I was alerted to the following article by a moderator who knew a little of my online history on this issue. It’s a lengthy article so be prepared to spend some time digesting the information therein.
“The Lying Disease :Why Would Someone Want to Fake a Serious Illness on the Internet?” by Cienna Madrid
Munchausen is a personality disorder or at least a severe character deficit wherein a person fakes illness to gain attention. Munchausen By Proxy is where an adult, usually the mother, fakes or even injures her own children to gain attention. What is being proposed in this article is the recognition of “Munchausen By Internet” as a legitimate diagnosis so as to address the cases that arise on the Internet. Author Cienna Madrid does such an exceptional job detailing the issue that I see no need for me to rehash her excellent work here. Go read it.
I have been online for almost 25 years starting with the CompuServe forums, then Usenet, email lists and finally blogs and forums. Over those 20-something years I have seen, read, and been directly affected by some of the most bizarre people most of us would never encounter in real life. The FBI has come to my aid in the case of a online sexual predator, and my attorneys over the years have done some serious butt kicking of people who took their obsessions to tortious extremes. Like “Valerie” in the article, I outed fraudulent wedding vendors, usually photographers, on a web site I called ‘Vendor Hall of Shame” many years ago. One photographer took great exception to being outed for client fraud, check kiting, a substantial Better Business Bureau complaint file, and court records of disgruntled clients who could not get their photos. This photographer lied so proficiently about her business and health woes that many readers of the forum not only believed her but at least one prominent wedding photographer came to her defense and readers continued to hire her to do their weddings. Time has a way of wounding all heels and eventually a handful of group regulars discovered to their horror that they could not get their photographs they had paid thousands of dollars from her either. This photographer’s former male business partner would later create a web site using her name as the URL and document the numerous frauds she had committed and been convicted of. At least one blog surfaced documenting further fraud of using fake names to get clients.
Back then I thought I could save people from being harmed online by outing obvious frauds preying on people’s gullibility and that belief garnered harassment that carried over into real life. One thing I learned from this is that most people really do not want to be saved. They want to believe the lies and they hold the delusional idea that they will be immune from the abuse others have experienced. Women in particular want to believe the sob stories and react emotionally instead of objectively to factual data that documents a different reality than the one they want to believe.
With the advances in blog and forum software moderation, it is much easier to detect, eradicate and block those individuals who have crossed the line into being fraudulent and/or obsessive. One of the joys of being an administrator/owner of a site is that I create the law and enforce it for the betterment of my online community. My tolerance level for drama is quite low and I have no problems permanently isolating people who have too much invested in causing grief and trouble. Life is far too short to be spending my thoughts on reforming them or wasting time managing them. Over the years the dispossessed have written to me to warn of my site’s impending demise because I had the audacity to boot allegedly indispensable people from the Ehell forum. Yet year after year, the site continues to prosper, probably due to the site being content driven, not personality driven.
On the Etiquette Hell forum, there exists the potential for Munchausen By Internet and after we had seen some possible examples of this occurring, I created a forum post to address the issue. The terms “troll” and “drama queen” could be substituted with “Munchausen By Internet”. The major highlights:
1. There are trolls on the Internet and Ehell is not immune from them.
2. There are some seriously obsessed/disturbed people online these days. Some of them have stated a life’s mission to troll Ehell. The moderating tools available to admins and mods are quite sophisticated and we use them but sometimes a troll gets in.
3. This forum is not a therapy support group. It has been written in the rules and extensively in threads by mods over the years that we are not equipped to handle issues related to medical problems, mental illness, sexual advice, legal advice and so forth. We are not here to be a support group for any issues other than etiquette faux pas. If a poster requires an inordinate amount of mental health, legal advice, etc that elicits strong feelings of sympathy, that *could* be a warning flag. Your responsibility is to check your emotions, step back and reserve judgment until such time as you have more evidence one way or the other regarding the veracity of the story.
4. Each member is responsible for their own emotional investment in other people’s lives. The moderators cannot shield every member from ever being duped by some clever troll. The moderators will remove trolls once it is determined that member is one.
5. Truth is stranger than fiction sometimes. If I were to discuss a situation I’ve been going through this past year, I’m sure some would call shenanigans. One friend said, “Jeanne, if I didn’t know you in real life and see this unfold, I’d never believe it.” Be very careful how you call shenanigans. It is very acceptable to ask people for clarifications on what you perceive to be holes in the story. Outright claiming they are lying is not acceptable. Ask questions in such a way that it becomes obvious by their own answers that they’ve hung themselves….that’s what we mean by giving people plenty of rope to hang themselves. Some members are very good at setting up great questions and the stupid troll slams the ball right out of the ball park with their answers.
6. There are drama queens on the Internet. But being a drama queen on Ehell means you are using this forum in a manner inconsistent with its mission statement. Moderators have banned a few members whose drama queeniness seems to be a way of life and they contribute nothing of value to the forum other than an incessant whining about the miserable state of their life.
It’s an interesting topic which I am sure will elicit many comments. Be cautious in your comments to not name specific people unless there is documented evidence to support your allegations.