All Journal Entries Journals
Previous | Next

For Lori, Jan, Fran, Anna, Debbie and Anyone Else Interested

Mar 25, 2008 - 5 comments

A very dear friend shared this with me, thought I would share it with's kind of appropriate.  Just remember together we will figure it all out and we will come out on top!!!!  We are the fighters and the survivors!!!!!!

Munchausen by Internet:
Faking Illness Online
by Marc D. Feldman, M.D
Online Support for People with Illness - The Internet is a medium of choice for millions of people who need health-related information. Medical websites have multiplied exponentially over the past several years. Thousands of virtual support groups have sprung up for those suffering from particular illnesses. Whether formatted as chat rooms, as newsgroups, or in other ways, they offer patients and families the chance to share their hopes, fears, and knowledge with others experiencing life as they are. These online groups can counter isolation and serve as bastions of understanding, deep concern, and even affection.

Unfortunately, cyberspace resources are sometimes deliberately misused by people intent on deceiving others. False product claims in spam are perhaps the best-known example. But even in the relative intimacy of health support groups, individuals may choose to mislead others by pretending to have illnesses they do not. They divert the attention of the group toward their feigned battles with cancer, multiple sclerosis, anorexia nervosa, or other ailments. The eventual discovery of the deceptions can be devastating. One group member called it "emotional rape" to have cared so deeply about a person who lied to her and others from his first post on.

Munchausen by Internet - For decades, physicians have known about so-called factitious disorder, better known in its severe form as Munchausen syndrome (Feldman Ford, 1995). Here, people willfully fake or produce illness to command attention, obtain lenience, act out anger, or control others. Though feeling well, they may bound into hospitals, crying out or clutching their chests with dramatic flair. Once admitted, they send the staff on one medical goose chase after another. If suspicions are raised or the ruse is uncovered, they quickly move on to a new hospital, town, state, or in the worst cases — country. Like traveling performers, they simply play their role again. I coined the terms "virtual factitious disorder" (Feldman, Bibby, Crites, 1998) and "Munchausen by Internet" (Feldman, 2000) to refer to people who simplify this "real-life" process by carrying out their deceptions online. Instead of seeking care at numerous hospitals, they gain new audiences merely by clicking from one support group to another. Under the guise of illness, they can also join multiple groups simultaneously. Using different names and accounts, they can even sign on to one group as a stricken patient, his frantic mother, and his distraught son all to make the ruse utterly convincing.

Clues to Detection of False Claims - Based on experience with two dozen cases of Munchausen by Internet, I have arrived at a list of clues to the detection of factititous Internet claims. The most important follow:

the posts consistently duplicate material in other posts, in books, or on health-related websites;
the characteristics of the supposed illness emerge as caricatures;
near-fatal bouts of illness alternate with miraculous recoveries;
claims are fantastic, contradicted by subsequent posts, or flatly disproved;
there are continual dramatic events in the person's life, especially when other group members have become the focus of attention;
there is feigned blitheness about crises (e.g., going into septic shock) that will predictably attract immediate attention;
others apparently posting on behalf of the individual (e.g., family members, friends) have identical patterns of writing.
Lessons - Perhaps the most important lesson is that, while most people visiting support groups are honest, all members must balance empathy with circumspection. Group members should be especially careful about basing their own health care decisions on uncorroborated information supplied in groups. When Munchausen by Internet seems likely, it is best to have a small number of established members gently, empathically, and privately question the author of the dubious posts. Even though the typical response is vehement denial regardless of the strength of the evidence, the author typically will eventually disappear from the group. Remaining members may need to enlist help in processing their feelings, ending any bickering or blaming, and refocusing the group on its original laudable goal.

Post a Comment
272338 tn?1252280404
by crecco, Mar 25, 2008
nyc Lady,
  Thank you for that very interesting article. I have heard of Munchausens but never thought of it showing up on the internet. But after reading your comment, it makes a lot of sense. And it is too bad that we have no way of knowing. Even though none of like what happened, I speak for myself when I say that it will happen again (to me anyway) because that is just the kind of person that I am. In no way do I regret what I did, but I do regret what was done to me. There are so few good people left in the world that it really ticks me off when a kind and good hearted person is used and taken advantage of. I guess in a small way we have to kind of feel sorry for the ones who are so lost in life that they must resort to something like Munchausens, whether it be in real life or on the internet. And when thinking about it, the ones on the internet are more lost in life than the ones who pull it off in real life.
  I look at it as you do, I know in my heart that I did what I felt was right in the situation. They are the ones who must deal with knowing what they did was wrong. And if they have a conscience at all, I hope that it eats away at them. Nothing will change what they did, but it kind of helps knowing that maybe they have their own illness that they are struggling with. I can only hope that they are able to feel some kind of remorse for their deception.

Avatar universal
by cirella, Mar 25, 2008
All I can say is WOW!  Like Chris, I knew of this disorder but never imagined it on the Internet.  May God help the fakers and I hope they never actually do become as sick as they presented themselves to be.  Well, with OC, I mean....they ARE already sick.

282804 tn?1236833591
by Jan214, Mar 25, 2008
For a cynic, I am way to trusting, but that does not mean I will quit trusting.  As I have told others, reaching out to those you think need help is not something we should be ashamed about.  We did what God or our conscious dictated and that is all we can do.  Will I get burned again?  Most likely.  I have talked to a few people about getting together a group who would be willing to investigate complaints on the forum about these kind of situations.  yes, they have their own illness they are dealing with (mental), but we cannot allow it to invade our neighborhood.  If everybody jumps ship because of this, what are we left with?  The sad part is that someone we all know came to me 6 wks ago with her suspicions (I have not seen her post since) and I blew her off even though i thought I was being open minded I wasn't.  I will be from now on, I don't care who the complaint is about.  If someone tells me they think someone is a phony, I will use my considerable research skills to find out.

167426 tn?1254086235
by SimplyStar, Mar 25, 2008
I took a class  years ago on attention seeking personalities.  It went all the way from the child acting out for attention, to the adult with a serious disorder.  There is some recent therories that  this can even lead to Autism, a complete withdrawl to self,  rejection of all society morals,  and because of constant rejections can lead to suicide.  It is used to disrupt the normal pattern of thoughts of others.  It is also used by the intelligent mind to gain more than sympathic returns but also monetary.  In other words, a scam. How many of us have read the founded and unfounded articals pleading for money to overcome a fatalistic  situation?  I have been involved in many  of these drives to raise money, some have been exposed as plots for personal gain. After doing an indepth search into one prominent  yearly fund raiser, I stopped giving my time and money to them.  90% of the money raised went into private pockets.  There is a distinct pattern to these purveyors of greed and lust for attention.  I know how the present situation has made these vunerable caring individuals feel victimized,  but we all know that we  learn from our mistakes.  Put this whole episode in the shredder where it belongs.  Continue to care and help each other, I will not let something like this destroy my faith in my friends.

Avatar universal
by learninboutlife, Mar 25, 2008
Thanks Pam! I guess diseases evolve as society evolves too. Never really heard about this, but what better than an experience to file it away with in the memory banks.

Post a Comment