Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Truth and the Internet
When I worked at Bolt, we used to say that most teens have a tendency to tell the truth in their profiles and their posts. There was always the rare case in which someone pretended to commit suicide, or adopted a personality (with photo) that was completely different from reality, but these situations were considered rare.
Now, if you remember, I wrote earlier about some blog-drama in which someone was impersonating a persona to get attention, and how fascinating I found this. We've recently had something sort of similar happen on Japundit. One of our contributors found a web site published by a woman claiming to be named Hitomi Kurusugawa (the site has since shut down). She had copied numerous Japundit posts, word for word, and was posting them as her own, and starting to get a number of admirers, in no small part because her photo was attractive.
Here's an example. I wrote a post for Japundit about a strange experience I had watching 3 hearing impaired teens on a Shinkansen pull out very realistic looking guns, and how my brain went into and infinite loop until the whole scene finally registered and I figured out what to do. She copied this post word for word, and got the following response from her readers:
“Sugoi..My oh my. Hitomi-sensei.. I must say thats a very well written and articulated blog.. I agree that here in America, if a person brings out a gun or a toy that has a strong resemblence of a gun, people would react immediately.. putting in mind that America was attacked by Terrorist and until today, is still being threatened… Anywho.. Im glad to hear from you again.. I would have never read your blog if it wasnt for your brother.. I hope all things are well.. Im pretty sure i speak for everyone that we missed you, and we all hope you could go online sometime..”
Japundit readers responded by sending her lots of "hate mail," and she shut down the site. The men then *eye roll* began to talk about how it was such a shame because she had been so good looking.
How good looking you ask? Well, so good looking that the same photo was being used for another account -- this time for someone claiming to be an artist. So, the Japundit crew headed over to look at this site and, lo and behold, found more of our blog posts lifted from Japundit and masquerading as her words.
Is she even a she? Is she an artist? Is she real at all? Would it have mattered as much if she hadn't supposedly been so good looking? (Duh. Of course it's more tragic because she might have been attractive). Aren't all relationships a little bit about what we project onto others?
All this reminds me a little bit of the premise for Idoru by William Gibson in which a pop star is rumored to only exist online. Of course other art froms have dabbled with the premise, and it is certainly interesting. Given the spate of author scandals lately -- the most fascinating one to me is a tie between the 40 year old woman pretending to be a 20 something male hustler in Manhattan and a white man who specializes in persona makeovers masquerading as a Native American author -- this might seem like tame stuff in comparison.
(A quite aside -- my brilliant friend Jeffrey said to me he thought that the whole anger at James Frey was really misdirected American anger at the fact that we are being lied to. The brilliant Peter Carey agrees.)
Now, for a little dose of "opposite" medicine. I'm a huge fan of the show Battlestar Galactica. It's pretty much the only show which I watch regularly and I'll post reasons why at a later date. I go to the message boards occasionally . . . and what did I see one day but someone claiming to be the wife of the show's main writer and developer, Ron Moore.
Except, she turns out to be real. She has read the boards for a while, knows the personalities and comments on them to her husband. So, at least for that show, fans know that someone in power actually does read comments.
I thought that this was incredible. Ron Moore himself already puts an awful lot of energy into communicating with his fans -- which is not always appreciated. And now here was his wife commenting on the kinds of book he reads (history, politics), his love of strong women (he married her) and his workaholic tendencies (she jokes about muzzling her children).
So, there's the flip side of the wily, unpredictable nature of the Internet. On the one hand, we have hoaxters who are unmasked and whose crimes are publicized rapidly and viciously, and we have people who live in far off lands attempting to bridge the gaps that separate us.
I guess that pretty much reflects the human animal.