Friday, September 16, 2011

I Yam Who I Yam: Blogging and Honesty

Forgive me y'all, but I'm a little shaken right now.

Over the past week, it's been revealed that one of my fellow bloggers is not who she says she is. Now, before you say "stop the presses!" hear me out. It turns out this individual, who had quite a large following in a specialized interest community that had expanded to several major stores and companies, had in fact defrauded hundreds of readers. As in, she took money from them for a service that was performed incompetently or not at all.

This behavior went on for at least two years, in part because many were hesitant to call her out. After all, she supposedly had a glowing reputation and a lot of endorsements. Some had met her in person: in other words, this wasn't some perv-dude in his mom's basement, or even somebody's sister in male drag a la JT LeRoy. And she appeared to have a lot going on in her personal life: unemployment, a sick pet, relatives in distress. Most of all, she just seemed so nice!

Only she wasn't so nice after all.

Whether or not this began innocently, she has allegedly stolen money from over 100 people (and those are just the ones coming forward). A David Mamet character once said something to the tune of, "I'm a confidence man, not because you put your confidence in me, but I put my confidence in you." This blogger put her confidence in thousands of people. And whether or not money changed hands (or however you'd put it in PayPal terms), we were all duped.

Fortunately, I never gave this person any money. But for several months I was a devoted reader of her blog. After years of dismissing the idea as "shallow," I started to care about my appearance. Her site and many like it were extremely helpful in showing me how to mix and match, how to maximize the contents of my closet, how to look for sales and dress my body type, and how to develop a personal style. As a lady on a budget in an expensive city, I deeply appreciated the assistance and encouragement. And it was lovely to find a community of like-minded intelligent women who were interested in fashion but who were anything but shallow.

Several months ago, I attended an event co-hosted by this blogger and a major store. For me this event was a short train ride away, but my sister and two of her friends drove several hours. We met this woman, chatted with her and had our pictures taken. She was extremely sweet, remembered my sister and me from a photo we'd emailed her, and seemed flattered that most of our party had road-tripped for the express purpose of meeting her in person.

Before this week, I hadn't read her blog in a while. I've fallen away from the blogosphere somewhat, as paid writing assignments now have to take priority. But learning how to dress myself, for lack of a better phrase, represented a "grown up" life change for me, one that's manifested itself in many positive ways.

Yesterday morning, my sister contacted me with the breaking news: words like "fraud" and "criminal" were being thrown around. A Google search revealed that this wasn't just a single case or two of incompetence. There were a lot of lies told, a lot of potential issues at play. And the blogger herself remained vague, before going into hiding completely.

Of course there was hate on the interwebz: that people were stupid to put their confidence in someone they'd never met, that her readers were stupid to care so much about something so trivial anyway. So much victim-blaming, with a hint of misogyny: if something's cared about by a group of women, how important can it be? These commenters ignore the larger issue: in the interest of saving a buck, individuals put their trust in someone else, only to be ripped off and violated. That goes beyond a niche interest.

And as a blogger, in the same city as this woman, I am personally offended. Incidents like this make people question everything. Bloggers in general look bad. And I hate that my beloved city is associated with this.

When I started this site in 2009, I wanted more practice writing. That's it. I highly doubted anyone outside my circle of friends would read it. Two years later, I have a little following and I love it. I have relationships with publicists, authors, readers, and I wouldn't dream of taking advantage of those. For a time I tried to monetize the blog, but I realized it was much more fun to seek outside freelance gigs and continue to make this a place where I could write about whatever I wanted, and people could read and comment, or not.

At first I tried to stay relatively anonymous. After a few months, however, I shared the blog with a coworker who praised it. And when I started getting freelance assignments and linking the sites on my page, I realized my anonymous days were pretty much over. (I do restrict my personal Facebook page, but if you'd like to become a fan of the blog click here.)

Let me assure you, those who do not know me in real life, I am who I say I am: a relatively imperfect 31-year-old who nerds out about celebrities, movies, books and other fancies. I read obsessively. I study burlesque and yoga. I write YA fiction. I wear a lot of dresses.

Like a lot of others right now, I'm disturbed by the dishonesty that pops up in the blogging community. I want to assure you that while I don't share everything with my readers (gotta keep some things private), I work hard not to deceive anyone. Because right now I'm one of many hurt and confused women throughout the world. I know how it feels.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for always being who you are! You make me smile with your writing and I'm so proud of how hard you've worked to become the writer you are becoming!

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  2. Great post! I like to keep some things private for safety and professional reasons, but like you, what you see (online) is what you get! No smoke and mirrors here, either!

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  3. Thank you both for the kind words! And Pamela, it's nice to "meet" you. :)

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  4. Very well-said. The more I read about what happened, the less I believe that she just "got in over her head." It's infuriating and sad at the same time.

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  5. Meg: yeah, I'm not buying it either. I don't necessarily think she's malicious, but I think it may have been a case of getting away with it once or twice, which then empowered her to keep going.

    I blogged about it over at RedEye as well, because it's a Chicago blogger and there's a store in my neighborhood we'd discussed when I met her. Stuff Jewish Girls Like did an excellent, detailed rundown of the whole scandal.

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