Munchausen by Internet: Faking Death Online
Written by: Jaclyn Popola
Munchausen by Internet is one of these disorders. Regular Munchausen syndrome is a psychiatric disorder in which those affected feign disease, illness, or psychological trauma in order to draw attention or sympathy to themselves; Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a type of abuse in which a caregiver feigns or induces an illness in a person under their care, in order to attract attention, sympathy, or to fill other emotional needs. Munchausen by Internet takes this concept to the realm of cyberspace, to blogging communities, social networking sites and message boards.
SCENARIO #1 Lauren is a long-time member and frequent poster on the message boards over at a pet lover's community. One day, she composes a new post that says something like, "I CAN BARLY TYPE BOTH ARMS R IN CAST OWWW IT HURTS OH DEAR GOD PRAY FOR ME PLEASE!" Community members will respond, obviously concerned, and Lauren's next post will be typed by her "brother" as she dictates, telling him what to say. He will relay a story about how he is sitting next to Lauren in her hospital bed because she fell off the roof/got beat up by her ex-boyfriend/was mugged at gunpoint. Some fakers will even go so far as to say they will be bed-ridden for the next two months and will be so bored. Would anyone mind checking out her Amazon.com wishlist and buying her the books and movies she's been wanting?
SCENARIO #2 Maddy is a blogger who has kept an online diary at LiveJournal.com for over a year. She has amassed a decent number of cyber friends who read her entries daily. One day, out of the blue, her friends log on and see that Maddy's most recent entry says something like this: "My name is Tom, I am Maddy's younger brother. I know her log-in password from when I did the HTML on her profile. I am very sorry to have to inform you all of this, but Maddy was in a car accident last night. The roads were slick from the rain we've been having, and a tractor trailer hydroplaned into the opposite lane and hit Maddy head on. She suffered from numerous injuries to her head and neck, and was bleeding internally. The doctors did everything they could, but it was too late. Maddy passed away this morning at 2:11am. I know she is in a better place now. Please pray for our family to get through this difficult time."
At first, Maddy's online friends will be shocked, and there will be an outpouring of comments expressing their sympathy and remorse. But then someone will remember something, a vague recollection from an earlier time. Didn't Maddy say at one point a few months back that she was an only child? Didn't she mention that she didn't go for her driver's license test yet? Something will arise that plants a seed of suspicion, and all it takes for that seed to germinate is another person voicing their agreement that they feel wary, too.