I know we’re all aware that the internet is a great place to learn and to connect with others who have similar interests. I’m also certain that we all know that the internet is not a particularly safe or secure place to be sharing our most personal details and information. And yes, some of this post will overlap with the original post, bear with me.
I wanted to go into a few of these things in the hopes that having that extra awareness of the virtual world we log into will allow us all to be just a little bit safer.
The virtual world is a world of anonymity. Anyone can connect to the internet, make a profile or a username somewhere and start talking to other people. This person can claim to be anyone, live anywhere, be of any gender, age, and have any occupation or other background details. You really can’t be sure without knowing them in the real world.
You also can’t know these anonymous person’s motivations for logging in and chatting to you (or anyone else). I would say that the majority of people who log into a social media connection point (forum, chat room, etc…) are doing it for two reasons: boredom and the wish to chat to like-minded individuals.
But there are people who are predatory, who go in looking for personal gain at the expense of others and will lie about themselves, their background, their identity, and their knowledge/experience in order to progress that goal. This is the reason why we need to be aware of the world around us and need to think twice about what we make public about ourselves.
I’m not saying look at everyone sideways with great suspicion. I am saying that what you write on the internet, once it is posted, it is “out there” and can’t be taken back. Even if you delete it, even if the server crashes, even if the website is removed, it is out there and there are people who will be able to find it. So if you’re in a particularly sticky home situation or want to post a photo of someone else that isn’t you without their knowledge, it’s worth thinking about it a bit more. You can’t control who will see or read what you post, and you can’t control their intentions either. So make sure you only post what you’re comfortable sharing with the world.
Some of these motivations can include, but aren’t limited to, identity theft, financial theft (either by retrieving personal information or by scamming), stalking, threatening, and acting from a compulsive mental disorder.
This last one is really the one that doesn’t get discussed much, and it can be very hurtful. There are different scales and extremes to this phenomenon, but to bring my point about awareness home I’m going to share with you one of the most extreme examples.
Munchausen by Internet
Munchausen’s syndrome is a disorder characterized by the individual falsifying symptoms of illnesses in order to get attention. Basically, it’s an attention seeking disorder. They feign an illness or otherwise simulate the symptoms by other means and graciously receive the sympathy and care from others. Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy is characterized by the individual falsifying illness in another person (usually their child) in an effort to gain attention. Often, this involves making the other person ill (poisoning is common). It is a form of abuse, and it can be very severe and life-threatening for the victim.
There is a third form, generally accepted by officials who have been exposed to it (police officers, therapists), but not yet formally recognized in the clinical handbook, called Munchausen by Internet
. In a nutshell, these people use the internet’s anonymity to fabricate their unrealistic lives. They are often very charismatic, and their “lives” tend to be technically realistic (as in, it could happen), but often out of the realm of anything you or I would consider to be normal. Bigger than life, is the phrase that comes to mind. They claim a lifestyle that you or I could only dream of, or they claim an illness, a series of illnesses, or a personal background that seems to be unrealistically negative.
They can often be extremely dedicated to their persona, spending hours posting every day and really building up their "character". They form friendships with you and make you really care about them, although these friendships are based entirely on a lie. They post pictures (sometimes stolen from the Internet) that they claim depict themselves.
Why would someone do something like this? Simply put: attention. They thrive off of the attention that you give to their fake personality. That's why their "lives" are often so improbably tragic -- to get your sympathy and pity. They may also be fishing for your adoration, your praise, your anger, and in some cases, your money. One could consider them to be a particular type of psychic vampire that uses the Internet to feed off of people.
(Yes, we did unfortunately have at least one confirmed case of a Munchausen by Internet troll).
To demonstrate what I’m talking about, here is a fantastic article that describes the experience of a woman who has first-hand experience of this phenomenon.
The Lying Disease
Now that you’re a little disturbed
After all that, with your spidey senses tingling, I just want to bring forth one more point.
Some people lie. A lot of people lie. Especially on the internet. Sometimes it’s about big things, sometimes it’s about little things that really have no consequence. I’m of the personal opinion that if I don’t want to disclose something, I simply won’t and I won’t tell a lie or talk about it cryptically if I don’t wish to share.
But not all lies will become issues. You may feel a bit betrayed if you ever find out something to the contrary, but if you haven’t vested yourself personally in that person it won’t carry the same kind of upset. To keep yourself safe, be aware of what could happen, and remember that for every nasty experience or ill-willed person, there are thousands who are genuinely kind-hearted, honest, and caring.
And lastly, if someone tells you their story and it seems a little far-fetched, don’t automatically assume they’re lying or have Munchausen’s Syndrome. Some people do have legitimately amazing life stories. It can sometimes be a fine line between awareness and paranoia.
Some things to keep in mind to keep yourself safe
If you have any concerns about a particular member, please feel to PM a moderator or an admin.
- • Be aware that what you post on the internet will never be erased, and think twice about posting about other people’s personal lives, details, or photos. You never know who might steal your photos and use them in ways you do not approve of.
• Be cautious, but not condemning, of people whose stories seem far-fetched and unrealistic (particularly if they become increasingly far-fetched as time goes on).
• Listen to your instincts; if something seems off, it probably is. Your subconscious can pick up cues that your conscious mind doesn’t always interpret as quickly. Listen to it.
• Exercise your best judgment about what relationships you invest your time (or money) in.
• Do not give out any personal details or information via the internet. This includes, but is not limited to, addresses, official documents or numbers, phone numbers, (in my opinion) full names, bank account numbers or credit card numbers.