Have you ever heard of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy? It’s a rare, and somewhat controversial, psychiatric disorder in which someone fakes or even causes health problems in a person in her care, to get attention or engender sympathy.
One of the more famous, recent cases was that of Lacey Spears, 25-year-old mother to Garnett Spears. Garnett lived only to the age of five and spent a good deal of that time in the hospital with fevers, ear infections, seizures, and digestive issues. Lacey used social media to garner sympathy for herself over Garnett’s health problems, for example, tweeting about her devotion to Garnett and updating on his hospital visits (her twitter account, @GarnettsMommy is still active), as well as blogging about his health on “Garnett’s Journey.”
It wasn’t until shortly before Garnett’s death that doctors discovered lethally high sodium levels in his body. He passed away in 2014 from brain swelling caused by the high sodium levels. Shortly after, the police investigated and discovered IV feeding bags in Lacey’s home containing excessive sodium. Over his five years of life, Lacey had poisoned Garrett to death with salt, while using his illnesses she caused to cast herself as a victim. Lacey was convicted of second-degree murder in 2015 and is serving 20 years.
I bring this up because it seems we’re experiencing a kind of collective version of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy right now in the form of hate crime hoaxes. A rash of them have taken place around the election, most by people claiming to have been harassed because they’re Muslim or black. For instance:
These hate crime hoax incidents have a lot in common with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Someone gets sympathy and attention for being a victim of an awful circumstance that he caused himself in order to engender sympathy and attention. Meanwhile, the biggest victims, like Garnett Spears, are the people the hoaxer is purporting to protect. Sometimes, the damage is direct and tangible: members of the Greenville church lost their place of worship. More often, though, the damage is insidious. Not only do hoaxes consume valuable resources better spent elsewhere, but they, fairly or not, diminish real cases of bigotry. They destroy trust, engender suspicion, and create excess noise that causes people to tune out all of it.
With the proliferation of hate crime hoaxes, we seem to be in the middle of a rather serious collective mental breakdown right now, and the media have, for the most part, decided to act as enablers. Instead of checking and corroborating facts before reporting them as such, they’re providing the hoaxers the attention and notoriety they, like Lacey Spears, so keenly desire. They feed the illness and then shrug and move on to the next outrage. As long as the media are willing to enable the hoaxers with attention, it will be difficult to stop these Munchausen by Proxy attention seekers from doing their damage.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.