In the end, people will lie.
We will never know for sure their motives– whether it’s out of greed or self-preservation, assimilation or merely selfishness, or purely for the perverse pleasure of destroying someone’s faith in the world.
What we do know is this: if we are lucky, the lie will come to light, the liar exposed, and those hurt by the lie will eventually heal and be stronger for it.
That strength always comes with a price.
If we are willing to pay it.
If we are patient and willing to work hard, the truth will rise to the top and hope will once again be abundant.
We will be set free.
*Why Am I Waxing Philosophical?*
Members of our tightly knit Milwaukee Twitter community were shaken Tuesday evening by a series of tweets from an anonymous handle purporting to be a Catfisher.
The Catfisher was, allegedly, exposing the fact that a Milwaukee Twitteree had swiped someone else’s face (pictures from Facebook) and used them to create a fictional social media character with Twitter, Instagram and Google+ accounts.
Now, I realize anonymous handles, alter egos, aliases, imposters are hardly new or particularly newsworthy on Twitter…or any other platform for that matter. It has long been known that these accounts exist (hell, I’ve gone through five generations of handles until finally becoming me as myself.).
What makes this story noteworthy is the lesson to be learned from it as applied across all social media platforms (for veterans of, and newbies to, the world of social media).
It’s a study, though not scientific, about the way friendships are built at record-breaking pace in the world of social media.
It’s a story about the way, for some reason, our traditional gut reactions, our spidey senses, and our blink factors can easily become distorted when interacting with total strangers online—especially when they seem to have credibility.
It’s a story of trust built on community…which is how social media works.
It’s a real-life story of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s willing suspension of disbelief where people wanted to believe the best and were quick to ignore red flags.
It’s a story of how someone who must have been so empty, probably very sad, and so obviously lonely came to ingrain herself in the lives of so many for nearly three years.
And finally, it’s the story of how those of us left behind are picking up the pieces, leaning on each other, learning from the experience, and moving on as a tighter, albeit more closed, community.
As always, with full candor, I am part of this story. And the story I tell is from my perspective—and my perspective only.
Though I’ve spoken with others, I’m sure not all will agree with my conclusions. And I don’t purport to speak for them.
I got played just like everyone else did.
And it sucks.
But I’m not bitter. That’s just a waste of time.
In the interest of protecting her privacy, her safety and my own ass, I will not give either her handle or her real name. Though I know many of you out there know both, I’m not using my blog disseminate that information.
For this post, she’ll be called FakeTwitterGirl.
Her alias’ first name was completely vanilla. Like most people who aren’t looking for verification, she used only that vanilla first name with a personalized handle.
No red flags there.
Her profile and stream pictures always showed a bright, vibrant, and frankly Midwestern gorgeous, thirty-something woman.
Her personality had just the right amount of sass, support, and sympathy.
Before I started interacting with her on an almost daily basis, what I noticed right away was that she always seemed to be there to lend support to someone in need.
The second thing I noticed was that many of my friends not only followed her, but interacted with her. And not just interacted with her on a “oh we’ll humor you level,” but on a very genuine, mutual respect level.
Keep this in mind as we move forward.
Initially, she said she lived in Milwaukee. The city turned out, she complained, to be too overwhelming. So she picked up and moved “home” to Elkhorn.
For those she interacted with privately, her life story changed slightly from person to person.
For me, my private interaction started with her mundane tweet that she was nervous about a first date.
We started direct messaging. She said that she had been married to a man who abused her and that she was super nervous about dating again. It was a decently long conversation as Twitter messaging goes.
The next day I followed up to ask how things went. It wasn’t like we were instant friends. But we did continue to message from time to time.
I can’t even say when the ice broke, but I can tell you why. FakeTwitterGirl started telling me about her friendships with my friends. If they let her in, I felt that I could relax a little more with her than I typically would with someone I genuinely didn’t know at all.
It was then that I started to let her in—never all the way or even most of the way, but enough that I felt comfortable (something that happens rarely).
She jumped with me through four different handles. She seemed like a loyal, funny, sweet person. I genuinely liked her—again, not something that happens with a lot of people.
But as with a lot of people one interacts with on Twitter, I didn’t meet her in person. At the time this was all happening, I was extremely stressed and working more than seventy hours a week. I didn’t have time to meet up with anyone really. And frankly, meeting someone you get along with on Twitter can sometimes be super awkward. With my time so limited, I didn’t even ask to get together.
No red flag there.
It was right after I jumped to my second handle (so, way over a year ago) that FakeTwitterGirl started to “crush” on me.
In the public stream.
Honestly, I found it both flattering and hilarious. She was hot. So why not flirt back? Our kind of flirting usually spawned a conversation that involved multiple other parties—it was just…fun. And we became known for that.
In private, we took the step of going offline. Still not in person, but offline. We exchanged phone numbers and started texting.
About random shit.
About random funny shit.
It was around this time, probably just about a year ago, that she said she’d gone out with another Milwaukee Twitteree and she really, really liked him.
As they started dating and through their relationship (though I have no idea if she ever really *dated* this guy or just gleaned information from his twitter stream), FakeTwitterGirl and I rode the highs and lows of her new relationship. We hashed out a lot of stuff–all via text.
One day, though, she reached out despondent. Something had gone wrong with the guy and she was beside herself. I can’t remember if I did or she did, but someone picked up the phone and called.
And we talked voice to voice.
No red flag here.
They were there.
*The Red Flags*
Hindsight is always…always 20/20, right?
This is no different.
Red flags abound.
In December, my job situation changed. I was relying on friends to get me through a rough patch, you know? And, importantly, after I’d spent the requisite two weeks hiding under my covers, I had more time.
So I started to ask FakeTwitterGirl to meet up for lunch or a movie or whatever. She always had some good excuse why we couldn’t—either the boy thought it was too dangerous for her to be on the road, or she was working with a client at her non-profit, or, or, or…but frankly, with the craptastical Wisconsin winter we had and the crap I was going through, the distance between Elkhorn and Milwaukee might as well have been from Earth to Moon.
But, she was always there for me via text. A shoulder. A kind word. Whatever was needed, she gave it.
Red flag flying there. Right there *points* do you see it?
Then at some point this winter, she started following me on Instagram. It was the first time I’d seen her use a last name. (Fake, of course.).
It used to be (two jobs ago) my job to find litigants…like literally scour the web and offline sources to find someone we wanted to bring into a claim. We all leave such a trail behind us on the web, my job was usually easy.
But with FakeTwitterGirl and her FakeLastName, I found squat. I mean it was this circular trail with all things leading back into each other. The Google+ account pointed to the Twitter account which pointed to the Instagram account or vice versa.
I tried looking up her non-profit on the IRS’s non-profit website. Zilch.
Checked CCAP for a divorce, a speeding ticket, anything. Zero.
I checked all my other usual fall back sites. Zip.
But there was no *ah ha* moment then. As noted, I wasn’t really paying attention to much…or caring about much. And she said she was an abused wife who ran a non-profit for abused women—something that is typically under the radar.
Right. I know exactly what you’re thinking. What? Come on, Lo, just what? Really? Where was your common sense?
Didn’t have any.
Red flag waving in the winter wind. See it?
Then summer rolled around (2014). And darn it, don’t you think it’s time that we met up, FakeTwitterGirl?
Of course she said yes. But then she always begged off, or just ignored text messages suggesting a meet up. Even when I was in Twin Lakes which was like minutes from Elkhorn, she was not to be found.
Oh hai, red flag in the summer sun. How are you?
Once or twice she’d posted a picture of herself (a picture swiped from RealTwitterGirl) out or celebrating or something. But mostly, she posted pictures of venues when she was out and about in Lake Geneva…
We all do that.
But you get the point.
There were signs I should have seen, but ignored.
I mean come on.
My friends were friends with her.
I’ve spoken to a number of people in the last two days. It’s felt like this trickle down of confirmation that FakeTwitterGirl was actually fake.
People came to me who thought I knew her, as in met her.
I went to people who I thought knew her, as in met her.
No one ever did.
What it comes down to is this: each one of us who was taken in by FakeTwitterGirl let our guards down because we:
a) relied on our friends to give FakeTwitterGirl credibility;
b) never asked our friends how well they actually knew FakeTwitterGirl;
c) were fooled by her seeming genuine concern for others; and
d) we wanted to believe that someone like her could actually be real.
I think this is where people might be upset with me for not being angry at FakeTwitterGirl.
I mean I was pissed initially. Last night I was uh-ang-ree. Beyond so.
But I’m not anymore.
Anger takes so much energy.
I don’t feel violated either—at least not in the creepiest sense of the word. The things I shared with her, I shared willingly. And as I said before, I never let her in all the way.
I never let anyone all the way in.
Granted, I didn’t have a clue FakeTwitterGirl wasn’t a real person and I wouldn’t have shared anything *obviously* had I known…but that’s my fault.
There were red flags.
I ignored them.
What I do feel is this strange sense of remorse. But not for the friendship. And not for not doing my due diligence and asking my friends what they actually knew about FakeTwitterGirl.
What makes me feel bad is that someone could be so empty inside herself that something totally snapped. And that the something snapped so violently that whoever she really was disappeared completely.
I feel bad that someone who appeared to be so lonely and sad felt the need to shut down her own personal social media handles, swipe someone else’s face and pictures, and re-invent herself as a whole new person, someone completely fictional.
To me, it’s nothing but tragic.
You are, of course, free to disagree.
I expect many of you will.
What we’re left with in the wake of FakeTwitterGirl is a violation of the Milwaukee Twitterees’ trust. Our little community of friends feels like we should have known better…or at least should have known.
But we didn’t.
A few of you are out there kicking yourselves for not taking action sooner.
The reason we failed to question FakeTwitterGirl wasn’t just that we trusted each other.
We failed to question because when someone is that desperate to disappear, they actually believe themselves that they are someone else.
To wit, she couldn’t have been as convincing as she was if she didn’t believe she *was* FakeTwitterGirl.
But what I’m getting from the community tonight, aside from some stray bits of anger, is people pulling together to support one another as we all sort through this baffling mess and that feeling of what the hell was that shit?
We are tighter tonight than we were yesterday.
More jaded, too, perhaps.
But that will fade.
It always does.
I think as a whole, we’ll all be a little smarter when some new person tries to become part of the crew.
And that’s okay.
As long as we don’t shut everyone out.
No longer will: Oh, I met that person on Twitter be enough to satisfy us that someone is a good and decent person…or a *real* person for that matter.
But, and again, maybe it’s just me, it feels like taking a little bit of technology out of intra-personal relationships is probably a good thing.
Meaning, we should meet our supposed online friends face-to-face much sooner.
I can’t speak for any of the rest of you who were taken by FakeTwitterGirl.
None of you actually.
I only know that I feel stronger tonight than I did when I heard that FakeTwitterGirl wasn’t real yesterday.
I feel like there are more important things to worry about than whether FakeTwitterGirl was malicious, or mentally ill, or just <insert your own word here>.
I got played.
I was pissed.
I realized that it really didn’t matter.
My mom is sick. She’s been in and out of the hospital since last week.
What the fuck do I care if I got played by some lonely person who was funny and only wanted friendship (at least from me)?
There are bigger things to worry about.
I’ll leave you here by saying this: if you got played and you’re pissed, be more careful next time. I’m sorry if you trusted my judgment in bringing FakeTwitterGirl into your world. I trusted other people’s judgment, too. But I’m also here for you while you sort through your feelings, heal, and move on.
We’re all responsible.
We’ll all be okay.
All my love,