Monday, January 18, 2010

Deceived by Monsters

The Internet has become such an integral part of all our lives that very few of us can do without it. It has made our daily lives easier and the world accessible to all. Social Networking Sites has also become a tool used by many to stay in touch with friends and family, meet new people and maybe even find that all elusive soul mate. However, with the good also comes the bad: Some people use the Internet with malicious intent, some are predators feeding off the gullible and others want to satisfy their own demented fantasies leaving a trail of virtual victims in their data tracks. This led me to ask: Do we really know who we are chatting to on the other side of our Internet cable?
Last week I reported on the suicide of a person that was one of my Facebook friends. We chatted a few times, he had mentioned wanting to come out of the closet and sometime during December 2009, whilst doing “cyber housekeeping”, I deleted him as a friend as I had reached my friend limit on that site. Learning of his suicide I was devastated as is evident from my blog post “Rather Have a Gay Child than a Dead Child?”. The issue of gay teen suicide has long been a matter of grave concern and an issue very dear to me. By Friday it was revealed that the whole thing was a hoax. By Saturday it was confirmed through the media. I was shocked, angry, felt abused and also embarrassed for being gulable and deceived to this extend. The perpetrator of this hoax had made a mockery of teen suicide, tarnished the image of the gay community and damaged the integrity of my blog!

From reports it was learned that the profile was fake and possibly as many as 3 other profiles are linked to the same account. This amount to 4 profiles (possibly more) all managed by the same person who nobody knows, have ever met and the motive behind the hoax and future malevolent endeavours of this person is anybody’s guess. Over 1200 people we distraught with grief, including myself. Over 1200 people were lied to and upset over the “suicide” of a very convincing and totally fictional character.
This is nothing new as many people misrepresent themselves on the Internet: The old socially maladjusted overweight guy posing as a twenty year old hunk, the fourteen year old girl pretending to be 18, the sexual offender looking for his next victim. We all know they are out there, and chances are you have chatted to one of them. The anonymity the Internet provides makes it very easy for any person to create a whole different persona for themselves – the person they wish they were or the shadow that lurks in the deepest disturbing fantasies they no longer can or have to suppress. In this virtual realm they can say and do things they would never do in the real world. They can live vicariously through their alter ego and when they tire of it just discard it or in this case kill it off. However, not all such instances are innocent and some of these individuals pose a severe threat.
It is well known that paedophiles prowl around in Chat Rooms and Social Networking Sites, patiently enticing their potential victims into their web with attractive lies. They gain their victims trust and before long the damage is done and a child is hurt. The frightening aspect is that some victims never even know they have been done any harm. I learned of a paedophile that pretended to be the same age as his victims and convinced them to send him pornographic photos of themselves all of which ended up on several child pornography websites. Once these images are on the web there is no way of stopping its distribution after it has been downloaded! This does not only happen to children and many adults have been victimized in the same manner.
The virtual dating scene is another sea of data to be sailed with caution. Who’s to say the profile picture you see is indeed the person you will meet? How much can one really learn about another person just from e-mails and online chatting? I know of a few people who have met the love of their lives on the Internet, and yes I am sure there are many success stories. However, horror stories are also abundant. It’s easier for some people to communicate over the Internet and have a whole relationship that includes cybersex with another person. The fantasy of a perfect partner sustain these relationships but once the relationship is brought into reality it soon disintegrates as pressures of the real world and real needs burns away the illusion. Some discover truths about their online partner’s shady past too late, some people gained stalkers instead of lovers, and some people received regret instead of love.
I too now have my own Internet horror story of deception and embarrassment. For some reason I believe, deep down, we want to trust people and believe what they say is true. Does this make us gullible? Maybe it does! We sometimes forget as we enter the virtual world real human beings also venture there with us and we can’t see them as they truly are. In some instances only a computer screen, keyboard and an internet connection stands between us and monsters.

Till next time.

The Perils Of Internet Dating

15 comments:

Jenn Thorson said...

What a twist-conclusion to your discussion of the other day! While it's a relief that no one really was hurt, this not only trivializes the issues of depressed teens, but regrettable gives anti-gay detractors something to point to and say, "See, it's all posturing, they'll do anything for their cause/to get attention."

I know myself of one blogger who wasn't who he pretended to be online; he was apparently taking content from others and leveraging (convincingly) the content as his own. Folks felt they knew him. His persona was consistent. People interacted directly with him. And he was completely made-up.

Most of the time I feel I have decent intuition about people and what's posturing/what isn't. But this time I hadn't guessed.

The Internet is definitely a place of Buyer Beware-- even when it comes to personalities.

ChrisJ said...

I think that you did a good thing with your post about the "suicide." You wrote powerfully about something that is all too real, even if not in that particular case.

And because of the deception, you demonstrated the real grief that people feel.

Don't get me wrong, here, I think this deception was despicable and hurt many people; just saying that what you did with it was a positive thing.

The dating video is priceless.

Pierre said...

@ Jenn Thorson, I couldn't agree with you more. What that person did with the hoax is unforgivable and like I said it tarnished the integrity and image of the gay community as a whole. Furthermore, I am outraged that this now also put a blemish on my blog's integrity.

However, it's important for me to write the truth and when I make a blunder (as I did for falling for the hoax) I will stand up and admit it. I respect everyone of my readers and you deserve nothing less than honesty.

It just goes to show how many dangers there are out there, and the Internet seems to have become the playground for some people with ominous intentions. At least I learned an important lesson from this.

@ ChrisJ, thanks. I appreciate the kind words. It's never nice to have your emotions played with. It's even worse to think that someone thought it funny to fake a suicide. What kind of sick mind would conjure up such a thing? How sad and lonely such a person must be?

planetspinz said...

Surfing the Internet since before AlGore invented it, I learned that there is only one person I can trust - me - and sometimes I can't even trust my own judgment. But the Internet just connects us with more dishonorable people than we meet in our everyday lives.

Pierre said...

@ planetspinz, this is also true. But we should also look at all the positive things people can achieve with the Internet: Access to information and in the GLBT community how many people we can actually help through blogs and other websites.

I don't think a few individuals doing bad things (like the hoax) should detract from all the good and positive things the Internet has provided us the opportunities for.

For instance, what about all the bloggers that notify us of atrocities being committed in their countries (like what is happening in Uganda, what happened in Rwanda) before the mainstream media even paid attention.

We should appreciate the fact that we have this technology, that we all have a voice and freedom of speech (in some countries) and use the Internet for the greater good.

One of my motto's in life is: It only takes one person to make a difference, so let that one person be you!

Ann Martin Photography BLOG said...

Shame on that person for making up such a sad tale.

Todd M Dobson said...

Hello Pierre,

Beautiful words for the reality that is the Online World. I wish I could take away that feeling you first felt when you found the deception. You may have been misled, but you did a wonderful thing by putting a face to a horrible reality; some families accept their children after they come out, while others never skip a beat with love.

You are so right in all that you conveyed in this post, but as with life, there is a balance to all things. With the right balance of skepticism and belief, we must garner the courage to move into this new world openly. You write as you do long enough you will find those who laugh because they were able to deceive you as it showed up in your blog. Who is the sad one? The writer who uses life as fodder for his writings; or the person who can claim they fooled the writer?

Regardless of the reason you wrote your last blog, you gave a voice to a hideous problem. If just one mother or father rad your words and changed their way of thinking, wow that makes what you wrote powerful, true, sincere and worthy it. I know the feelings you felt when this ruse came out, I too have been taken advantage of by similar circumstance; but your post may be the exact message some parents need to hear. Know that you are right and true, regardless of how you were led to the story.

Regards - Todd

Pierre said...

@ Ann Martin Photography BLOG, I second that.

@ Todd M Dobson, thank you! I also believe that the issue of GLBT Suicide is far to important and prevalent to have the gravity of this problem diminished by thelack of judgment of one person. This is why I decided not to delete the post, but rather keep it on my blog but inform people of the context. Just because a hoax prompted me to write it doesn't mean that it's not a reality in our world and not happening everyday.

Ashley said...

Pierre,
I had a similar situation happen to me, when I believed my bisexual friend had committed suicide. Causing people grief by faking a suicide is despicable, but it goes to show just how real LGBT suicide is, and the larger problem of how we can treat those who we believe are different than us horribly.

-Ashley

Cupcake said...

I agree that we ALL want to believe that we can trust people... We all want to give ourselves over to be gullible. The sad truth is that we live in a society of assholes that feed off 'trusting' and 'gullible' in other words the people of integrity and value get screwed! We end up bitter, angry and suspicious of every person we meet. What are their motives and intentions? Hmmmm? So much to think about!

Pierre said...

@ Ashley, very true!

@ Cupcake, at least there are some good people out there as well. Sometimes they are just a little bit harder to distinguish from those who are not.

nothingprofound said...

I'm greatly relieved the whole thing was a hoax and no young life was lost. People get their kicks in the strangest way. I agree with what others have said: your post was valuable and worthwhile even if the particular incident it was based on was fabricated. It certainly helped open my eyes wider to a situation I was only dimly aware of.

Pierre said...

Thanks nothingprofound, many people in the gay community and many gay rights groups are absolutely furious about this hoax, as am I! It has also been reported in the South African media. So it has received a lot of attention, an the responsible party(s) probably are very pleased with themselves and completely oblivious to the actual damage done.

I am pleased that even though it was a hoax, and I published the article in good faith (at the time) it is still able to convey a message of warning to parents of gay teens. It's just a pity that the weight of the message has since lessened due to the fraud and deception of the hoaxer(s).

Jackrabbit said...

Wow, just.... wow. (shakes head).

I'm torn between my relief that nobody's dead and my extreme urge to strangle the little so-and-so... you don't just play with stuff like that, you know?

In any case, the damage has been done. But, on the other side of things, I hope there was some good that comes out of this-- namely, sparking some good dialogue about what's a REAL issue.

On the other hand, I think it needs to be asked: is this level of deception really a unique problem of the Internet, or does the Internet just make it easier to do what people have always done? People lie all the time about who they are and jerk people around like this. The Internet does, however, mean that there are fewer consequences to pulling it off. What are the chances this person will get caught?

Pierre said...

Jackrabbit, you make an excellent point! The Internet makes it easier for dishonest people to get away with their deceptions and there is little to no consequences. In South Africa there are a couple of people in the GLBT community trying to find out who this hoaxer is. Whether we will find him, is still unsure.

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