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Fraud on the Internet: the Frier and the So What

In Hebrew, we have a common phrase that summarizes part of the Israeli cultural identity: ani lo frier, which translates loosely to “I’m not a sucker.”  Being exploited, having someone pull the wool over your eyes, giving away your kindness to someone who doesn’t deserve it earns you that title of frier.  Being a frier, a fool, is one of the worst things you can call a person in Israel.  Here in America, you could call someone an idiot and get away with it.  Call someone a frier in Israel and you better be prepared to be slugged.

A watered down English equivalent would be “I knew that!” when the person so clearly didn’t know that.  Or “I meant to do that!” when they clearly didn’t.  Americans have a hard time admitting their mistakes, but when someone tricks us, we’re okay talking about it.  Pointing out how horrible the other person is.  In Israel, you would never want to admit aloud that someone got you to give them empathy when they were lying to you.  In America, we talk about it, sometimes under the guise that we’re protecting others by spreading word.

I’m not sure where I’m heading with those thoughts except that they’re a cultural difference I’ve noted; these two ways of reacting to our fears of playing the fool.

No one wants to be tricked, but it happens, and with the exception of far-reaching schemes such as Bernie Madoff, it is usually something that affects us deeply in the moment and then fades away.

Once a Mother wrote so eloquently about a situation unfolding in the ALI blogosphere that people emailed me about today, a situation I know nothing about.  She points out that lying about loss obviously happens — Warrior Eli ring any bells?  Little April Rose? — but also that people grieve in a multitude of ways; sometimes ways that don’t make a lot of sense to us.  We can’t always predict how we ourselves will act when the shit hits the fan, much less what rings true for someone we only know through a computer screen.

In grade school, there was a girl in my class who always said and did the wrong thing, and she was teased all the time.  She always raised her hand to answer the question, and she pretty much always got it wrong.  One day, she came to school and told us that she was moving to Korea.  It was decided that we’d combine a scheduled classroom party with a going-away party for her, and we all worked on banners and cards to send her off to Korea.  Living in the DC area, this happened often since many of the students at my school were the children of diplomats or they were administration appointments, and they’d come and go with the postings.  We held a lot of parties, made a lot of cards.

The day of the party arrived, and we brought in our baked goods and our cards and streamers.  We decorated the room.  And we gave this girl her cards.  We all hugged her and told her that we’d love to be her pen pal.  Her mother came by the room towards the end of the party for pick-up when her daughter was carrying out all of her cards and the banner.  The teacher told the mother that we’d miss her daughter, and the mother asked why.  After some awkward dancing around on the topic, we all learned that this girl wasn’t moving to Korea.  She was going to be back in school the next day.  She never told us why she made it up, though I have to guess that it was for the attention, the love, the small pool of days when no one teased her when she said Montana was the capital of the United States.

I think about that girl all the time; what would make a person create a fake story, especially one that would have to come apart at the seams at some point?  When she was still in school, weren’t we going to find out that she wasn’t moving to Korea?  This fake story had a shelf life.

I asked about it last week with Forest Boy.  I think there’s one part of me that is fascinated by the fact a person would do this. (It seems very difficult to me, but Josh also points out that I can’t keep a surprise for longer than 30 seconds.  Secrets — if you ask me not to tell anyone — I can keep forever.  But a surprise I know everyone will find out at some point?  Those things I gleefully shout out within seconds of creating the surprise.)  There’s another part of me that doesn’t want to be the frier and reacts with frustration to the idea of being taken in.  And there’s another part of me that remembers that girl from grade school, and my heart goes out to anyone who could benefit greatly from a few kind cards and a banner, but doesn’t know how to go about getting those things in a straightforward manner.

Thank you to everyone who wrote me, but I really like Once a Mother’s take on things.  It costs nothing to extend kindness.  For instance, it cost my classmates and I very little to make her the card in the long run after our initial reaction — truly, the price was a loss of trust, a few cents worth of increased suspicion, and some wax from the crayons.  And on the Internet it costs us little to trust until proven otherwise and extend kindness.  Or to not be able to do that and to walk away without saying anything at all.

What if my classmates and I hadn’t made cards for the next child who announced they were moving?  And what if that child did move and left our classroom feeling empty and isolated because there was no send off?  I would rather make one extra, perhaps unnecessary card than have people who are leaving and need the card not receive one because I’m caring more about not being a frier than I’m thinking about how to reach out to others, be a kind human being.

There are people whom I have never met (yet), but I care about you and what happens to you deeply.  When you hurt, I hurt too, just as I do for all my face-to-face friends.  We are a tribe here.  I can extend that love when the relationship comes first, the need for support comes second.  That connection is important because the strength of that connection informs my reaction, how deeply I feel about hearing news.

My choice is to continue to extend kindness when I can extend kindness, extend support to those whom I know in the online sense or the face-to-face sense.  It may mean that I become the frier sometimes, but truly, so what?  Isn’t the alternative — becoming untrusting — just as detrimental as playing the fool?  So I choose to trust until I am clearly shown that I shouldn’t trust.  And breathe deeply because we’re humans and we’re fragile and why we do things isn’t always clear.

21 comments

1 Wolfers { 06.21.12 at 12:11 am }

Well said.

2 jjiraffe { 06.21.12 at 1:08 am }

I love this post so much.

You said it all. Thank you.

3 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 06.21.12 at 1:12 am }

As you know I dealt with a very unpleasant incident a few months ago in which our nanny stole thousands of dollars from us, over a long period of time, in addition to being a shitty nanny in a lot of ways. What made it worse than just violating our trust or, at times, endangering our children, was that I was particularly kind to her, tolerant and generous but also very kind. Part of me is so reluctant to trust anyone again: today DH mentioned that a new friend of his wants us to join him for dinner, and my gut reaction was a categorical no. My impulse is never to have anyone take care of our children at home ever again, even though the most likely candidates are one of their teachers from school or our cleaning lady (whom I leave alone in the house, without the children, often).

But the flip side is that there was a college intern who was going to work with us for the summer and I was on the verge of offering her our guest room for several months. So apparently I am not afraid to trust everyone, just babysitters.

4 Amy { 06.21.12 at 1:50 am }

Again, you offer a refreshingly simple and honest perspective.

5 StacieT { 06.21.12 at 1:53 am }

My choice is the same as yours. It doesn’t hurt me to extend kindness online when I feel compelled to do so.

Thank you for writing this.

6 St. Elsewhere { 06.21.12 at 2:01 am }

If our trust is compromised, navigating through life becomes difficult.

I can say that from a variety of viewpoints:

a) For one, people are only suspecting that she is lying. She may not be lying.

b) Students deliver tons of fibs to me about why they could not come to class/submit an assignment/ failed a paper. I once let a girl off easily when she told me that her mum had died right around exam time. To my complete dismay, it was a big lie. Who kills their parents to avoid late fees for submissions? She did. I was very hurt. But then, I once did not behave aptly with someone who actually had lost her mother, and I realized that even though the fibbing hurt, just knowing that I had not treated someone right for their loss actually weighed very heavily on my conscience.

c) I understand the loss of trust. We are all loosely bound here by technology…but I am aware of the consequences of losing trust in people closest to you.

d) At the end of the day, her truth and her lies are with her. My behaviour and my kindness stays with me.

7 Mijk { 06.21.12 at 8:12 am }

A friend of me is a minister in a shelter for homeless people. Needless to say he gets duped sometimes. When he yold a mentor about how frustrated he was he got told. When you are never the fool in your job you are doing it wrong because you are so supicious that you eject honest people and you never know what kindness does to once soul. This has made me more trusting because I want to be trusting…..

8 Her Royal Fabulousness { 06.21.12 at 8:34 am }

I completely agree with you. Just because someone violates your trust once, doesn’t mean no one else deserves your trust. I’d rather chalk it up to that person’s bad judgement, not my own. I suppose that is American isn’t it? :)

9 upislandgirl { 06.21.12 at 8:59 am }

I agree with you, but also wanted to update that the author of The Other Side of The Rainbow has confessed that she made the whole thing up. She is clearly lonely and in need of help, and I hope that she gets it.

http://warriorelihoax.wordpress.com/

10 KeAnne { 06.21.12 at 9:07 am }

I’m glad we know for sure that this blog was a hoax. Mel, great post. I felt foolish for commenting on her blog to offer support, but I’d rather focus on extending kindness, even if it is undeserved, then to remain closed off.

11 a { 06.21.12 at 9:12 am }

For me, I suppose it depends on the level of fool that I am. If I give some sympathy or attention once or twice – no big deal. If I give a little more…well, it becomes a problem. I don’t like other people wasting my time, but I don’t feel that a little attention is a waste of my time.

12 Aisha { 06.21.12 at 9:24 am }

On one level I agree, as a commenter said, I’d rather err on the side of comforting someone who is hurting rather than not doubt and turn away because of my doubt and not comfort someone who needed it.

At the same time it deeply upsets me when people take advantage of people’s kindness and trust and fabricate stories even if they harm is not financial. I saw a story and link posted on many of my blogs that I read about a mother who lost her baby girl in a car accident and she also had a lot of other difficult and tragic background in her life, and while I felt for her and was horrified the whisper in the back of my head was, this sounds like Eli Warrior, is this a hoax? And then I felt terrible and left a comment of support. . .. and while it doesn’t effect my life if she’s lying or not—- there’s something sad when we can’t trust anything of that which we read. A con is a con financial or not.

But I agree that just because these things happen doesn’t mean we don’t give our compassion to others— that’s a risk we just have to take.

13 Aisha { 06.21.12 at 9:29 am }

Well okay then. Now I feel like a true fool. I didn’t realize Little April Rose is the story everyone was linking to. I simply read posts about “this is so tragic, the universe is unfair, please support this mother” and clicked over to leave support. I had friends who wrote about how they were weeping as they wrote about this. I read the story and while like I said I had that guilty feeling of doubt, I was depressed, I told my mom, my husband. . . .

Thanks to a commenter pointing out the Eli Warrior Hoax website I just clicked over and saw that is a hoax too.

Having just become played— its not fun. It’s not the end of the world and my day is going to continue as is, but it upsets me that people would take advantage of other people’s emotions in this way regardless of their reasons.

14 D { 06.21.12 at 9:32 am }

Very well said. At first I was very angry for getting sucked into that story and “wasting prayers on her and her baby”. Then I thought about it and decided that nothing here was wasted. That girl clearly needs some type of help so hopefully my prayers might be redirected to help her mental state. I am new to this whole blogging thing and never once did I think something like this might happen. I just didn’t think anyone would have the time to fake something so awful. I guess I have learned my lesson, though, and will be more cautious going forward.

15 Aisha { 06.21.12 at 9:39 am }

Sorry for taking over your comment box Mel, but I had one more thought as I had clicked over to the cache shots of her blog and saw front and right the ICLW logo that you created to help us all find each other and support each other. Infertility is hell. Miscarriages and loss of any kind are hell. I am not sure HOW I would have survived with my sanity in tact were it not for your resources, the LFCA, the blog roll, etc and honestly the IF community is the most amazing online community I’ve ever encountered. . . . I do worry that when more and more things like this happen, as out numbered as they may be by real and legitimate stories and situations, if they somehow chip away at our supportive unit– because when we read a horrible tragic story we will wonder if its a hoax— and whether or not we choose to support anyways giving benefit of the doubt, I do think the damage of online hoaxes like these can be greater in the long-term than we realize.

16 OnceAMother { 06.21.12 at 11:20 am }

So well said, Mel. I have to say, my heart hurts for that little girl who felt she had to pretend to be moving across the world to feel the love of her classmates :( I remember a friend in second grade always telling me these super fabulous things her mother was doing with her (taking her to tight rope walking classes for one) and it turned out her mother was actually completely absent from her life :( Also, I can’t tell you how much it means to me that my post resonated with you. I know this has now (according to the link above) turned out to be false, but what if it hadn’t? I remember a woman who did actually suffer multiple losses a few years ago getting hated on in her comments section by people who went so far as to accuse her of killing her children for attention, when, if I remember correctly, they had passed of some undiagnosed metabolic disorder.

17 Sian { 06.21.12 at 4:14 pm }

Wow, I am speechless!

18 Mali { 06.21.12 at 8:56 pm }

I’ve spent a lot of time on a message board for women who have suffered a particular type of pregnancy loss. Occasionally, women arrive and have stories, and friends of mine (talking behind the scene) have speculated if they’ve made them up. At first I felt gullible – I took everyone for face value. But I wasn’t prepared to go wiht the doubt, and potentially leave someone hanging, especially someone who seemed to desperately need help. I’ve probably responded – kindly and helpfully – to women there who were only seeking attention. I feel sorry for them if they have to resort to that. But I also know that others in similar circumstances would have read our responses, and gained from the love and advice these women received, and so I don’t regret spending the time to do this at all. Choosing to trust feels right to me – like it does to you. I know people who choose not to trust all the time, and I feel sad for them too.

19 Lori Lavender Luz { 06.21.12 at 10:53 pm }

Yes YES to your last paragraph.

20 Emily @ablanket2keep { 06.21.12 at 11:17 pm }

Yes, well said.

21 Stinky { 06.22.12 at 1:55 am }

I love this, this contrast between cultures for context, and it reminded me of nearly 20 years ago when I was doing what would be the equivalent of higher ed (but not degree yet). I had a ‘best friend’ who was clearly troubled, had all kinds of issues. She would consistently lie to people, and I found out that she had been lying to me, not even about important things, just silly things for the 18mo-2 years of our friendship. OK passing your driving test is quite a big thing, I guess, at that age, but she was telling these lies that were just pointless. I was her friend, wasn’t going to think badly of her if she failed her test or whatever. Doesn’t change anything. To come out crying and tell me that she’s just lost her virginity to some random guy she slept with at a party, when it turns out she’s quite the slapper and lost her virginity years prior . . . why? She got hugs, sympathy, whatever, and now I realise she was probably feeling a lot more than I could have understood then (being a quite naive little virgin myself!) But she was quite manipulative too, and I found myself really distrustful of ANYONE coming into my life and being friendly after that. To the point when another friend came to me and told me she had been raped at a party the night before . . . I wasn’t sure what to believe (fortunately I don’t think that other friend picked up on my wonderings at that time, thank god) . . . you do start to wonder if and when you’re being played. And why does this keep happening? I have gullible idiot tattooed on my forehead?

Whereas now, I respond to the situations as I encounter them, and if someone is lying, I see it as saying farrrrr more about them than it is about me. So I might look an idiot for responding to someone potentially in crisis. Well I can do idiot quite well. So be it. I wouldn’t do very well as an Israeli person!

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