“Conversation between a princess and an outlaw:
“If I stand for fairy-tale balls and dragon bait–dragon bait–what do you stand for?”
“Me? I stand for uncertainty, insecurity, bad taste, fun, and things that go boom in the night.”
“Franky, it seems to me that you’ve turned yourself into a stereotype.”
“You may be right. I don’t care. As any car freak will tell you, the old models are the most beautiful, even if they aren’t the most efficient. People who sacrifice beauty for efficiency get what they deserve.”
“Well, you may get off on being a beautiful stereotype, regardless of the social consequences, but my conscience won’t allow it.”
“And I goddamn refuse to be dragon bait. I’m as capable of rescuing you as you are of rescuing me.”
“I’m an outlaw, not a hero. I never intended to rescue you. We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.”
― Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker
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Growing up in the 1990s when the internet was just becoming a luxury for the Western middle class, I spent significantly more time engaging in the real world than any virtual one. Websites like MySpace reigned supreme, and hacktivists were limited to those individuals who had access to public libraries. For those of us who were not adept at speaking Java/Html/binary, or navigating the internets, and who had not found online role playing/gaming communities, associations were minute and potential threats from Online Personalities were all but imperceptible.
I remember receiving chain emails (!!) about internet predators, and seeing stories on the news occasionally, but it didn’t seem like a concept that was actually real, credible threat to a small town, Midwestern preteen with dial up. Or anyone with enough common sense to know how much they don’t know, anyway. I used to play a lot of online games via the Yahoo! webpage’s options; pool was my preferred poison. I would play against random opponents, mostly without any particular interaction, but occasionally someone would private message me in the game, with the very specific question, “a/s/l?” which stands for Age, Sex, and Location (Not American Sign Language). To naive former me, and I’m sure to many people participating in the inane, acronymical question asking, it was really the equivalent of sending out a note in a bottle, or a message on a balloon, or a Facebook Post requesting people share and add their location to see how far the internet really reaches. It was a question asked for science and exploration: “where is the world randomly connecting me to today?”
Occasionally, it was just a pervert on the internet. I never gave out personal information, but I did usually pretend to be someone (or at the very least, someWHERE) else. I may have been 12, but I wasn’t stupid.
Usually if my opponent steered the conversation in a crass direction, I would go ahead and say that I’m a minor and have alerted the authorities to their behavior, which would cause them to disappear immediately. To someone so sheltered from predatory behavior by socioeconomic status and circumstances, I felt like my small contributions in internet trolling were making the world a safer place for kids who didn’t have the common sense not to give a stranger on the internet their name, age, and address.
I may have (possibly) incited enough paranoia to deter someone from continuing their unsavory online behavior. More than likely, I probably just caused them to be more careful as they continued.
You can pretend to be anyone on the internet, and while anonymity may be beneficial for many reasons, there are problems associated with implementing a falsified identity.
First of all, intent: why do you feel the need to lie, and what are your intentions? And have you considered the consequences, intentional or accidental, of creating, maintaining, and enabling this false narrative and persona?
In my case, my intent had to do with location and circumstances. I grew up in a small town, and felt isolated. Even though I mostly preferred my own company, I felt like an outcast from my peers and wanted to interact with people who understood me in some capacity, even if that was relegated to a mutual hiding place on the internet. The idea of talking to someone “out there in the great unknown” gave me hope that something better (or at least, something else) lay outside my limited existential space.
The consequences of my actions were minuscule, as far as I’m aware. I’m safe, and was never a victim, and I certainly never victimized anyone. As I understand it, however, I was luck.
People are targeted all the time, groomed to accept increasing levels of inappropriate, invasive, demeaning behavior, as the Perpetrator crafts ever more elaborate lies to justify their actions and to continue to call the shots in establishing Normalcy.
It’s so beautiful when people who participate in deception for their own benefit get their their karmic come-uppance: their facade falls apart, and they’re left standing in the shambles of their own wretched creation.
Who are you?
Have you taken the time and space required to figure out this puzzle? Have you done it recently, regularly…at all? Does your understanding of who you are depend on who can see you?
We don’t tend to openly engage in the struggle of determining who we are, however we do optimize the tools at our disposal for declaring who we are. We declare who we are both actively and passively, through our actions, aversions, brand loyalty, and by the level of discrepancy between our claims and our actions.
We polarize ourselves with labels, touting our In Groups like Merit Badges to prove we have accomplished something in particular to no one in particular: labels like white, black, gay, straight, woman, man cis, queer, atheist, christian, democrat, republican, feminist, humanist, realist, nihilist. These associates are the groups by which we categorize ourselves and the rest of the world. We consider the groups that we belong to (our In Groups) as more favorable and are more likely to receive preferential treatment.
|This works because we build our self-esteem through belonging, and the presence of [or association with] someone from an in-group reminds us of that belonging.
None of these words mean anything, but they are monikers that we utilize to delineate how we expect the world to receive us. They are shortcuts for understanding ourselves in the context of our world. By giving the world the manual for Proper Care and Feeding of Your Name Here based on the descriptors we provide, we are determining how we are perceived. The internet allows us an especially effective ability to cultivate a particular image, known as catfishing, by interacting with people and establishing relationships online via the channels in which that particular person allows you to travel.
With the help of internet anonymity, the average Joe can tweak a few details and simply be a different person on the internet: a girl can pose as a boy, or a boy can be a girl.
Average people can grow to be Larger Than Life Caricatures that receive the kind of reverence once reserved for Hollywood Starlets and athletic Hall of Famers. We can be Saviors and Boogeymen, we can compose a full narrative that goes well beyond mere exaggeration.
An adult can pose as a child, and the necessity for educating children and adults about the dangers of online predators can not be over stated: it’s significant enough for it’s own blog entry.
The incentives for these lies are complicated: in the case of Male to Female ratio in the early days of the internet, a man might pretend to be a woman to receive attention, real life gifts, or in-game items:
Of course, proving you are female online is something of a conundrum, since any pictures or voice you present as proof can just as easily have come from a sister, girlfriend, or random site — which thanks to webcams was later solved by asking for a “timestamp”, a picture with the current date, time, and a certain message (which could still be pictured with a woman who just happened to be near the actual poster, but it helps). Not proving it or refusing to share pictures means that you would be assumed to be male and only pretending to be female for the attention or (if in a game) free items.
We lie to the world long enough, and through such a protective filter, that we end up believing our own bullshit. We believe we are untouchable, godlike, invincible.
I hate to give him note here, but most recent examples of internet-proliferated Self-Making include pro-rapist Roosh V, whose plans to hold pro-rape rallys around the world were squashed with the aide of social media activism.
I live in a city where one of the pro-rape meet-ups was scheduled to be held February 6, 2016, and even the mere thought of leaving my house that day scared me. The idea that someone in the city in which I live would be willing to host something so vile made me extremely anxious for my safety. As time went on throughout the day, I gradually started to voluntarily give up freedoms because the ripple of panic he exuded from the safe anonymity of the internet caused me such intense anxiety and fear that I was willing to hide to make sure I stayed safe.
Thankfully, people are willing to stand up to dragons. Counter protests were organized in every city on his list. He allegedly received threats saying “if you come to our city we will kill you.” Police were alerted to many of the events, and at least one of the countries Australia) started petitions to keep him from entering customs. I refuse to link to his website because visits give him income, and thankfully Anonymous took his website down earlier this week out of their own sense of vigilante justice.
Here is a timely example of how vastly a cultivated image differs from reality. Roosh touts himself as a Neo-Masculinist on the internet, but lives in his mother’s basement and feared for his safety after receiving extensive backlash against his platform of harmful views. His depiction of himself is the culmination of his own delusions and a direct byproduct of his own insecurity. Being viewed as hyper masculine and powerful (even under incredibly fucked up parameters of how those qualifiers are determined) is essential to upholding his carefully constructed internet image. And when he doesn’t live up to the hype he has created, the fear of his Bogeyman status just melts away.
Anyone who has seen the Wizard of Oz knows how this works.
This is an election year, and the American populace is being bombarded with ads for and smear campaigns against every candidate who is running. This is another example of cultivating an internet image in an attempt to trump the actual limitations of your character or to erase your record of previous behaviors. Running fact checks during the debates gives context for the image the candidate is attempting to create/uphold, and discrepancy between what they promise during an election year and what their tract records espouses (brought to light by this very fact checking) slows their momentum to a short stop, and brings their aspirations crashing down around them. Even high profile characters like political candidates lie, and are more likely to do so. Research shows that powerful people are better liars. And when you’re relying on visual cues to determine the extent to which someone is lying, the internet is a perfect platform for eliminating those signs and giving the perpetrator a stone cold poker face to the world.
Why do we do this? Well, as this article explains (points from which I will highlight below), it’s because we can.
We can’t physically meet most of the people we interact with on the internet. So we create avatars who represent us in the online world, personae that are designed—on some level, conscious or subconscious—to shape others’ ideas about who we really are. Indeed, it’s natural for us to create avatars that represent what we want to be rather than what we are. And it’s only a short step from there to manipulating others’ perceptions of us to give ourselves an advantage of some sort, to deceive. To become puppet masters.
And because we’re insecure. We do it to embody a quality or credibility that we do not actually possess.
Mimi and Eunice
In Type 1 sockpuppetry, the puppet master fabricates a phony persona who has a specific attribute or experience that the puppet master himself lacks—an attribute or experience that gives the puppet master extra authority in a conversation or extra ability to generate a reaction from others. In all cases, the point seems to be to seek either authority, attention, or profit.
It’s a terribly attractive platform for pathological liars to gain attention and sympathy:
[P]sychiatrists and psychologists have started noticing a pattern—a syndrome that’s now called “virtual factitious disorder” or, more snappily, “Munchausen by internet.” In the syndrome someone creates an online persona who suffers some kind of tragedy and milks the resulting outpouring of sympathy and concern. It’s almost guaranteed to cause a big stir, so it becomes irresistible to the extreme attention seeker. Any sufficiently large online community will encounter one of these sooner or later.
The Type 2 sockpuppet is an easy weapon for an online skirmisher with a fragile ego. It’s also a great sales booster for a company that wants to tinker with its online reviews.
Some people create alter identities to bolster their actual persona’s credibility, by agreeing with themselves or posting glowing ratings on their own behalf. You can’t gain much from tooting your own horn, but having someone else vouch for you is huge, psychologically, to the people around you.
We do it to gather intel on our allies and enemies: and it’s not just angry laypeople participating. There are politically motivated, paid, governmental agencies doing plenty of it.
The internet has become a battlefield for virtual personalities—sockpuppets all attempting to gather information and using that information to help their causes and hurt their enemies. It’s a war without bystanders, for we’re all caught up in the fighting, whether we’re aware of it or not.
I generally try to end entries in such a way that I wrap all the mental tendrils into a nice, neat bow. I’m not sure I can this time. While the intent for this piece was to examine the way we create an alternate persona with lies, I never did delve into what happens when you tell the truth, and the absence of that piece seems like a huge disadvantage for the topic.
“Truth” is subjective, and apparently deserves its own entry now that this one is just over 2500 words.
Lies are tools, just like anything else; you can utilize them in a way that benefits yourself or those around you, and you can become so dependent on them that you become unable to function without them.
I’ll leave you with one parting thought regarding the intent of the lies you implement in your lives:
Which are you?