This journalist was caught cheating in a marathon. And the internet will never forget.

Jane Seo is a Harvard graduate who writes for the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed. But when you google her, the first available result is about something else entirely.

Image via Google.

The 24-year-old, who typically writes about her life in New York, food and drink events, and travel and exercise, ran the Fort Lauderdale Half Marathon on 19 February, and was awarded second place.

That was until Derek Murphy, a blogger and race analyst, noticed a discrepancy with her times, and started to do some investigating. First, he saw that her split times looked odd. It appeared she'd run the second half of the race significantly faster than the first half - something marathon runners don't tend to do. Then, when she uploaded her race information online, it was entered manually, and not linked to any GPS data.

Image via marathoninvestigation.com.

But it was her GPS running watch, which she wore during the race and during a photo taken immediately afterwards, that ultimately gave her away.

Murphy zoomed in on the figures on the watch, and found Seo had only run 11.65 miles (18.75 km) - almost 2.5 km short of the 21.1 km half marathon distance.

The distance alone didn't mean much. Perhaps she hadn't tracked the entire race? The reading on her watch didn't necessarily reflect how far she'd run. But in conjunction with the time on the watch, which read 1:22:07, it became exceedingly obvious that Seo's second place race time was for a race she hadn't finished.

Image via marathoninvestigation.com.

Later on Sunday, she was stripped on her title. It was found that she did indeed cut the course, and then cycled back after the race so she was able to show she finished the track.

After being caught out, Seo uploaded an apology to her now-disabled Instagram.

Image via Instagram/marathoninvestigation.com.

She admitted to her "foolishness," and said she was "ashamed" by her behaviour. "I take full credit for this mistake without any excuses and will face the consequences," she said.

Even still, her followers were angry. Many felt as though her apology was inadequate and disingenuous, and questioned her character as a result. Perhaps they're right. Perhaps her apology wasn't as strong as it should've been, and perhaps she's not sufficiently aware of how wrong it is to cheat - thereby robbing honest people of their deserved titles.

But over the next few days, I noticed the feeling towards Jane Seo getting angrier and angrier. On Reddit, several threads with thousands of comments were dedicated to tearing her down. Here are some examples:

"Typical dirty whore."

"She got fetal alcohol syndrome?"


"What a pathetic bitch."

"I bet that official was happy with his blowjob."

Listen: Mamamia Outloud discusses shaming women at the races, and whether it's hugely unfair. Post continues after audio. 

As you can imagine, these don't even come close to the most disgusting comments about Seo. Interestingly, many people appear to conflate her cheating in a marathon with her political/social views, and draw parallels between Seo and Hillary Clinton "cheating but still coming second." There are comments about how she'll probably blame it all on the patriarchy, and how she went from "fake news" (working for the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed) to a "fake athlete."


Yes, Seo cheated in the marathon, and yes, she attempted to cover it up. But surely at this point, the 24-year-old is being overly crucified?

Surely her punishment far outweighs her crime.

Seo's suffered the consequences of her actions within the marathon community. She'll face bans, she was expelled from her running club, and thanks to the significant media interest in her story, there will always be a record of the time she made a series of bad decisions. But do her race and gender need to be torn apart too? Does she need her entire reputation irrevocably ruined in order to learn that cheating is bad and she shouldn't have done it?

When journalist Jon Ronson released a book and gave a TED talk about the realities of being publicly shamed, it opened a conversation about the way we react to moral failings online. He described social media as a "mutual approval machine" where "our desire to seem compassionate (in Seo's case, towards the honest runners)... [leads] us to commit this deeply un-compassionate act."

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Ronson met with people who had been shamed online, and explained that despite what we tell ourselves, these people are not fine. "The people I met were mangled," he said. "They talked to me about depression, and anxiety and insomnia and suicidal thoughts."

What enraged people about Jane Seo is that she was perceived to have 'misused' her privilege. She was a Harvard graduate. With a good career. Who was being sponsored to run a marathon. And she cheated.

But what Ronson argues, and what seems to be becoming more and more relevant, is that online, we continue to place our ideological beliefs above human beings. Yes, we all know cheating is wrong. We know what she did was a moral transgression. But Jane Seo isn't her mistake. Her actions don't mean she represents all that is deceitful and unfair about the modern day world.

She's a complex and flawed person, just like all of us, and she's paid the price for her series of bad decisions.

But in the age of social media - the internet will never, ever let her forget.