In the early 1990s, The New Yorker published a famous phrase: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” (or a cat). As the net has grown older and gained more users, this phrase has become increasingly relevant.
Aided by the anonymity of communicating online, people have continually misrepresented themselves to others. This has ranged from lying about looks and age to even fabricating entire personalities and backgrounds.
While the root reasons for these elaborate charades are sometimes unclear, one thing is certain: there are some very creative and determined liars on the web.
1 The Ineffable Swede
Veronika Larsson was intelligent and insightful. She enjoyed spending time perusing The Guardian website and leaving thoughtful comments under the username of TheIneffableSwede.
Her personal web page showed a beautiful blonde girl socializing with family and friends.
Her sad stories of sexual harassment and her brothers’ trauma while serving in Afghanistan struck chords of sympathy with online audiences. Journalists even wanted to interview her.
However, everything came crashing down when she began to chat with novelist Richard Cox through email and instant messaging. Cox began to notice suspicious details about Veronika’s life.
He found a picture of the woman she had claimed was her dead mother. She was very much alive and in no way associated with Sweden or Veronika.
When he investigated Veronika’s Swedish phone number, he discovered it was provided by a forwarding service which meant that Veronika could effectively live anywhere in the world. Using IP addresses from Veronika’s emails, Cox traced her to Berkeley, California.
An entire fake life had been systematically created for Veronika over six years. In addition to her website, she had also created MySpace and Facebook pages.
The pictures of her turned out to be of a girl from Orange County named Tiffany. She had no idea that her photos had been used to create a fictional persona.
Veronika’s influence had not been limited to The Guardian website. She had also been a regular commentator on many other political sites, leaving them permanently when other users suspected she was a fraud.
Journalists uncovered another previous identity that Veronika had donned. Apparently, the person behind Veronika had found an earlier American avatar too mundane and ditched it for a new incarnation as a Swedish blonde.
It’s hard to guess the true motives of the person behind Veronika. Were they an obsessed fan of Richard Cox? A bored and unsatisfied person looking for some recognition?
Veronika disappeared from the internet shortly after Sweden’s Metro newspaper published an article outing her. Her profile on The Guardian website simply reads “No longer reading or commenting on The Guardian.”
Sebastian Pritchard-Jones seemed like the perfect man. He was sweet, held down a steady job as a teacher in London and even owned his own home.
He managed to stay positive despite having had his beloved girlfriend die of cancer.
He was a good guy who helped his disabled best friend Phillip cope with the stresses of everyday life. He also loved kids, especially his niece.
He maintained a close relationship with his girlfriend Claire, who he had met on an internet dating site.
Although he and Claire had never managed to meet in person, she was confident that they had a good thing going. That is, until the day that Sebastian missed a date with Claire and sent her a picture of a bottle of perfume that he had bought her as an apology.
When Claire looked at the photo, she saw a strange woman reflected in the curved bottle. It was then that she realized she had been duped by an internet faker pretending to be Sebastian. Frightened, she broke up with Sebastian immediately.
When Claire published an account of the affair on her blog, she was soon contacted by six other women who claimed they too had been in online relationships with the elusive Sebastian.
Not only had he given them presents of money, but he had also talked to them for hours on the phone and repeated stories about his dead girlfriend and his handicapped best friend.
When the women pressed him to meet in person, he concocted flimsy excuses that soon aroused their suspicions. Using information gleaned from the other victims, Sebastian was tracked down to Pembrokeshire, Wales.
There it was confirmed that Sebastian was actually a middle-aged woman, the caretaker of a disabled man named Phillip.
Her motives remained a mystery to her traumatized victims, but one thing they all agreed on was that “Sebastian” must be very sad and lonely indeed.
3 Ms Scribe
The world of Harry Potter fan fiction is a murky and drama-filled one at best. However, bad luck seemed to follow fan fiction author Dionne, who went by the name of Msscribe on various fan fiction sites.
Soon after her entry into the glorious world of penning fan fiction, Dionne was attacked by other users who objected to her steamy sex scenes and unconventional character pairings. This was made worse when the attacks turned from moral-based arguments to racial slurs.
Dionne, who had been a relative unknown before the flame war, began to gain notice as the community rallied around her. It all came to a head when one Potterhead, a student from the University of Dayton, began stalking Dionne.
He went as far as to hack into her computer, gaining access to sensitive information. Dionne promptly reported him to the police, but eventually decided not to press charges when he promised to leave her alone.
Meanwhile, she continued to flourish in the niche community, even making friends with Cassandra Clare, who would later pen the best-selling Mortal Instruments series.
The trolls had not finished their work, however, and continued to spew abuse towards Dionne and especially towards other writers like Clare.
It was about this time that the administrators on one Harry Potter fan fiction site noticed that posts by notorious trolls and posts by Msscribe had identical IP addresses. Msscribe denied these charges.
However, members of the community became suspicious when even more defamatory users popped up. They began an investigation of IP addresses on each site that Msscribe had posted on, comparing the addresses with ones connected with known trolls.
The evidence showed that each of the posts came from only three or four different sources. This incredible breakthrough revealed that Dionne was in fact a pathological liar who had created multiple sockpuppets to gain attention for herself and her work.
Her earliest sockpuppets had been online “friends” who had praised her stories constantly to anyone who would listen. When that gained her little exposure, she began creating accounts specifically to attack herself and other well-known authors in the fan fiction universe.
This included the university student and stalker who was actually Dionne herself. She had fabricated a lie about computer hacking to gain sympathy and attention from her online acquaintances, even pulling the name of a random detective from a police website to back up her claim.
Unfortunately for her, further investigation revealed the website was out of date and the detective had not worked at that precinct for some time. Dionne reacted defensively to charges of sockpuppetry, chalking it up to intra-fandom squabbling.
She even tried to blame it all on her nanny, a fellow fan fiction author who had supposedly used Dionne’s computer while she was at work. Naturally, the nanny was revealed to be another sockpuppet.
After using around a dozen fake accounts to promote herself, Msscribe quietly disappeared from the Harry Potter fandom, and everyone else went back to writing love scenes between Harry and Hermione.