Who shall I be today?

State Farm released a commercial last summer called “Can’t Lie on the Internet”.  A woman believes that “they can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true”. At the end, she meets up with a man she met online who is a French Model. It’s obvious once he gets there, that is far from the truth.

Surely, this kind of thing doesn’t actually happen? People wouldn’t lie about their identity or create stories about extreme illnesses, would they? Yes, yes they do.

Deception is nothing new, but the internet is only giving people more access and the anonymity to pull wool over other’s eyes like never before.

What are some forms of online deviance?

Munchausen syndrome is a disorder in which people lie about conditions or illnesses for their own benefit. This is not to be confused with a hypochondriac, in which they actually believe they have an illness. People who have Munchausen syndrome isn’t used to get out of work, get money or drugs, but for attention. People with Munchausen will use their “illness” to get onto special sites only available for people that have the disease, or will seek the care and comfort from the online members. While this disorder is not new, the internet is giving people with this disorder new ways to deceive. This disorder is now being called Munchausen by Internet, or MBI. There are ways to spot these people. Some signs are:

  • continuous dramatic life events to shift focus back to themselves if another member starts getting more attention
  • near death experiences followed by miraculous recoveries
  • comments and posts to that person by another user that uses the same exact writing style

One of the most popular illnesses to fake is cancer. It has become so notorious that there have been many articles written on the trend of cancer hoaxes. It is so rampant, that if there is a disease, someone has faked having it. The next time you see on Facebook a photo of a little child with an unbelievable story about some defeat and battle that they have triumphed, part of you will go “Aww”, while the other will inevitably go “Bullsh*t”. The deception has made cynics of us all.

What about people who don’t fake being ill? What about people who just fake identities completely online?

Vice.com interviewed 5 people who have faked identities online. Here is what they used their fake identities to do:

  1. one man for “fun and a laugh”, pretended to be a woman and did homoerotic stuff with other users
  2. one guy was very bored one day and said “I’m going to pretend to be Taylor Swift on Facebook”. He ended up with 4000 subscribers and received messages from guys who thought they were talking to Taylor Swift
  3. one guy used his real pictures on MySpace when he was 15, but said he was 18 to meet men
  4. one guy found his friend’s computer still logged into Facebook, and wrote posts and comments pretending to be his friend
  5. the last guy with a group of friends when he was 12, created an AOL screen name that was similar to a girl’s at school. They sent messages to other school mates, and the girl’s mom found out. They ended up in a lot of trouble.

These were people just interviewed off the street one day, and many had different stories to tell, ranging in severity. While there are more extreme cases of internet deception, one thing is clear, it is far too easy.

So how do they do it?

Thanks to WikiHow, there is an 11-Step Process on How to Fake your Online Identity.  This would be used for first timers who want to make sure they are able to come up with a good cover for the first time around, someone seriously interested in online privacy but still want to socialize, or for people who have been kicked off or banned from a site, but want to come back with a new identity.

Some tips are even provided below the 11-step process. Here is one of the tips:

“Think carefully if you really want to do this. In order to keep your identity safe, you’ll have to keep it secret at all times. If you start to make friends, you might be tempted to tell them, and if you tell them, they could tell other people and expose your real self.”

Why do they do it?

Now that the “what” and “how” is covered… the burning question is why?!

MTV’s wildly successful show Catfish has complied 5 reasons why people would create identities online.

  1. Revenge     When your boyfriend is getting attention from another girl, what better way to get the girl’s attention off your man than having her fall in love with a fake guy online?
  2. Homophobia     Being in a small town and not able to date openly gay, faking to be a woman to get attention from guys offers an alternative.
  3. Addicted to Attention   A girl started a fake profile to talk to her crush. She loved the feelings it caused, so she then started creating multiple accounts to talk to more guys for the attention.
  4. Sexual-Identity Anxiety     A female who relates to herself as a transgendered man, creates a profile to talk to straight women, in hopes they will see past his sexuality.
  5. Low-self esteem      Sometimes people don’t actually fake who they are, they just refuse to let others know them personally because they are ashamed of themselves.


Can they get away with this?

In most cases, yes. There aren’t many real repercussions that come with faking online identities other than being ostracized by others or a community. There have been measures taken to try to punish these acts, like when California tried to outlaw e-personification. While this was intended for corporations and government officials, it was a step in trying to eliminate this behavior.

The best thing to do is to always be that healthy amount of weary when meeting people online. Or just accept that everyone is a sham, and be content with that also. Just never believe “the internet can’t lie”.


8 thoughts on “Deviance and Deception Online

  1. This is a great post. I hate how so many people create fake accounts on social media. It is insane how often this happens. People should be aware of the person they maybe actually communicating with. Safety and technology will always be an issue. Great Job : )

  2. I couldn’t agree more. There is a huge issue with deception online. I will admit, watching the TV show Catfish has become a guilty pleasure of mine. Not because I like to see people get hurt, but the fact that person portray someone completely different online blows my mind. There are so many red flags when meeting someone online and never seeing or meeting them in real life. People need to be more aware of the deception.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post, I find the topic of online deviance so interesting. I think the idea of making myself into a whole different person online is so different from something that I would actually do that I can’t imagine why someone would do that, especially when they create relationships with other people based on a lie. I also think it’s crazy that there are websites that tell people how to fake an identity online.

  4. Your post is so thorough and informative. My final paper topic is similar in essence to this blog post. I am writing about deception and deviance on Match.com and what the site does to protect its users against this and more importantly protect their privacy. MBI sounds like a very twisted disorder. Of course people should be honest about who they are, but to take it to the level of lying on social media sites and online communities for attention is quite disheartening. This blog post reminded me of something we’ve discussed a lot over the course of this semester: Catfishing. This is ironically the same name as our blog. Catfish are people who go on social media sites and depict themselves as being something they are not. MBI seems much more severe, but Catfishing can be just as detrimental.

    • Thank you for your feedback! I never knew before starting this research that this was a medical condition and how severe it could be. Hopefully match.com does a good job catching these folk!

  5. This post was incredibly well written and so thought-provoking. I cannot BELIEVE that there is a wikiHow of how to successfully make a fake online identity. It’s crazy to think that little blogs like that are what feed people’s identity disorders to help them create different personas. I have watched MTV’s “Catfish” and found this blog so interesting while relating it to the people on the show! An episode was on the other night and I was able to use the list of “5 reasons why people would create fake identities online” to decode why the girl was hiding behind a fake identity. Very cool, well done.

  6. I have always been fascinated by the internet’s ability to provide good and bad all at the same time. Some social media websites are now working to prevent fake identities, and yet there are detailed instructions on how to create a foolproof fake profile?

    I enjoyed reading about the different types of online deception, particularly about Munchausen syndrome. I didn’t consider that some people who have and actively use fake profiles do so because of a diagnosable illness.

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