lifestyle

'I am addicted to pretending to be other people online.’

What happens when pretending to be someone else is easier than being yourself?

As a teenager, she boosted her own popularity by making a fake MySpace account of a guy called Joey and writing comments on her own account saying things like, “You’re so pretty”.

No one suspected Joey was a figment of her imagination.

And then she became hooked.

As the life around her crumbled – she suffered abuse, her father was in prison, her mother a drug addict – she began creating more and more fake online profiles to manipulate others (a practice known as ‘catfishing’).

“I wanted to be anyone but me — I wanted a different outcome, a different life. I wanted to be a different person. And with MySpace, I realised I could,” the woman, who chose to remain anonymous, told Vice.

Her next attempt was not so successful.

She stole ten photos from the page of a beautiful girl called Samantha and created a new persona, Amanda Williams.

“Amanda, the fictional character I’d created, was the version of me that I so desperately wanted to be. She liked the same music that I did and shared the same general interests; but unlike me, Amanda was confident and bubbly,” she said.

For more: It happened to me: I was catfished.

Amanda became very popular online, befriending hundreds of people. But when she sent a message from Amanda to a popular girl at school, casually mentioning how great she was, things went awry.

“I figured if a girl like Amanda said she liked me — Amanda the scene queen, the popular girl — then so would the real cool girls at my school. It backfired,” she says.

The girl noticed she and Amanda both had the same phone number listed on their profiles.

“I went from being invisible to being totally shunned.”

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But instead of stopping, she became more determined and continued the account, blocking everyone she went to school with. She became obsessed with it.

“I spent all my free time on social media, building Amanda Williams’s life like an avatar on The Sims,” she said.

She said she crafted the fake accounts meticulously.

She scouted pretty girls, but none with more than 1000 Instagram followers, to steal their photos. Then she added ‘filler friends’ from whichever city she decides the fictional person is from (so the account looks legit). When she has about 150 filler friends, she begins adding the people she wants. She trickles in the photos after blocking every friend of the person whose photos were stolen so they will never discover the theft. Then, she makes sub-accounts to tag in photos as the fictional person’s friends.

She had one romantic relationship online as one of her fake personas. She eventually told him her real name and who she really was, and he never spoke to her again. She’s been left wondering what might have been: “I’ve been tortured by that for years: Could I have had that relationship on my own? And where would I be now if I hadn’t lied?”

Over eight years, she created more than 20 main accounts and hundreds of sub-accounts.

“Even though everything on the accounts were fake — the pictures, the backstories, the friends — they made me feel the most like myself. On the fake accounts, I could open up to people in a way that I couldn’t in real life. Other girls my age had boyfriends and best friends, but I had my MySpace friends —people who cared about me, who let me vent, who asked me about my day. When I was Amanda Williams, people cared about me. When I was the real me, I was invisible.

I know that what I’ve done is wrong, deceitful, and very hurtful. It’s become a sick addiction, and I’ve carried on my fake, internet relationships at the expense of having relationships in real life. There are times that I’ve befriended people for the sake of stealing pictures from them, and so that I could ask them, ‘What does your hair look like these days? Send me a picture.’ Most of my real friendships have been lost for the sake of manipulation.”

At 21, and with no friends and no job, she is done with catfishing.

She has deleted all but one of her fake accounts. That one, she is still struggling to let go of. Amanda Williams will live on.

“My existence hinges on this fake account, because it has defined who I am for so long. I spent eight years guiding Amanda Williams through friendships and relationships, adapting her interests and hairstyles, and building the girl I wanted to become,” she said.

“But while Amanda Williams grew up, I never gave myself the chance.”

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