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6 Bumps

Münchausen by Internet

I've been a member of web communities that have been devestated by this behavior, and we've all seen them here over the years.  I wasn't aware there was an actual, clinical name for it, or that papers have been written on it.  (for those unfamiliar, it's people who fake illnesses for attention online, and it's pathological).  This is from the wiki page describing the impact it has on the communities where they do it:

"Forum members whose ruses are discovered by their support groups are frequently banned from such communities—sometimes after demanding that site administrators do so—moving to other websites to display other ailments. Denise Grady noted in The New York Times that the woman with the eating disorder moved to a group for sexual abuse survivors then another where she claimed to be dying of AIDS.[8] An article in The Weekend Australian highlighted an example of this in 2003: a woman in London admitted to belonging to online support forums dedicated to helping members cope with migraines, grieving over dead children, and breast cancer, all at the same time. She told a psychiatrist that she would study a specific malady and subsequently present herself with its symptoms; her time at each forum followed a daily schedule.[17] Others disappear and simply stop posting, such as the monk who claimed to have cancer.[2]

When confronted with inaccuracies or inconsistencies, those who are suspected of perpetrating fabrications may compound the deceit by accusing forum members of imposing greater stresses upon them, exacerbating their conditions, or worsening their depression. Users may employ sockpuppets—separate online identities controlled by the same person—to accuse other forum members of disloyalty and persecution, or support the user who is under suspicion.[1][13] Feldman's 1998 article in the Western Journal of Medicine notes a case in which a member of a support group for people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome created a husband, sister-in-law, and family friend who simultaneously engaged in arguments with and about the original member; when the amount of attention directed toward the original member became inadequate, she claimed the sister-in-law committed suicide in response to the lack of support.[2]


Because no money is exchanged and laws are rarely broken, there is little legal recourse to take upon discovery of someone faking illness.


Such dramatic situations often polarize online communities, making many members feel ashamed for believing elaborate lies while others remain staunch supporters. Members who admit to feigning their conditions often respond by implicating the gullibility of forum members, suggesting it is their own fault for being deceived.[1][20] Feldman admits that an element of sadism may be evident in some of the more egregious abuses of trust.[13] A grief counselor named Pam Cohen, who witnessed the outpouring of emotion for Kaycee Nicole, likened the personal devastation resulting from genuine concern, sympathy, and support that forum members gave to the 19-year-old and her mother only to discover none of it was true, to "emotional rape".[6][9] Joinson and Dietz-Uhler in Social Science Computer Review, address deception perpetrated on some forums—specifically IRC and multi-user dungeons—and state that masquerading is so common that hoaxes are expected, and their perpetrators are sometimes even praised for creating realistic ones.[12]

Other perpetrators react by issuing general accusations of dishonesty to everyone, following the exposure of such fabrications. The support groups themselves often bar discussion about the fraudulent perpetrator, in order to avoid further argument and negativity. Many forums do not recover, splintering or shutting down.[6][9] In 2004, members of the blog hosting service LiveJournal established a forum dedicated to investigating cases of members of online communities dying—sometimes while online. Writer Howard Swains referred to the online deaths as "pseuicides" in[18] New Zealand PC World Magazine called Münchausen by Internet "cybermunch", and those who posed online "cybermunchers".[21] The LiveJournal forum reported in 2007 that of the deaths reported to them about 10% were real.[22]"

After reading all of it and thinking back on the damage done where we had a memorial for someone who faked her own death (as well as inventing an abusive husband), I wondered - could one "cybermunch" be enough to destroy an entire online community with the neediness and people taking sides to either defend or point out the lies?

Answer Question

Asked by NotPanicking at 5:26 PM on Dec. 28, 2013 in Health

Level 51 (421,174 Credits)
Answers (20)
  • You see this type of behavior on that show Catfish too, where people have many online persona's to feel love, power, etc. and it's all a lie. I am confused though where it says "Because no money is exchanged and laws are rarely broken, there is little legal recourse to take upon discovery of someone faking illness". What sort of legal recourse would there be? Just because Jane Doe said she had cancer for support and didn't actually have cancer, is that really a crime?
    I guess this would depend on the situation as I have never been a victim of that sort of treachery, I guess it could be devastating to find out a friend and confidant was a big liar.

    Answer by CKel at 5:33 PM on Dec. 28, 2013

  • Sometimes one is enough to destroy a whole group, sometimes the group can rally. The whole thing is crazy and people who perpetuate it need serious help. It is hard to be taken in by someone and then find out everything you thought you knew was a lie. That is why I tend to be cynical about people and what they say online.

    Answer by kmath at 6:01 PM on Dec. 28, 2013

  • I admit to not knowing which member faked her own death. Most people know that keeping track of members is not my gig.
    In light of the article and other reading I have done, I would say we have been victimized by these sorts of posts over the years.
    I think that one person, with several online personalities can do a great deal of damage to a site such as ours.
    I am not sure that only one person is posting all this type of crap as well as the by proxy type of crap involving real or pretend loved ones.
    The best way we can thwart these people, once it is more clear that what is being posted is fabricated, is to stop responding to them. The lack of replies means a lack of attention. One person was giving me a slightly difficult time and when she posted a question or a responded to another post, I simply ignored her and eventually she went away, or at least, left me alone.

    Answer by Dardenella at 6:11 PM on Dec. 28, 2013

  • I do think that it would be better if Admin investigated the entire string of posts in these situations but that would mean that we would have to report a string of the same type of posts. I am not too much on complaining to admin but I have done it.

    I do think it is up to us whether the site grows or dies and it is determined by our own actions and reactions.

    Answer by Dardenella at 6:14 PM on Dec. 28, 2013

  • We see some of this here and we see the polarization it causes. I think it most definitely can cripple online communities. I also did not know there was a specific terminology for it but I've not only seen it here, but in other online communities.

    Answer by Brawn at 6:47 PM on Dec. 28, 2013

  • Wow this is interesting. Im always amazed the lengths people will go to get this kind of attention. Its so bizarre to me. I imagine it could take only one fucktard to split up an entire community and destroy it by their outrageous lies.

    Answer by sahmamax2 at 6:53 PM on Dec. 28, 2013

  • That's going on here as we speak and how dare anyone speak the truth or what I may perceive to be the truth put out there by the OP because all the sympathizers who only choose to read between the lines, rally to their defense.
    It's made me want to stay away. If I can't agree to disagree with a thread w/o repercussions from other members, why put down my opinion?

    Answer by KTElite at 6:57 PM on Dec. 28, 2013

  • Well, I do have to agree with you there KTElite. And I do have to admit that I too, back off on occasion when it seems that putting down an answer is considered throwing a gauntlet. Part of the reason I come to this and a couple other forums is to hear what other people think and to hear about their different experience as well as to share my own..

    Answer by Dardenella at 7:10 PM on Dec. 28, 2013

  • Because no money is exchanged and laws are rarely broken, there is little legal recourse to take upon discovery of someone faking illness"

    Fraud in general. CM is a little more public than other places (not that it stops some people from sharing their entire life to the last detail). In some of those forums, though, people are sharing very intimate info, especially in cases like abuse survivors or support groups for women who've lost babies. Lying about an illness or condition for attention cheapens the reality of the people who are really dealing with it. For some, they may never trust anyone to talk about it again after being betrayed like that. The problem is you can't put a money value on that kind of mental anguish.

    Comment by NotPanicking (original poster) at 7:23 PM on Dec. 28, 2013

  • It does have the potential to be devastating to any online community. We've seen similar things happen here, and I honestly think that's why Answers has become what it is today. There is no trust that new people are who/what they say they are, and because of that there is only sarcasm and disbelief when answering a question.

    Answer by anime_mom619 at 7:29 PM on Dec. 28, 2013

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