Kaycee Nicole would be 29 today...if she had ever actually existed
May 19, 2011 7:47 PM Subscribe
Kaycee Nicole was supposed to be a 19-year old college student. She volunteered with then-popular website CollegeClub.com (now offline). She played basketball on her school's team.
And she was dying of leukemia.
Kaycee Nicole had a blog called Living Colours (now so offline that even the wayback machine can't help), on which she chronicled her struggles against cancer. Readers supported her every step of the way, calling her, sending her cards and gifts, and spreading the word about the beautiful young girl who was fighting the good fight.
And then it was over.
On May 16th, 2001, Kaycee's blog was updated with the following: "Thank you for the love, the joy, the laughter and the tears. We shall love you always and forever. Kaycee Nicole passed away May 14, 2001, at the age of 19." Kaycee was dead, during a trip to see the ocean before she died. The administrator of her blog (a Mefite; if he would like to identify himself in this thread he's welcome to, but I hesitate to do it for him), who had been planning a trip to Kansas to meet her, was left stunned and mourning - as were Kaycee's readers.
And then something happened. The day after Kaycee's death was announced, a satirical blog post went up on Saundra Mitchell's blog: "Your Guide to Faking a Life and Death Online". It didn't mention Kaycee by name, but many of the "tips" the post provided aligned with things in Kaycee's story. The day after, Mitchell made another post spelling it out: yes, she had been talking about Kaycee Nicole. In the second post, Mitchell listed things she had researched in an attempt to either verify or disprove Kaycee's story: she'd researched newspaper obituaries both local and non-local to where Kaycee was said to live. She called the local paper in Peabody, Kansas to double-check; the editor there said if any teenaged girl in his area had been dying of leukemia, the paper would have written about it well before it became obituary time. Mitchell suspected that the administrator of Kaycee's blog was in on the hoax due to timestamps and source code found on the blog.
That's where Metafilter came in. In perhaps our first "collective detective" moment, members of the site jumped off from Saundra Mitchell's blog posts and began digging. They turned out a house of cards. Posters discovered that "no one, not even those who spoke to Kaycee frequently by phone, had ever met her in person." Photos of Kaycee were badly photoshopped. All references to Kaycee receiving cards and gifts had been removed from her blog. There were false leads, but evidence continued to mount.
Soon, even her supporters were doubting. And then Debbie confessed. Because Kaycee's blog is offline and inaccessible by Wayback, all that remains are quoted segments of the confession in posts made by other people. "while debbie has admitted to writing the blogs as an amalgam of three people whom she loved who all suffered from various forms cancer, she told me that the stories told in the blogs are real. they happened to these people." "My intentions were good, but that does not begin to excuse me for what I have done. My only desire was to share their triumphs and tragedies in a way that showed their strength, the strength of their families. Those were not false. What they went through was real, I felt a great need to tell the stories of three courageous people who wanted nothing but to be well and live happily into their prime."
Anger was swift, and the news media took notice. The New York Times. The Guardian. An FAQ. A yahoo group so that Metafilter members could continue following the story. Debbie Swenson was investigated by the FBI, which declined to pursue the matter because it hadn't involved sufficient financial losses.
Ten years later, little is available in the news media about Debbie Swenson or the victims of the Kaycee Nicole hoax. What effect has the hoax had?
Well, there's a name for what Debbie did now: Münchausen by Internet. It's happened since; Kaycee Nicole is no longer a unique case. But she's still one of the first.
This post was deleted for the following reason: Heya, you clearly put a bunch of work into rounding this up but I have to agree with the sentiment that since there's not really apparently anything new in all this it feels kind of out of place as a "ten years ago to do in (sort of) Metafilter history..." kind of thing. -- cortex
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