What a teen’s fake death can teach us about the internet, 20 years on

What a teen’s fake death can teach us about the internet, 20 years on

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The early web opened doorways and helped forge connections, however not everybody might be trusted.

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Kaycee Nicole was a teenage web star dwelling with terminal most cancers. Her 2001 loss of life was a tragedy — till individuals started to suspect there was extra to her story.

Hers is simply one of many fraudulent deaths featured in Pseudocide, a brand new podcast unique to Spotify and produced by Alice Fiennes and Poppy Damon, who explored the ethics of true crime in Murderabilia. The nine-part sequence delves into the historical past of people that’ve faked their very own deaths for revenue, mischief and self-preservation. Instances vary from the medieval Joan of Leeds, a nun who deserted her vows for a lifetime of “carnal lust,” to Ramon Sosa, a former skilled boxer who faked his loss of life when he came upon a success man was out to get him. Many of those “deaths” had been real-world hoaxes, however the Kaycee Nicole story is a reminder {that a} loss of life in our on-line world can nonetheless contact individuals in the true world.

On the floor, Kaycee Nicole was a highschool basketballer, lively in on-line journaling communities and on CollegeClub.com, an early social media web site. She was charismatic, optimistic and considerate. She wrote poetry and documented her day-to-day experiences with terminal leukemia on her weblog, Residing Colours. She additionally cast actual connections along with her readers, making telephone calls and exchanging items with the chums she made on-line. When she died, they mourned. However others observed discrepancies in her story.

The story is not only a thriller, it is a glimpse into the tradition of the web 20 years in the past. Not all the things was totally different then — many web sites we use immediately, together with CNET, had been round on the time. However many on-line communities had been smaller and extra fragmented. The web opened doorways for writers, giving them alternatives to search out audiences and hone their craft. Nevertheless it was additionally seen as a type of Wild West the place there was no assure an individual was who she or he claimed to be. 

Creator Saundra Mitchell was one of many first to query the discrepancies in Nicole’s story. Within the podcast episode on Nicole, she discusses the fragile steadiness of belief and suspicion on-line. The emotional bonds had been actual, however assembly up with somebody you’d turn into acquainted with on-line was thought of a dangerous step.

“It is ax murderers all the way in which down,” jokes Mitchell on the podcast. However the anonymity did not cease individuals from making actual connections — Mitchell met her spouse on a newsgroup devoted to vampires.

In that surroundings, the place feelings ran excessive however uncertainty was the norm, questioning the info of a current tragedy was explosive. And suggesting that the loss of life of a young person won’t’ve occurred in any respect was controversial. As individuals started to dig into the reality about Nicole’s life and loss of life, the ensuing scandal broke onto MetaFilter earlier than making headlines in The New York Instances, The Guardian and past. (Do not click on these hyperlinks in the event you do not wish to know all of the twists and turns of the story.) 

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Fiennes and Damon are the award-nominated producers of Murderabilia, a podcast sequence in regards to the profitable market in serial killers’ possessions and different grisly collectibles. In an e mail interview, they mentioned the method of constructing Pseudocide and what these tales can educate us in regards to the altering web panorama. Their solutions beneath have been frivolously edited for readability.

Q: Your sequence covers 9 instances of fraudulent loss of life, going all the way in which again to the Center Ages. What you within the topic, and the way did you select which tales to discover?

Damon: I used to be working within the BBC radio newsroom in Might 2018 when Arkady Babchenko, the Russian journalist, introduced to a press convention that he had faked his personal loss of life. It immediately sparked curiosity in my thoughts. What does asserting to the world that you’re lifeless and seeing obituaries spring up about your life really feel like? And I used to be determined to know: Did he really feel responsible about telling a lie? Alice and I are all the time desirous about masking subterfuge and trickery, so the concept of faking your loss of life appeared like a superb space to discover. After we came upon there was a phrase for it — effectively, we knew we had been onto one thing! 

Fiennes: Faking your personal loss of life is such an excessive factor to do. We questioned what may drive somebody to erase their complete life. Poppy and I are additionally all the time eager to search out totally different takes on true crime. Plenty of true crime takes the method of making an attempt to unravel a thriller. Tales of pseudocide are about transgression and wrongdoing, however these aren’t whodunit instances, and the lacking particular person has been discovered. We had been desirous about asking broader questions, like what may an act of transgression reveal about social values at a given second in historical past? For instance, we regarded on the case of Grace Oakeshott, who faked her personal loss of life in 1907 to keep away from the disgrace of divorce in Edwardian England.

Episode 2 is the story of Kaycee Nicole, a teenage blogger who was stated to have died of leukemia. As you point out within the episode, there is not any scarcity of individuals faking their deaths on-line. What was it in regards to the Nicole story that drew you in?

Fiennes: This story hasn’t been reexamined a lot since 2001, and we had been intrigued by the concept of it via the lens of the current. Kaycee Nicole tells us about early days of the web. Again then, a lot of individuals noticed it as mysterious and a brand new frontier. Now everybody has the web of their pockets. Some facets of web tradition are fully totally different immediately, however some have stayed the identical. 

Damon: It is simple to really feel just like the web as it’s now could be the way it all the time was. That isn’t the case. Kaycee Nicole’s story takes us into the world of the late ’90s running a blog scene. We cherished listening to about the way in which individuals as soon as used the web and the distrust from others who weren’t on-line. This was a time when individuals thought it was completely mad to satisfy up with a buddy from the web. It is fascinating to return and keep in mind what the promise of the web was for therefore many individuals. To many it appeared like an opportunity to be anybody, to stay past race and gender and exist in a digital utopia. I discover mapping the way it obtained so distant from that promise actually fascinating, nearly like a Backyard of Eden story. 

Nicole’s story is already effectively documented on the web. Did you be taught something new whereas investigating it?

Damon and Fiennes: Though Kaycee’s story has been informed briefly type, nobody has beforehand pieced collectively all these authentic entries whereas reexamining the views of the individuals who had been there on the time. We predict there’s something actually useful to retelling this story precisely 20 years on. How do they give the impression of being again on this watershed second?

One factor that stands out within the Nicole story is the depth of emotion Kaycee’s on-line group felt for her. How did individuals really feel about serving to retell the story and revisiting these recollections?

Damon: Betrayal is a really difficult emotion. When you’ve got been misled there’s a disgrace connected to accepting it. There’s a sense that you’ll look silly by acknowledging that you just had been taken in by somebody. I feel even 20 years on there’s a persistent disappointment that individuals nonetheless really feel when pondering again to Kaycee’s story. However what I’d say is, we spoke to probably the most superb individuals who lived via this expertise, early customers of the web who thought profoundly about what all of it meant. So regardless of there being some disappointment connected to this story, it truly taught me extra about human connection and friendship and resilience. 

Fiennes: Our 4 contributors — Saundra Mitchell, Patrick Cleary, on-line influencer Halcyon and metafilter consumer acridrabbit — are all sensible storytellers. We went via a few of their outdated weblog posts with them, they usually had been actually open in regards to the methods during which their views had modified, and the way they noticed their youthful selves. We really feel very fortunate that they had been so candid and beneficiant with their experiences.

We frequently say “the web is without end” to remind ourselves to suppose earlier than we put up. However is it true? Did you run into any roadblocks researching an occasion that largely occurred on-line 20 years in the past?

Damon: The web from 20 years in the past is a bit like a buried metropolis: It is nonetheless there, however you should dig down to search out it. We relied upon digital archive the Wayback Machine to assist us revisit snapshots of now deleted web sites. I do not suppose all elements of the web are “without end,” however I do not suppose we have now management over what’s deleted and what is not.

Fiennes: By way of roadblocks, Kaycee Nicole’s authentic weblog, Residing Colours, is now not on-line, and there is not any document of it on the WayBack Machine. We needed to piece her journal collectively from reposts on different web sites and boards. Fortuitously, there may be nonetheless a lot of dialogue on the market about Kaycee, relationship again to 2000-2001. You simply should dig in the proper locations.

Nicole’s story passed off in 2001, on social community CollegeClub.com and within the blogosphere. You describe the early web as a type of Wild West. How would you say it is modified within the years since?

Damon: We now have seen the rising corporatization of the web. Most web sites exist for revenue. They exist to promote you one thing, or to promote your knowledge to a 3rd social gathering. The facility over the web now not rests within the palms of nerds, creatives and outsiders however has transferred to multinationals and states. The web was a spot the place individuals escaped to, however now I feel increasingly more individuals wish to escape from it. I feel this can be a disgrace and I undoubtedly romanticize the Wild West days. In fact like anybody, I’m grateful for all of the web offers us and its continued evolution, however my radical aspect needs we might push again just a bit bit on the way it operates and who owns it. 

Fiennes: Just a few of the folks that we spoke to for this story described how, again then, they noticed the web as a type of creative instrument for connectivity — they thought it might “heal” humanity. The web has actually made communication simpler for some, however fixed notifications and social media also can make individuals really feel lonely. I feel that, total, individuals are extra skeptical and cynical in regards to the web immediately than they had been 20 years in the past. 

You additionally cowl the case of musician Clayton Counts, whom associates describe as a prankster. Was it troublesome to type the reality from fiction when your topic was recognized for his tall tales?

Damon: Clayton’s was undoubtedly the trickiest story to inform, though experiences from the Austin Police Division helped us construct a fuller image. In the long run, it appeared to us that Clayton was extra rabble-rouser than bullshitter. I am glad that that is the case. 

Fiennes: On the subject of Clayton Counts, sorting reality from fiction could be troublesome. His associates had been open with us about the truth that efficiency was a giant a part of his persona. We leant into this, and selected to make it a part of the story. 

Counts was concerned within the mid-’00s mashup scene, and his Beatles/Seaside Boys mashup led to a stop and desist letter and authorized motion from EMI. Did these battles over piracy play a component in shaping the web as we all know it immediately?

Damon: The web sparked philosophical debates about possession and copyright. Mental property was taken as a right for hundreds of years, however the web meant its regulation was abruptly up for grabs. Ought to artwork be free to all? Ought to data be free to all? These questions have now largely gone away, and the main target is extra on the perfect fashions for creators. Piracy nonetheless exists, however the ease of utilizing streaming providers makes these platforms the popular alternative for hundreds of thousands of individuals. I do not suppose we’d have these providers had these early battles not occurred. 

Fiennes: Counts was making his mashups within the age of Napster and Limewire. His musical model evokes a zeitgeist and explicit methods of enthusiastic about music possession and file sharing. These websites have now had their heyday, however debates across the possession and remuneration of digital art work are nonetheless with us immediately. Nonfungible tokens (NFTs) would appear to be the newest chapter in that story.

Had been there some other well-known on-line pseudocides you thought of investigating? Any particulars you found that you just want you might’ve included?

Fiennes: This is not a very well-known case, however final yr a scandal unfolded with a Twitter persona known as @Sciencing_Bi and a pretend COVID loss of life. We predict that this might be actually attention-grabbing to research.

Damon: Many individuals within the UK might count on to listen to the story of John Darwin on this sequence, a person who faked his personal loss of life in a canoeing accident so he might declare his personal life insurance coverage coverage. We did not get to his story this season, however keep tuned for season 2! There are additionally different pseudocides which have taken place on-line, and definitely in case you are extra fashionable instances, the existence of social media could be the downfall of people who find themselves uncovered. Alice and I typically focus on the truth that probably the most profitable pseudocides are those nobody is aware of have occurred! 

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