new thing, and it's not too rare either. In online fandom, it's common enough to warrant sarcastic guides to 'pseucide' ("the painless way to become a source of lasting inspiration!"). Are these people committing 'emotional fraud'? Do they have a a real disorder? Or are we seeing "a revival [...] of the old religious idea that true sanctity cannot be achieved except through the voluntary acceptance of suffering"?

Previously on MeFi
posted by Catseye (49 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
It's just so darn easy to be a fraud on the Internet. But these illness-fakers must have some kind of guilt/remorse issue. I mean, this isn't something silly like making up a boyfriend or something. Even if your disembodied online "friends" think you have terminal cancer, you'll always know, deep inside, that you're lying to everyone, and that would certainly make me feel like so much crap.

Come to think of it, some of these online "friends" could be fakers too! (Sounds like the punchline for a bad joke.)
posted by tamagogirl at 10:18 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

"There's confusion about where the line lies between being a bad person and being ill. Someone who's doing this, I'm afraid, could be both."

So, some mental illnesses manifest in evil actions? Does this mean evil can be cured?

I suppose I should read the article and find out.
posted by philip-random at 10:20 AM on February 26, 2011

This is probably as good a place as any to confess that all those times I told you I had Munchausen by Internet syndrome, I was actually faking it. I hope you can forgive me.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:21 AM on February 26, 2011 [19 favorites]

I'm fascinated with stories like this, elaborate frauds driven not by greed for money but for a deep need to be in the "sick role." When I was a little girl, I went through a brief period of making myself sick (or trying to) in order to get medical attention. I never faked it, and I was angry when anyone suggested that, because I had this clawing bursting sobbing need, and I couldn't think of myself as not sick, not needing help. (Naturally once I grew up a bit, I was horrified at myself, and then for years I wouldn't get myself looked at if I felt sick, but that's sorted out now.)

Being empathetic, I see the same deep and painful need in these people; but I also know that empathetic people are excellent prey for scammers, and tend to keep my e-support to my e-self until I am sure.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:24 AM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

How does somebody like Mandy have the time to carry on such an elaborate ruse? Dawn said that she spent several hours a day with her.
posted by KGMoney at 10:25 AM on February 26, 2011

It's funny to think that the denizens of /b/ and Something Awful will need to study under mommy forum posters in order to level up at trolling.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:38 AM on February 26, 2011 [18 favorites]

Well at least the automated sockpuppets that are infesking the web can't fall sick or if they try it they'll fail miserably at getting the physical symptoms right.
posted by infini at 10:40 AM on February 26, 2011

Tyler Durden?? Seems a weird comparison.
posted by Omnomnom at 10:45 AM on February 26, 2011

I knew someone like this a long time ago, on a message board far away. We thought she had breast cancer. For months, there were stories of her visits in and out of the hospital. She'd disappear for a while, and we would all worry about what her absence meant. People called her, wanted to send her care packages, etc. Details of her illness were a little confusing sometimes, but nobody wanted to say, "Wait. You said THIS last week. Now it's THIS," to someone supposedly very sick.

It was when she claimed a celebrity who was supposed to be on tour elsewhere in the country had visited her at her bedside (but that she couldn't prove this because of HIPAA laws) that someone called her out on it. She exploded in response. How DARE we doubt her? How DARE we accuse her of lying? She now said she was in the hospital for breast reduction surgery, not for cancer treatment and that she would never have said otherwise. And, furthermore, how could we bring this drama into her life when she had just found out she had a brain tumor and wasn't expected to live another week?

In the mean time, she told us, we'd better watch out. She had mafia connections.
posted by katillathehun at 10:46 AM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

Oh no, there's a fandom wank wiki!

You people do realise that I had to open a new Chrome window and minimise the old one because it filled up with TVTropes tabs, don't you? Unread, but full of potential.

posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:46 AM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

CF also claims of valorous military service by the demonstrably desk bound or stateside bound or even never-in-uniform bound. Go too far and there can be legal repercussions.

Odd, that.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:50 AM on February 26, 2011

Not only do the fakers fascinate me, so do those who are taken in. I mean this one woman who denied her husband her company over a nice glass of wine, um what's up with that Very Much?
I enjoy my online time, but I have actual real friends to hang with.
I don't even as a retired person have the time for it. I prefer discussions of the world in general to 'organ recitals' anyway. That includes my own organs.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:50 AM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

It probably says something horrible about me but all this sort of thing I find immensely entertaining. Thanks for the post.

Also, one of the links introduced me to the term MUNCHAUSEN BY PROXY SERVER
posted by jtron at 10:51 AM on February 26, 2011 [11 favorites]

These stories have always upset me and reading more about this breaks my heart. Literally. Pray for me.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:09 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well at least the automated sockpuppets that are infesking the web can't fall sick or if they try it they'll fail miserably at getting the physical symptoms right.

That is accusation most serious and insulting. I am having pains greatly from buboes and flux also.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:15 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Buboes and flux by proxy server

wait,this isn't the sockpuppet name thread
posted by infini at 11:22 AM on February 26, 2011

I like feigning anachronistic illness for attention, such as dropsy and ague.


my god, the pain
posted by everichon at 11:24 AM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

Stories like Msscribe's, along with constant whinging from people of my acquaintance about their health status, have made me very aware of when and how I talk about my health status online. I always feel like even mentioning in passing that I'm not feeling well will be taken as a plea for sympathy (and possibly a lie) because of cases like the ones described in the post.
posted by immlass at 11:34 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

> Not only do the fakers fascinate me, so do those who are taken in.

I'd be one of those who was taken in. Looking back on it with 20/20 hindsight, there were plenty of things that should have raised red flags, but for one reason or another, didn't (in the following links, I've changed the person's name to Xebeth, "the demon of overactive imaginations — author of lies, miraculous tales, and fancies," as found in the book Who In Hell, A Guide to the Whole Damned Bunch).

A few years ago, a high school friend (and my first "girlfriend") found me on the 'net and reestablished contact. We still got along, she flew out to visit and meet my girlfriend, they got along, and everything seemed fine. She flew back home, and we continued to stay in touch via email, phone, and video chat.

A few months after her visit, she broke the news to us that she had a rare disease and, without some extremely risky and rare surgery, probably only had about ten months to live.

The next few months were a roller coaster ride of reports on her medical condition, sent sometimes by herself and sometimes by friends of hers. In the midst of all of this, during one of her better periods, she even paid two days in Vegas for her, me, and my girlfriend -- airfare, hotel, and all.

Slowly, here and there, my girlfriend and I would have moments of doubt. Small details wouldn't seem to add up, questions would go unanswered or deflected. Still, we kept finding ways and reasons to dismiss them. After all, this wasn't just some anonymous name somewhere across the 'net: this was someone who had been part of my circle of friends in high school, who I had dated (however clumsily), who had actually come out to visit us. Nowhere in all of this had she ever tried to get anything from us other than sympathy and support. Not only had she not tried to get any money from us, but she'd flown to visit us on her own dollar, and had paid for our trip to Vegas. Parts of it seemed odd, yes, but it certainly didn't feel like a scam.

Eventually, of course, the house of cards came crashing down. Too many details were starting to conflict, too many miraculous saves or convenient happenings appeared. Eventually, I started digging and forcing the issue: researching more about this disease and its effects (and beginning to seriously doubt whether she actually had it) and treatment (which was nothing like what she had told us). I found out that the email addresses that her friends had used to communicate with us were from generic vanity email sites (teacher.net and the like). We compared writing styles, phrases, and typos in the messages we received, and started to suspect that she'd been the one writing all of the messages, creating false identities to prop up her side of the story. Once we were pretty sure of our suspicions, I confronted her on the phone...and despite denials, protestations, and tears, it was clear that little to nothing she'd told us was true.
A short and not at all comprehensive list of what we believe to be fabrications:
  • Xebeth is not suffering from a rare and little-known form of malignant hyperthermia. She may have malignant hyperthermia, but we have not been able to find any information on any form other than the admittedly somewhat uncommon, but known, treatable, and preventable form of MH that is generally triggered by anesthetics during surgery.
  • She is not facing immanent death. Not this week, month, year, or in the foreseeable future (at least, no more than any of the rest of us are).
  • She does not appear to be a published author in the education field.
  • She did not legally change the spelling of her name to use a ‘y’ instead of an ‘e’ shortly after either her eighteenth or twenty-second birthday (each of which were presented at one point or another).
  • She did not receive an extremely rare, virtually unheard of nearly full-body muscle transplant that replaced around 80-90% of her degenerating muscle mass with healthy donor muscles from an organ donor.
  • She did not get divorced from her husband after he
    • locked her away from access to her finances while she was in the hospital,
    • cheated on her as she was in the hospital,
    • viciously beat her as she lie half-paralyzed in her hospital bed,
    • was discovered to have faked his own vasectomy (by going to a movie during the assumed day surgery, then ‘faking’ the discomfort for the next few days) after a prior friend of Xebeth’s was discovered to be pregnant with twins fathered by him.
    All in all, we think that while we were led to believe that she and her husband were having some rather major issues culminating in the dissolution of their marriage due to his being a complete and utter shlub, we now believe that he’s probably a good guy overall…he just happens to be married to someone who’s not able to live in the world as the rest of us know it.

  • We’re pretty sure that e-mail conversations that we believed we were having with Xebeth’s husband, two close friends, her mother, and one lawyer were actually false identities set up by Xebeth using multiple e-mail accounts at various free vanity domains.

A long, sad, and screwed-up situation. We've not had any contact with this girl since that final phone call.

Perhaps the worst part about the whole thing was how much it affected our ability to trust others. We've come a long way in regaining that in the few years since all of this happened, but it's definitely something that still occasionally affects us.
posted by djwudi at 12:03 PM on February 26, 2011 [19 favorites]

Tyler Durden?? Seems a weird comparison.

I'm thinking it's meant to be a reference to the nameless main character of Fight Club. He attends support groups and fakes various illnesses, as does Marla Singer.
posted by Baethan at 12:07 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

........"muscle transplant"?
posted by jokeefe at 12:08 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, well. I can't claim to always be as intelligent as I like to think I am...or, perhaps, even should be.
posted by djwudi at 12:12 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tyler Durden?? Seems a weird comparison.

I thought so, too.
posted by Marla Singer at 12:12 PM on February 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

posted by djwudi at 8:03 PM on February 26 [+] [!]

I don't believe any of that for a second
posted by Catfry at 12:17 PM on February 26, 2011

I tend to assume people are lying about anything they tell me on the internet that is not dead boring.
posted by winna at 12:21 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

> I don't believe any of that for a second

Whoops, you got me. It's a case of Münchausen by Münchausen by Internet (MBMBI).
posted by djwudi at 12:27 PM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

Don't let it happen again
posted by Catfry at 12:28 PM on February 26, 2011

Oh man if muscle transplants were possible there would be gangs of gay men roaming the streets armed with chloroform and scalpels. For the harvest. The sexy harvest.

I shall be their leader.
posted by Avenger at 12:39 PM on February 26, 2011 [8 favorites]

I have strep throat and I've been stuck at home for days. I do not, however, expect any sympathy.

Just please keep being interesting; I'm starting to get bored.
posted by flaterik at 12:49 PM on February 26, 2011

I like feigning anachronistic illness for attention, such as dropsy and ague.

I suffer greatly from catarrh by internet miasma.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:55 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's not just sicknesses. I used to hang out in WWII flight sim forums and there was a guy who claimed his dad was a B17 pilot in the war, and that he had a B17 that he was restoring.

After he was found out (there aren't that many B17s) he continued to hang out in Avsim forums

There was another fellow - Voss - who used to hang out in Alt.flightsims and he claimed he was shot down in the first iraq war and a bunch of other BS. He got found out because apparently the Military keeps records of which pilots need new aircraft.

People faking military service has apparently been a pretty big problem for VFWs and other groups as well.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:07 PM on February 26, 2011

I am suddenly wondering how many miscarriages on pregnancy fora are legit.

And now I'm wondering if I'm a bad person for wondering this.
posted by sonika at 1:15 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

My terminal beri-beri is causing me to try an incredibly rare and risky full body replacement surgery. Just so you all know if I don't post in the next couple days.
posted by happyroach at 1:25 PM on February 26, 2011

I'm thinking it's meant to be a reference to the nameless main character of Fight Club. He attends support groups and fakes various illnesses, as does Marla Singer.

Ah, that makes sense. I was thinking the Fight Club doesn't really compare to, say, a breast cancer support group!
posted by Omnomnom at 1:26 PM on February 26, 2011

I want you all to know that I have just died from the English Sweate. My funeral will be held just after the next episode of Supernatural is over at the Don't Google This Church . In lieu of flowers, send Clex mpregs.
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 1:55 PM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Interesting; I just finished Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride yesterday.

Liars are a sad bunch. I've run into a couple in my life. They can get really good at what they do.
posted by wires at 2:21 PM on February 26, 2011

MetaFilter: Munchausen by proxy server.
posted by scalefree at 2:30 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

OK, weird but relevant question. Are there any forums for victims of compulsive liars? Cause that would be simultaneously horrifying & fascinating.
posted by scalefree at 2:39 PM on February 26, 2011

Are there any forums for victims of compulsive liars?

I don't know but that would be a great venue to troll for unwarranted sympathy!
posted by clarknova at 2:49 PM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

psst, happyroach, try eating some whole wheat toast.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:57 PM on February 26, 2011

My terminal beri-beri...

Mmm. Berry Berry Kix. Whatever happened to that stuff?
posted by katillathehun at 3:08 PM on February 26, 2011

Faking an illness to get sympathy on an online forum is the kind of thing that would have gotten your ass kicked quickly by me and my fellow soldiers when I was in the Marine Core.
posted by lord_wolf at 3:12 PM on February 26, 2011 [14 favorites]

The most egregious faker yet, maybe -- not of illness per se, but of having survived the WTC attack: Alicia Esteve Head. "In February 2008 an email [...] to members of the World Trade Center Survivors Network claimed that Head had committed suicide." Horrible all around; and no one seems to know for sure, or want to to find out, if she actually killed herself.

Sorry for the tangent, but this seems like the same kind of thing, writ even larger. So this is what can happen when severe personality disorders go unchecked? Just incredibly disturbing.
posted by FrauMaschine at 4:10 PM on February 26, 2011

I find this all fascinating. This sort of thing sometimes happens even in a fully non-online context, as anyone who has heard of the fake Stanford student will agree.
posted by forza at 4:32 PM on February 26, 2011

Regarding being one of those taken in, I had a roommate for a year who was a pathological liar, with a fake medical condition for sympathy ... she had imaginary Lyme Disease. It was this constant string of low-level crises, lots of visits to the doctor (the library? for all I know) ... it was pretty convincing, because all she really had to do at home was feel "under the weather." And cry a lot. I remember feeling irritated with her because she wouldn't take CONTROL and FIX a lot of the other problems in her life, just complain about them, but like I had to be gentle because she was ill.

Eventually it all fell apart, in all aspects of her life, and one of the things I learned that was true was that she'd been sexually abused as a small child (by a church leader, IIRC) and her parents' response was to tell her not to "talk dirty" or "make things up" and let it continue. I felt like the abuse, her parents accusation that she was lying about it, and her adult pathological lying must all have been connected ... as well as her desire to go into ministry. After the lying fell apart, however, the people in charge of overseeing ministry students for her congregation ruled she was too psychologically unhealthy to continue with her degree and was forbidden from pursuing ordination. Which was to the good for potential future parishioners, but sent her into an even deeper spiral of lying, craziness, and acting out. I lost track of her about a year after she moved it, but it wasn't going well at that point.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:30 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Now I don't feel so bad about being inside and posting on an online forum at 8:44 local time on a Saturday night.

No matter how much of my time and energy I might waste on online diversions, I never stooped this fucking low.
posted by jason's_planet at 5:45 PM on February 26, 2011

Well there is a collection of links at the end of the pseuicide page, I suppose that'll have to do for now.
posted by scalefree at 6:53 PM on February 26, 2011

I had a friend in primary school who was a compulsive liar, and claimed that she had a twin that died at birth so that we would feel sorry for her.

She also claimed that Madonna once visited her to cheer her up about it.

It's sad that some people never grow out of this deluded behaviour.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:51 AM on February 28, 2011

I'm not surprised that folks can be fooled online, after I saw how convincing someone can be in real life. Around 20 years ago I was engaged to a guy and everyone *thought* his sister had cancer. He wold take her to her chemo appointments and drop her off at the hospital (where she happened to work.) She worked in the pharmacy, so had access to the drugs as well. I don't recall how long this carried on, but no one realized she was lying until she had to be hospitalized. Her family finally talked to doctors themselves and found out she never even had cancer, but apparently gave herself the chemo drugs (they were put under stricter controls after that.) She did not make it.

I never heard exactly what might have happened in her life to trigger this sort of behavior, but I did find out (after I had broken up with her brother) that he was a frequent liar as well, just nothing life-threatening.
posted by allpaws at 6:59 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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