Playing Dead: Munchausen by Internet on the Rise

According to Dr. Marc Feldman, author of Playing Sick, the growth of social networking and online support groups has driven a corresponding jump in Munchausen by Internet, a syndrome in which people create online identities and pretend to be suffering from terminal illness in order to attract sympathy.

“The Internet world is perfect for expanding this type of deception,” Feldman told Obit, an online zine based in Brooklyn. And while the disorder is mostly about eliciting sympathy and attention, Feldman insists that there is, “an undeniable element of sadism,” in tricking so many fellow humans into sharing in false misery.

The recent documentary Catfish captured perfectly the parallel worlds that manipulative social networkers can create. In that case a cross-country romance between a New York photographer and a rural Michigan girl turns into a nightmare when he discovers it was all a web of lies.

Ironically, according to Obit writer Joyce Gemperlein, the internet has made it much more difficult for participants in more traditional forms of Munchausen syndrome. The easy access to detailed information about almost anyone makes faking an illness or death in real life practically impossible.

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Playing Dead: Munchausen by Internet on the Rise