Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day One-Hundred Fifty: Dubious Blogging?

(Because this seemed more appropriate here than at the end of the post: Pens win. Game seven Friday. Because Rex got a new octopus)

Interesting goings-on.

I can't post a link to today's blogger-in-question (for reasons you'll understand shortly), but here's a story my wife was sharing with me yesterday that I certainly found interesting.

See, Kim and I got pretty into the MckMama/Praying for Stellan blog a while back. (It's now just a Mommmy-Blog, which is a really fascinating concept/movement in and of itself) A few months ago, this woman who has been keeping up a blog about her family life for awhile had to take her less-than-a-year-old son into the hospital for irregular heartbeat. It became a medical nightmare that stretched over a month long and included all kinds of scary treatments, including manually stopping Stellan's heart, hoping that it would re-start itself correctly. The saga culminated with a trip to Boston, where the poor boy underwent heart surgery. All throughout the process, which MckMama blogged about every day, the situation seemed to get worse and worse. Any opportunity for bad news seemed to yield bad news. In a best case/worst case scenario, Stellan was usually stuck with the worst case.

In the end, Stellan's surgery was as successful as it could possibly have been given the crappy circumstances that weren't fully realized until the surgeon had gone in, and it looks like he's going to be okay in the long run, though he'll probably need a pacemaker for most of his life.

Through the entire ordeal, MckMama blogged a LOT about her faith, how every step forward challenged it, and how she learned that she could be at peace with whatever God's will was, even if it meant losing her baby. Incredible. After awhile, this little blog that nobody outside of a ring of mommy bloggers knew about had people all around the world sending words of encouragement, praying for Stellan, and dressing in orange for some reason. (I didn't follow as closely as Kim did; I'm not sure what this was about) Now, MckMama and her family are back to living a normal stay-home-mom life. It's a bit odd to go to her blog and see things like "Here are my thoughts on diapers!" after so much medical drama.

So there's the set-up. The Internet has made it possible to make celebrities out of everyday people, we always knew that. It's also given an Everywoman like MckMama to touch literally thousands with her words of wisdom through her own struggles. Complete strangers become prayer partners and inspiration for one another. That's not a phenomenon I need to go into too much detail on; I think Time magazine did a nice piece on it a few years ago when I was named Person of the Year. (Was that Time?)

Recently, there's been a similar situation. Kim could give you better details, but one young woman begins to blog about her struggles as a single pregnant woman whose boyfriend has bolted on her. She learns that her child is likely to be born with some specific birth defect that has a good chance to be fatal, but she decides to have the baby anyway. Similar to the MckMama situation, this young woman blogs with great detail about the medical details throughout her struggle. She receives encouragement in the form of comments, letters (sent to a P.O. Box in order to protect her anonymity), pictures, etc, and though she refuses checks, some folks go ahead an send baby supplies. Her story is touching and inspirational and raises some seriously hard questions, even for the pro-life crowd that makes up the majority of its following. The blogger uses her site to raise some money for Crisis Pregnancy Centers through other Mommy bloggers so that she wouldn't be accused of hoarding any of the money for herself.

Readers follow her every struggle right up to the moment when her little baby is born. Pictures of the newborn go up online.

And then, the controversy starts.

Wait a moment, that doesn't look like a newborn child! The head is the wrong shape! The baby is too big! There's no trace of birth defect on that child! In fact, it looks exactly like such-and-such uber-lifelike doll used in parenting class exercises!

And then the pictures are gone.

Then come the investigative reports in the comment section: This trivial detail on this date contradicts something that was said two months ago. There are inconsistencies between this statement and this later statement. Page-long diatribes of things that appear to be more than a little fishy.

And then the blog is gone. As are the Twitter and Facebook sites associated with it. Like, completely erased. Four-oh-four'd.

Now you've got people up in arms. Folks outraged that they've been had. That someone has played them all for some sick joke/trick. These same folks who've been awed, inspired, and challenged are saying some pretty cruel things about whoever this was who's been jerking their emotions around for kicks. Allegations that she was just doing it for the money that came in through the fundraisers. Basically, folks just feel cheated and had, and that makes them angry. And that I understand.

My guess? This was an experiment. Either a grad student in a psych class or an author writing a book or something. Someone who was a very convincing writer with some very convincing scientific data who couldn't taint the integrity of the experiment set out and pulled a fast one on hundreds of loyal readers.

Yes, it was all a lie. And looking back, the P.O. Box, running everything through other sites, maybe someone should have smelled it sooner.

Was anyone hurt? I mean, really? Other than people's feelings being hurt because they've invested so much emotionally and prayerfully into someone and some problem that don't exist, was anything hurt? Is spending extra time in prayer a bad thing? Is the inspiration drawn from this courageous woman lessened because she wasn't real? If she spoke truths, are those truths diminished? Other sources have verified that all the money raised through this blog did indeed go to help others through charities.

So what happened here? Did someone play a sick joke on the rest of the Internet? Did they take advantage of the bleeding hearts who are always on the lookout for a Stellan to pray for? Or did someone take advantage of a unique opportunity to open a discussion, exchange ideas, provide inspiration, and raise money for a worthy cause? And if this truly was some sort of unorthodox research (The Shape of Things, anybody?), I wonder what to what purpose it will be used?

I get why people are upset. In a way, I don't fault them. I really, really don't. Then again, I think I really tend to gravitate toward the "good has been done here" line of thought.

Am I wrong? Is it emotional manipulation to use non-consenting people as research via the Internet, even if you intend to use the emotional thrill-ride for good? I suppose the question in question here is if the ends justify the means.

Oy. Isn't that always the questions?