Monday, September 22, 2008

The Searing Truth

I participate in an online Breast Cancer support forum. It has been an immense help to go back and forth with other women my age who are going through treatment. The forum boards can be deadly serious, wildly crazy, political, just about any internet forum with little moderation.

Over the past week, one of the posters on the forum wrote that her 3-year-old son had died during Hurricane Ike along with his father, her ex. The boards overflowed with an outpouring of support and sympathy for her. Offers to help out. Expressions of grief.

Eventually, it was discovered that not only had this woman's child not passed away, but she didn't have one....and probably had never had breast cancer.

It was all a false identity......shocking but true.

This created something of a dilemma for the members of the forum, which consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Those who were in the know tried to keep from publicly outing this person, out of a fear that she might be mentally ill and harm herself. Many private messages were sent back and forth, which expanded the amount of people who knew the truth, without publicly flogging this individual.

The problem was that members who had not been on the forum for a few days, and also new members, had no idea what was going on. They continued to post on the death announcement, conveying their condolences. Many were wanting to send cards, and even gift cards to help out financially.

Finally, someone made up a new account and anonymously detailed the whole story, listing all the evidence and exposing the deceit in all its glory....proven by the deceiver's own, very contradictory, posts from the past year.

Many people were upset about the public unmasking. They were worried about this individual and felt that letting everyone know would make her do something drastic.

I had started out feeling that way, but then came to the conclusion that the only way to have this person end her charade was to keep it public. If everyone knows the truth, her power to possibly scam members for money disappears.

The question I ask now:

Is there ever a time to keep a truth like this hidden?

I have come to believe that when an individual has harmed a community that they have been a part of, that only full truthfulness before that community is acceptable.

I've seen it happen in churches and in families.

When we try to hide the full truth because we are concerned about the individual, we inevitably harm the community they are a part of. When someone has issues with honesty, leaving things unspoken and partially hidden allows them to find a shadowy corner to cultivate their schemes and cling to the lies with people who are not informed about the entire truth.

Yet, when the whole truth is revealed, they must either capitulate, or run from the searing light of honesty, looking for a new community to infiltrate....beginning anew their cycle of deception.

The light of truth can be harsh, but also enlightening.


MInTheGap said...

My wife followed a board that talked about miscarriages and saw much the same thing. Someone came on and said that a person that people knew on the board had died-- and he was her husband. He used what he could gain from other threads and photos to create the impression that he was who he claimed to be.

Only the real girl came back.

I think you're right. Truth needs to come out sooner rather than later. It will be best for both parties that way.

It will teach those that use the Internet to protect that which is truly valuable and to get a healthy dose of skepticism, and it will teach attackers that either (a) they're have to get better or (b) your community is not that gullible.

terri said...

It's hard to believe that there are people who can be so heartless with other vulnerable people.