Since being found out as a fraud, Belle Gibson has not apologised.
In fact, she’s shown no guilt or remorse. She has not explained her actions or given any indication that she regrets the impact her lies had on other people, particularly cancer sufferers.
Gibson grew a large online following after she claimed she had brain cancer that was cured through the alternative therapies plugged in her wellness app, The Whole Pantry.
Why people fake cancer online. Post continues after podcast.
Eventually her lies unravelled and it was discovered none of it was true. She was fined $410,000 by the Federal Court after duping her Australian consumers – many of whom did actually have cancer – out of half a million dollars. She had promised to donate the proceeds to multiple charities.
Since being issued the fine in 2017, the 27-year-old has not paid a single cent, even after facing several warnings for not paying the fine for breaches of consumer laws. She claims she simply cannot afford to.
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Dr Marc Feldman is an expert in Munchausen syndrome and in 2000 he coined the term ‘Munchausen by internet’ – a condition where someone pretends to be sick in order to get sympathy from an online community.
The internet has a “cancer faking problem”, he told Mamamia‘s daily news podcast The Quicky.
“I think people now realise how easy it is to perpetrate a hoax online. People know that all they have to do to become an expert in whatever ailment they decide to fake, is to go to Wikipedia or some other website and read about it.”
While Gibson made a lot of money out of her lies, Feldman believes the end game for most Munchausen by internet posers is attention, love and support.
The negative impact their deceit has on others is not even on their radar.
“Many people with Munchausen by internet do in fact lack empathy,” he explained.
He believes Gibson has a personality disorder.
“Some [Munchausen by internet posers] have what we call anti-social personality disorder, and I suspect that this applies to Belle though I’ve never interviewed her.
“This means they lack empathy, they lack a guilty conscience when they’ve done something wrong and exploitative, and they may have long histories of behaviours that border on criminality.
“But the highlight of anti-social personality disorder is that lack of caring for other people and that does seem to be a major factor in Belle’s case.”
While she’s no doubt the most high-profile case in Australia, Belle Gibson is far from the only person caught out faking an illness on the internet.