More social media accounts are dedicating themselves to specific chonky the bag of cats and their weight-loss efforts
They’re chonky, they’re fluffy, they’re thicc and body pawsitive. They’re round sons, floofs and absolute units.
The new animal trend on the internet celebrates the rotund and plump, with social media users focusing on the adorableness of a cat’s rounded cheeks, a hamster’s many rolls, a dog’s rounded shape and a raccoon’s voluptuous volume.
The Instagram account Chonky Animals has more than 409,000 adherents while the Round Boys and Round Animals accounts top out at more than 455,000 and 487,000, respectively. The Facebook group, This Cat is Chonky, has more than 395,000 members and hundreds of new posts each day.
The trend creates concerns about overfeeding and maintaining a pet unhealthy for the sake of cuteness. While humans can decide if they are healthy at every sizing, animals cannot , nor do they have the ability to tell their owners if they need help. But it has also inspired a wholesome movement toward building sure these animals remain healthy, as well as cute. More and more accounts are now dedicating themselves to specific chonky cats- and their weight-loss efforts.
” A heavy cat is pretty adorable ,” said Mike Wilson, one of the owners of Bronson, a cat who was 33 pounds when he was adopted and is now 23 pounds, one year later.” A big cat on a diet is a guilt-free way to follow an obese cat .”
In addition to Bronson, who has more than 214,000 followers, there’s Bruno Bartlett, the gray polydactyl cat that likes to stand on his hind legs, and his brother, Carlo. On Facebook, Fat Laila’s efforts at fat camp are lovingly documented, as well as her missteps- when she snuck into the closet to steal treats one night.
” There’s a reason why the internet is so preoccupied with fat cats ,” said Lauren Paris, the owner of Bruno and Carlo. “They’re so cute.”
From Gyneth Paltrow to Trump, todays starrings speak directly to their fans. But are they genuinely controlling their message?
I have a friend, Adam, who is an autograph seller- a niche profession, and one that is getting more niche by the day. When we gratify for breakfast last month he was looking despondent.
” Everyone takes selfies these days ,” he said sadly, picking at his scrambled eggs.” It’s never autographs any more. They just want photos of themselves with celebrities .”
Anyone who has attended a red carpet event or watched one on Tv, knows that selfies have securely supplanted autographs, with fans careening desperately towards celebrities with outstretched phones instead of pens and paper. Celebrities have adapted accordingly. In 2017, a video of Liam Payne ran viral that depicted him miserably working his way down a line of selfie-takers, his smile lasting as long as it took for each fan to press click.
A photo of oneself with, say, Tom Cruise, feels more personal than a mere scribbled signature, which he could have given anyone( and could have been signed by anyone ). But the real reason selfies have abruptly rendered autographs as obsolete as landline telephones is because of social media. Instagram is constructed for photos , not autographs, and what’s the point of having your photo taken with Payne if you don’t then immediately post it and watch the ” OMG !” s and” NO Way !!!!” s come flooding in? If you stand next to a celebrity and your friends don’t like the photo, did it ever happen? Do you even exist?
Instagram launched in 2010, four years after Twitter, six years after Facebook. Although social media was originally pitched as a way for people to keep in touch with their friends, it quickly also became a way for people to feel greater proximity to celebrities, and to flaunt this closeness to others. Facebook, with characteristic hamfistedness, attempted to monetise this in 2013, when it announced it was trialling a feature that would allow users to pay to contact celebrities for a sliding scale of fees: 71 p for Jeremy Hunt, PS10. 68 for Tom Daley. But there was no need for people to spend money for the privilege, because celebrities had already proven extremely keen to bend down low and share their lives with the peasants. When Demi Moore appeared on David Letterman in 2010, she was already so addicted to Twitter she continued to tweet while live on air to millions. (” This stinks ,” Letterman griped .)
The appeal of social media for a celebrity is obvious, in that it allows them to talk to the public without those awful middlemen: journalists. The past decade is littered with examples of why celebrities( and their publicists) now prefer social media( which they can control) to giving interviews( which they cannot .) It’s unlikely that Michael Douglas would have tweeted that his throat cancer was caused by cunnilingus, as he told the Guardian’s Xan Brooks in 2013( and for which he later publicly apologised to his wife, Catherine Zeta Jones ). It’s even less likely that Liam Neeson would have made an Instagram story about the time he went out hoping to kill a” black bastard” after a friend was raped, as he said in an interview this year. Why risk such disasters when, instead, you can just take a flattering photo, slap a filter on it and post it to your already adoring followers? Mega celebrities with a hyper-online fanbase- Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Frank Ocean- can now go for years without giving an interview and their careers are helped rather than harmed for it.
Instagram is an airbrushing app, one that lets people touch up their photos, specifically, and their own lives, generally, by determining what they choose to post.( When Jennifer Aniston ultimately joined social media last month, and momentarily broke the internet, she naturally chose Instagram over the bearpit of Twitter .) Some are more honest about this than others: after he married Kim Kardashian- the celebrity who more than any other has made a virtue out of artifice- Kanye West proudly told reporters in 2014 that the two of them expended four days of their honeymoon in Florence playing with the filters on the wedding photo, that they eventually posted on Instagram,” because the flowers were off-colour and stuff like that “.
What can we learn about ourselves from the things we ask online? Seth StephensDavidowitz analysed anonymous Google search data, uncovering disturbing truths about our desires, faiths and prejudices
Everybody lies. People lie about how many beverages they had on the way home. They lie about how often they go to the gym, how much those new shoes cost, whether they read that book. They call in sick when theyre not. They say theyll be in touch when they wont. They say its not about you when it is. They say they love you when they dont. They say theyre happy while in the dumps. They say they like women when they really like men. People lie to friends. They lie to boss. They lie to kids. They lie to parents. They lie to doctors. They lie to spouses. They lie to spouses. They lie to themselves. And they damn sure lie to surveys. Heres my brief survey for you 😛 TAGEND
Have you ever cheated in an exam?
Have you ever fantasised about killing someone?
Were you tempted to lie?
Many people underreport embarrassing behaviours and thoughts on surveys. They want to look good, even though most surveys are anonymous. This is called social desirability bias. An important paper in 1950 provided powerful evidence of how surveys can fall victim to such bias. Researchers collected data, from official sources, on the residents of Denver: what percentage of them voted, dedicated to charity, and owned a library card. They then surveyed the residents to see if the percentages would match. The results were, at the time, shocking. What the residents reported to the surveys was very different from the data the researchers had met. Even though nobody dedicated their names, people, in large numbers, exaggerated their voter registration status, voting behaviour, and charitable giving.
Has anything changed in 65 years? In the age of the internet , not owning a library card is no longer embarrassing. But, while whats embarrassing or desirable may have changed, people tendency to delude pollsters remains strong. A recent survey asked University of Maryland graduates various questions about their college experience. The answers were compared with official records. People consistently dedicated incorrect datum, in ways that constructed them seem good. Fewer than 2% reported that they graduated with lower than a 2.5 GPA( grade point average ). In reality, about 11% did. And 44% said they had donated to the university in the past year. In reality, about 28% did.
Then theres that odd habit we sometimes have of lying to ourselves. Lying to oneself may explain why so many people say they are above average. How big is this problem? More than 40% of one companys technologists said they are in the top 5 %. More than 90% of college professors say they do above-average work. One-quarter of high school seniors think they are in the top 1% in their ability to get along with other people. If you are deluding yourself, you cant be honest in a survey.
The more impersonal the conditions, the more honest people will be. For eliciting truthful answers, internet surveys are better than phone surveys, which are better than in-person surveys. People will acknowledge more if they are alone than if others are in the room with them. However, on sensitive topics, every survey method will elicit substantial misreporting. People have no incentive to tell surveys the truth.
How, hence, can we learn what our fellow humen are really thinking and doing? Big data. Certain online sources get people to admit things there is no way to admit anywhere else. They serve as a digital truth serum. Think of Google searches. Remember situations that induce people more honest. Online? Check. Alone? Check. No person administering a survey? Check.
The power in Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else. Google was invented so that people could learn about the world , not so researchers could learn about people, but it turns out the trails we leave as we try knowledge on the internet are tremendously revealing.
I have spent the past four years analysing anonymous Google data. The revelations have maintained coming. Mental illness, human sexuality, abortion, religion, health. Not exactly small topics, and this dataset, which didnt exist a couple of decades ago, offered surprising new views on all of them. I am now convinced that Google searches are the most important dataset ever collected on the human rights psyche.
The Truth About Sex
How many American humen are gay? This is a regular question in sexuality research. Yet it has been among the toughest questions for social scientists to answer. Psychologists no longer believe Alfred Kinseys famous estimation based on surveys that oversampled prisoners and prostitutes that 10% of American humen are lesbian. Representative surveys now tell us about 2% to 3% are. But sexual preference has long been among the subjects upon which people have tended to lie. I think I can use big data to give a better answer to this question than we have ever had.
First, more on that survey data. Surveys are talking about there are far more gay men in tolerant states than intolerant nations. For example, according to a Gallup survey, the proportion of the population that is gay is almost twice as high in Rhode Island, the nation with the highest support for gay matrimony, than Mississippi, the state with the lowest is supportive of gay wedding. There are two likely explanations for this. First, homosexual men born in intolerant nations may move to tolerant nations. Second, gay humen in intolerant nations may not disclose that they are lesbian. Some insight into explanation number one lesbian mobility can be gleaned from another big data source: Facebook, which allows users to list what gender they are interested in. About 2.5% of male Facebook users who list a gender of interest say they are interested in men; that corresponds approximately with what the surveys indicate.
Weight-loss stories never cease to inspire and amaze me.
The sum of dedication and effort it takes for people to shed all of those extra pounds is nothing short of unbelievable. But there is one man who stands out to me, and that’s because his narrative is so special.
At his heaviest, Jesse Shand was nearly 700 pounds. At that point, he had pretty much lost all hope that he’d ever get on track. But where reference is posted to an online forum, he found the encouragement he needed from the people he least expected to support him.
Shand had always been overweight, but when he began to lose confidence and spend more and more time indoors on his computer, the problem only got worse.
Search company launches new opt-in ad service for non-Google sites and tools that show how it tracks your internet activity
Google has rolled out new tools to let users find what its ad-tracking service has learned about them, and to let users opt in or out of a new personalised ads service.
The addition to Googles account sets, called My Activity, allows users to review everything that Google has tracked about their behaviour across search, YouTube, Chrome, Android and everything else and edit or delete it at each step.
If you use Google for everything you do, you might be surprised by just how much it catalogues about your comings and runs on the internet.
The long read: After Taryn Wright exposed an elaborate fake tragedy on Facebook, she found herself leading a squad of online detectives but on the internet, it doesnt take long for a crowd to become a mob
On 13 May 2012, friends of Dana Dirr, a 35-year-old surgeon in Saskatchewan, were greeted with a distressing message when they logged into Facebook: URGENT PRAYERS NEEDED. A post written by Dirrs father informed her friends that Dana was fighting for her life after a head-on car accident. Dana had been airlifted to the very same trauma centre where she worked as a surgeon; in fact, she was meant to be on duty that night. Dana is almost 35 weeks pregnant now, her father wrote. So please pray for her and the baby!
Within hours, hundreds of people had shared the post of Danas accident, and hundreds more had left supportive comments. As she fought for her life, her family continued to post updates to Facebook. Minutely detailing their lives online was nothing new for the Dirrs. Danas husband, a tattooed ex-punk named JS, had been active in online communities for at least a decade and had acquired hundreds of online-only friends (and at least one online lover). In 2010, Dana and JS had even become minor internet celebrities when they began sharing the story of their seven-year-old son Eli, who was in the midst of his fourth battle with cancer, with a growing number of followers first a few hundred, then a few thousand. They called him Warrior Eli.
Friends of the Dirrs returned to their Facebook page for the rest of the day in search of new updates. Late that night, JS announced that baby Evelyn was delivered healthy at 11.11pm; shortly afterwards, at 12.02am, Dana died. Her husband saw this timing as Danas final act of courage: She wouldnt have wanted Evies birthday to be overshadowed by her death every year, he wrote. She waited until just two minutes after midnight on Mothers Day to leave us.
The familys friends and followers asked about setting up a crowdfunding campaign to provide financial support during this time of trouble, but JS demurred. The Canadian healthcare system would be footing the bills, he said. Instead, the family asked for donations to be made to Alexs Lemonade Stand, a childhood cancer charity.
Those who had got to know the Dirrs online mourned Danas death. I spent my night before Mothers Day in tears and every time I told my story yesterday I was in tears on Mothers Day!! one Facebook friend wrote later she also donated $50 to Alexs Lemonade Stand.
In a cosy house in the southern suburbs of Chicago, Taryn Wright watched the dramatic saga of Dana Dirrs death unfold online in real time. Wright was in her early 30s and was living with her parents at the time, practically immobile after major hip surgery. She dealt with the depressing lack of autonomy and mobility as best she could mostly by knitting and doing paint-by-numbers like a serial killer.
When Wright stumbled upon the ostentatiously tragic story of Dana Dirr, she quickly came to feel that something did not add up. Danas dramatic death and the birth of her baby on Mothers Day, no less was not being reported anywhere in the media. And the more Taryn looked into it, the more the entire Dirr family saga, chronicled in a decades-worth of blogposts, MySpace pages, and online photo albums, did not ring true, either. There were too many kids, and too many of them were twins. There were murders and mistaken identities and dramatic ironies. It all sounded suspiciously like a soap opera.
Wright took a few of the hundreds of family photos that the Dirrs had posted online and plugged them into a reverse image search, which allows users to see where else an image has appeared on the internet. She found that the photographs had been lifted from a South African blogger. Whats more, Dana Dirr was supposedly a trauma surgeon, but there was no profile for her on a hospitals website, or any search result that had not been written by one of the Dirrs themselves.
Wright felt increasingly certain that Dana Dirr did not exist. The discovery both incensed and invigorated her. Her first instinct was to tell all the people whose photos had been stolen about the hoax. But instead of emailing each one of them, she decided to create a blog to announce her suspicions. She called itWarrior Eli Hoax Group.
A link made the rounds on Facebook, and within hours a group of like-minded sceptics began gravitating to the blog, posting their own findings in the comments section. Some had been Facebook friends with the Dirrs and were shocked to find they had been duped; some were caregivers who were active in the childhood cancer community, outraged by the deception; and others, like Wright, had no personal connection but were drawn to the oddness of the whole situation.
After having figured out that Dana Dirr probably did not exist, Wright started looking into Dirrs Facebook friends. When I Googled their names, nothing came up, she recalled. And when I started looking up their photos, I found that they had been stolen, too. Not only did Dana Dirr not exist, Wright determined, but neither did her husband or her sick son. More than 70 of the Dirrss Facebook friends were fake, too.
Wright, a dark-haired woman with precisely arched eyebrows, has long been drawn to stories of serial killers, serial liars, and cult leaders. (A few years ago, she and her sister pledged to stop bringing up the Jonestown mass suicide on first dates.) She had obsessively followed the twisted stories of several women who had been caught creating elaborate fake personas online in the early days of the internet. There was Kaycee Nicole, a teenager dying of leukaemia who turned out to be a healthy middle-aged woman. And Jesse Jubilee James, a cowboy-fireman-poet with suicidal tendencies and liver cancer, who was actually the creation of a woman in her mid-50s. Now Wright found herself in the heady position of being the detective, uncovering a hoax of her own.
At the beginning, it felt like a giant puzzle to solve, Wright said. She also started a Facebook group to facilitate the investigation; in the span of an hour, a hundred people joined to help her sift through online clues. Unnerved and exhilarated, Wright closed the group to new members. She stayed up all night, drinking Diet Coke and refreshing the site to check for new comments as the puzzle pieces came together. In less than a day, her makeshift blog got 100,000 hits. It was the first hint that what Wright had started might get beyond her control.
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In 1951, the British endocrinologist Richard Asher identified a class of patients who presented dramatic symptoms and told fantastic stories of illness and woe. When credulity and sympathy began to wear thin in one town, they simply moved down the road and began again with a new set of doctors, nurses and neighbours. Asher called this illness Munchausen syndrome.
Munchausen patients pose a problem for clinicians, in that their sickness involves pretending to be sick. Sometimes that pretending blurs the line between real and fake illness: Munchausen patients have been known to bleed themselves in order to appear anaemic, or to dose themselves with chemotherapy drugs they dont need.
Several years ago, after noticing an increase in similar behaviour online, Dr Marc Feldman, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama, coined the term Munchausen by internet to describe people who spread accounts of fake illness online. For most of these deceivers, sympathy and attention is the main thing, Feldman told me. They get nurturance they feel unable to get in any other way. They may have poor social skills or poor coping strategies, and pretending to be ill allows them to manifest this instant and caring community.
Before the advent of the internet, people would have to read medical textbooks or go to medical libraries to learn about esoteric ailments, said Feldman. They had to practise their pain faces in the mirror, then go to the ER and enact a painful crisis of some sort for the staff. Now you can go to Wikipedia and become an expert on an ailment in 20 minutes. Then you go online and instantly find a supportive community.
When people from that supportive community realise that their sympathy (and sometimes money) has been extracted under false pretences, they may, like victims of financial fraud, feel too ashamed to talk about it. Others such as those who flocked to the Warrior Eli Hoax blog take it one step further, turning their embarrassment into revenge, becoming online vigilantes.
In May 2012, Wright wrote dozens of blogposts about the Dirrs. She traced a photo of Dana Dirrs pregnant belly back to a New York mother, and tracked down 10-year-old blogposts about the tragic murder of JSs (fictional) twin. As the updates rolled in, the sites audience kept growing. Wright found herself in the centre of an odd, passionate group of amateur online detectives. Her hundred-strong Warrior Eli Hoax Facebook group made researching the Dirr case easier. One person would share expertise on a rare form of childhood cancer, while another would turn out to know about tracking down IP addresses.
It did not take long for the group to figure out who was behind the Dirr drama. Several of the familys supporters had received packages of plastic bracelets with a message of support for Warrior Eli. The packages had been sent and paid for by JSs sister, Emily. Unlike the other Dirr family members, Emily Dirr did have an online presence; she was a medical student in Ohio. Wright was convinced that she had enough information to publicly out Emily, but she wanted to speak to the hoaxer first. In a phone conversation that Wright recalls as surreal, Emily admitted in a quiet monotone that she had created the whole saga. The story, which she had begun in 2004, was a way to keep herself entertained, like fan fiction about a group of characters of her own invention.
This all started 11 years ago when I was a bored 11-year-old kid looking for an escape from the pain and heartache I saw in my own family, Emily Dirr wrote in a public apology posted on Wrights website. It started almost as fiction writing, but the more time I spent escaping to it, the more real it became. I am so sorry it hurt so many real families, and so many people out there.
Hearing this, some group members were out for blood. They wanted the young woman prosecuted for fraud, for impersonating someone else, for whatever they could get her for.
One of the loudest and angriest voices in the Warrior Eli Hoax group was an odd character named Father James Puryear. According to Puryears Facebook profile, he was a 16-year-old single father who hoped to become a preacher. He was the one who found the Dirrs old Photobucket account, which had turned out to be an important clue. He also professed to be shocked and horrified that anyone would pretend to be someone else online. But in the groups first week, when members started introducing themselves, he posted this long, insane thing, Wright recalls. I was raped when I was this age. Then I had a kidnapping, and then my twin did this. Just like every kind of red flag. Her suspicions aroused, Wright asked for photos of Puryears two kids. Puryear sent a photo of a kid wearing a Halloween mask. Wright said she did not believe the photographs were real and Puryear did not send any more. Wright booted Puryear out of the group. Barely two weeks later, Father James Puryear who turned out to be a 24-year-old Massachusetts woman named Carissa Hads was arrested in West Virginia. Hads later pleaded guilty to posing as Puryear in order to have sex with a 15-year-old girl she had been talking to over the internet for more than a year.
After that, Wright made sure to verify group members real identities. But the idealism of those first few weeks was shattered. It made me think about, like, who are these people that Im sharing stuff with in here? Because it felt great at first we were all great friends, Wright says, and sighs. Im too trusting.
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For some people, cancer has acquired a strange allure. In John Greens blockbuster young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars, tragic, beautiful young people with terminal diagnoses are alternately funny and profound as they face their fates. Online, some cancer victims have even become celebrities. Since the early days of the internet, patients and their families have shared their stories online as a way to cope with the isolating effects of illness. There are hundreds of these pages on the internet, most of them genuine, the great majority on Facebook Prayers for Shane, Hope for Hannah, Rally for Rowan. Many of these groups originated as a way to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues, but it does not take long for strangers to start tuning in, too. The most popular cancer blogs have tens of thousands of followers. They fundraise by selling T-shirts and bumper stickers, and their stories sometimes become famous enough to merit articles in mainstream magazines.
This attention has inspired people eager for the privileged status of the sick the sympathy, if not the suffering, of real cancer patients and their courageous battles. The heroic image that cancer survivors increasingly have is attractive to factitious disorder patients, Marc Feldman writes in his book scholarly Playing Sick.
In September 2012, Taylor Swift wrote a song dedicated to Ronan Thompson, a three-year-old boy who died of neuroblastoma, featuring lyrics taken from Ronans mothers popular blog. After Swifts song was released on iTunes, dozens of blogs by mothers with dying children started popping up many of them actually written by Swift-obsessed high-school students hoping to get their idols attention with a tragic story of their own. (The Warrior Eli Hoax team investigated many of these blogs, though they generally did not publicly post information about teenage hoaxers.)
By the summer of 2012, Wrights inbox was filling up with emails reporting potential hoaxers. She shared the details with the Facebook group, which began investigating them as well. Diana Almanza, a stay-at-home mother in North Carolina, joined the group because she wanted to see how the Emily Dirr story turned out. When someone sends you something that they think is fake, its very hard not to do something, she told me. You cant look away. It gets under your skin, I guess.
As the months ticked by, the hundred-odd members of the Warrior Eli Hoax group honed their detective skills. They investigated a part-time rodeo rider with leukaemia; a terminally ill 21-year-old; and an amnesiac teenager undergoing extreme chemotherapy; each one was exposed as a fake. Some hoaxers hid behind made-up names and stolen photos; others posted under their own names and seemed to be faking cancer in real life, too.
Some of the hoaxes were pathetic the woman who posed as a dying (male) soccer player online stole photos of David Beckham for her fake Facebook profile but others were extensive and elaborate. Hoaxers shaved their heads and bought medical equipment on the internet to make their hospital selfies look more realistic. Many of these hoaxers were fooling lots of people. One had even been voted patient of the year by the US Leukemia & Lymphoma Society,another had used crowdfunding websites to raise thousands of dollars.
The detectives had learned to spot telltale signs alleged cancer patients who were bald, but still had their eyebrow hair; sick people supposedly on steroids who didnt have the typical puffy-faced appearance. Exposing a hoaxer sometimes took more than 100 hours of research, poring over potential fakers Facebook pages and trying to connect a name with an IP address. We always want to be 1,000% sure, said Almanza.
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In January 2013, Taryn Wright invited a few dozen friends and family over to her house for a party. The occasion was an episode of the American news programme 20/20 about online hoaxers that featured the Dirr case and an interview with Wright, her first appearance on TV. Wright was relieved after watching the segment with her interview; it seemed to go well. Then the programme showed something Wright had not expected hidden camera footage of hoaxer Emily Dirr walking down the street. She looked frumpy and exhausted, about as far as you could get from JS Dirr, her swaggering online alter ego, with his tattoos and twins and many lovers. Wrights friends and relatives laughed and pointed.
Wright felt sick. She was just walking down the street eating a candy bar. Wright says. And everybody is laughing, saying, Look at her, she looks like a troll. Shes probably always eating a candy bar. But Im thinking, She probably worked hard to get the pieces of her life together and all of a sudden shes on Channel 7 on a Friday night, and everyone is laughing at her. What if it had been me? That would be horrible.
After the show aired, Wright became increasingly uncomfortable about the responsibility she was taking on by inserting herself into peoples lives. That autumn, the group researched a young woman whose Tumblr detailed her long battle with cancer and who was collecting money with a GoFundMe page. Her stories turned out to have been largely stolen from a legitimate cancer blogger. The group had figured out the name of the person behind the hoax and its members were close to building a convincing case against her when the woman announced on her Tumblr that she was going to kill herself.
From her research, Wright knew that the woman lived in Florida with her brother. When she started announcing concrete, specific plans, Wright decided she had to call the police. Hi, Im Taryn, and I live in Chicago, she told the police dispatcher, unsure whether they would dismiss her as some kook from the internet. She was pleased when they took her report seriously. After the holidays, Wright contacted the womans brother to check up on her. He said that she had been taken in for treatment on Christmas Eve; to Wright, this felt like a victory. (Since then, she has reported at least three other possibly suicidal hoaxers to police.)
Wright also spent hours talking to hoax victims. Id out people, and then Id feel responsible. I wanted to make sure everyone was OK. I didnt feel like I could ignore emails from people who were angry or grieving. So I ended up talking on the phone a bunch after each case, she says. She even formed phone friendships with some of the hoaxers themselves, including a young woman in California named Jadzia, who had faked several pregnancies and one bout of cancer.
The more time Wright spent chatting with hoaxers, the more she felt convinced that they were suffering from mental illness. If someone is looking at their own life and thinking, I would rather write about living the life of somebody whos dying, somethings going on there. I dont think that theyre well. I dont think that a happy person goes and does this, Wright says. She learned to recognise the typical hoaxer profile: a socially isolated woman in her early 20s, often a little chunky, sometimes depressed. Wright, who has had her own struggles with weight and depression, saw a more desperate version of herself in some of these women.
Because Wright is the public face of the hoax-exposing world, many people friended her on Facebook including hoax victims, fellow detectives, and sometimes even the hoaxers themselves. Having all those people together in the same virtual room got contentious at times. Jadzia will like a photo I posted, and then other people will question me about it Is that the Jadzia you wrote about on your blog? And its just like, Yeah, you know, were friends, Wright says. Theyve done bad things, but I have a lot of friends whove done bad things, and its not like Im going to walk away from them. I guess its a little weird because Ive met them because they did bad things. But the way I see it, thats only one side of it.
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I met Wright last summer at her parents house in the southern suburbs of Chicago. That day, she was looking into a woman who posted online as Diabetic Gymnast, and who had suffered an improbable number of tragedies multiple cancers, an abusive stepfather, rape, a rare blood disease in her 20-year-life. Wright skimmed the Diabetic Gymnasts stories of blood test results and suicide attempts with narrowed eyes. Something in her seemed to quicken when she turned up a potential clue: a reference to a specific hospital, a photograph that didnt look quite right.
Wright is sharp and self-deprecating, two qualities that come across strongly in her internet writing. She is also obsessive, with a precise recall for all the minute details of the cases she has worked on. Listening to her, I sometimes found myself lost amid all the overblown and oddly repetitive drama: Wait, whose twin was that? Was the adoption real or fake?
People drawn to online sleuthing are a particular bunch, by turns noble and self-righteous, obsessed with justice and occasionally fanatical. Their interest in tragedies that do not directly relate to their lives at least until they put themselves in the middle of them can sometimes seem propelled by empathy, and other times by prurience. Inevitably, such online communities often hit by their own little cyclones of infighting and drama.
But for its first year of existence, it seemed as though the Warrior Eli Hoax group was different. After the strange incident with Father James Puryear/Carissa Hads, there were no fights or scandals. Wright did not even have to moderate the comments. But over time, that began to change. The tone of the comments became angrier: I want to punch her in the throat, one group member wrote about a hoaxer. I have nothing but contempt and disgust for her as a human being, wrote another. (Both of those commenters had lost close family members to cancer, Wright points out.)
Wright started hearing from people who were mentioned on the blog not just the hoaxers, but their friends or family members, people who were only tangential characters in one of the cases. It turned out that her blogs readers were contacting them via Facebook, sometimes angrily and other times just out of curiosity. People feel like they are entitled to the true story behind things, and dont see these stories as involving real people, said Wright. Its like everybody is the TV journalist who comes in with a camera and says, How do you feel about your kid getting hit by a car?
Around the same time, things began deteriorating among the core group of detectives in the Warrior Eli Hoax Facebook group. If Wright voiced sympathy for a hoaxer, other group members would post dozens of incensed replies. There was more and more of the Lets lynch her mentality [when the group identified a hoaxer]. I began to feel weird about posting personal stuff about other people in the big group because I wanted to make sure that the people who were helping investigate were on the same page that I was: that we were doing an educational thing, trying to help people get better not a vengeance thing, she said.
Talking about the unravelling of the Facebook group is clearly painful for Wright. She considered many of her fellow detectives to be friends. Most of them, she insisted, are good people. I understand why they got upset. They saw their own child go through leukaemia, and lose their hair, and die. So for them, somebody faking that and taking a childs pictures who died of cancer and saying that this is their child, that hits them in a different way than it hits me. So I dont feel like I could tell them, Dont feel like this, she said. At the same time, I dont want to feel like that.
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The kindness of strangers has helped families pay for treatment, raised money for research and provided support in dark times. But, through her hoax-exposing work, Wright has also seen how the online cancer community can sometimes become vicious. As Wright became increasingly well-known online, she began to receive messages asking her to investigate parents. Many of these emails mentioned one woman in particular, who frequently posted on charity websites requesting video games for her special needs son, Jayden.I got emails about her, maybe 10 a day, saying look into this, look into that, Wright recalled.
But the problem was that Jaydens mother was not a hoaxer. Their concern wasnt the legitimacy, said Wright. Instead, Jaydens mothers critics accused her of asking for too many video games, and she had responded to their snide comments by lashing out. Such tantrums are deviant behaviour in a community that is all about gratitude, heart emojis and inspirational quotations about hope.
The conflict unsettled Wright. The community simply seemed not to like Jaydens mother and had turned on her. If the parent doesnt mind their Ps and Qs 100%, or is kind of a hillbilly and gets into screaming matches online, theyll start Facebook groups like, Ban Hope for Jayden, explained Wright. Or theyll Google this woman and find out shed been arrested in the 90s for something, and anytime she posts an update on her legitimately sick child, somebody will link to the arrest report from back to 1991. Its crazy.
Wright has herself become a target for abuse. In April 2013, she received an unexpected and unwelcome piece of mail: a certified letter from a lawyer threatening a lawsuit for defamation for her posts about a cancer faker named Chelsea Hassinger. But when she took a closer look, something about the letter seemed off. It looked as though it had been printed out on a regular piece of computer paper. It wasnt, like, attorney paper, she says. She Googled the name of the law firm and got no hits. But when she called the phone number listed on the letterhead, the voicemail informed her that she had reached the law firm of Gorman and Rickman. If it was a trick or a scam, it was certainly an elaborate one.
The more Wright looked into it, the more she was convinced it was fake. Still, she was spooked. The person behind it clearly wanted her to feel intimidated and they knew her home address. Not long after, Wright discovered the blogs: The Truth About Taryn Wright, Taryn Wright Is Wrong, among others. Whoever was behind these blogs had included unflattering photos from Wrights deleted weight loss blog and private information about her sister. The vengeful blogger even sent Facebook messages to all of Wrights friends, accusing her of being a liar.
The campaign of harassment lasted about four months before petering out. Wright says that the same person a hoaxers angry friend was behind the blogs and the fake lawyers letter but declines to say more for fear of inspiring more antagonism. But the experience clearly rattled her. I knew that there would be stuff that came out about me, and I was willing to take that risk, she says. But dont post stuff about my sisters. Dont post stuff about people who I care about.
As she dealt with the cancer communitys Mean Girl clique the vengeance-seeking detectives, her online stalker, the distraught hoax victims calling her up at all hours hoax-hunting was all starting to feel so much more messy than it had at the start. As she told me these stories, I imagined the hoaxers and the hoax-hunters both online late at night, the blue light of their computer screens casting an eerie glow on their faces as they immersed themselves in lives that were not their own.
In June 2013, Wright removed everyone from the Warrior Eli Facebook group except for four other people, including Diana Almanza. The remaining members are all dedicated posters with solid research skills, and, most importantly, they are all in agreement about how to handle hoaxers. These days, the group generally opts to research and resolve a case without posting it to the blog. Only particularly egregious hoaxes make it to the blog.
We dont want [hoaxers] villainised, says Almanza. They have a mental illness. They certainly do bad things, and there are times you research and you get really angry with them. But, my hope for all them is that, by being exposed and helping to get them treatment, they can move on and have happier, more productive lives.
Wright has not worked full-time since the blog took off. She has applied for plenty of jobs, but whenever she gets close there is a moment when her prospective boss gets a pained look and says something like, So, we Googled you
I asked Wright if she ever regrets her impulsive decision to start the blog that day in May, 2012. I dont know, she said, after a long pause. Im proud of what I did. I think that I went into it with good intentions. I think that I have continued with good intentions. Ive met some great people, people that will be my friends for ever. But at the same time, her own experiences of harassment have made her empathise with the hoaxers she has exposed. [The harassment] felt like such a violation to me how does it feel like to the people I write about? A lot of people have told me that its a totally different thing, because Im not doing anything wrong. But at the same time, its the same feeling. And I dont like the feeling.