So let's get this out of the way: I did not pretend to be dying of cancer on the popular link-sharing site Reddit. It wasn't me! Call off the hordes! Sheath your pitchforks. Extinguish the torches.
Judging from the flood of outraged emails and tweets I'm getting—oh! some people just bashed me on my Facebook wall, too!—many people know what I'm talking about. (Hint: Check the front page of Reddit.) But for the rest, here is the story of how a dumb late-night joke tweet led one of the Internet's largest message boards to believe I am a horrible person.
Last weekend, a user named "Lucidending" appeared on Reddit's "Ask me Anything" forum. He claimed to be a 39-year-old man dying of cancer with just 51 hours to live: "On Tuesday I'll finally end my battle with cancer thanks to Oregon's Death with dignity act." And in his final moments, Lucidending wanted to field questions from Reddit users.
The thread exploded with over 9,000 comments: Users posted messages of support, YouTube tribute videos, songs, poems, questions. Lucidending became an Internet sensation. (Reddit boasts over a billion pageviews per month.) And thanks to a slow weekend mainstream media outlets, including USA Today and the British Daily Mail, reported the story.
I was skeptical about Lucidending from the beginning. His responses were cartoon versions a dying man's words, and he offered only the most cliched details about his impending demise. I had done research on Oregon's Death with Dignity law in college, and everything about Lucidending's story was off.
Also, what terminally ill person would spend even one of his last hours answering questions on a message board? (And why Reddit, when 4chan would have come up way more interesting questions?) As Gizmodo staffer Sam Biddle put it "Spending my dying days answering questions on reddit is bleaker than death itself." Lucidending was a fraud, maybe a viral marketing campaign for a new AXE scent.
I was right. A report by the Oregonian burst the Lucidending bubble on Monday. On Reddit, Lucidending claimed he would be taking a lethal dose of a medication through an IV in his arm. In reality, Oregon's Death with Dignity law only allows doctors to prescribe orally ingested medication to patients who want to end their own lives. In all probability, Lucidending was a troll. (Although maybe AXE will still claim credit.)
Lucidending trolled Reddit. And now Reddit and some blogs think I'm Lucidending because of a joke I made on Twitter.
After reading that Lucidending was a fraud Monday night, I Tweeted "Reddit is so full of shit it makes my head hurt." The shit they are full of, specifically, is this cult of skepticism that pervades the site: Users love calling out other people for thoughtless belief, whether it's in religion, socialized medicine, or the veracity of their favorite unbelievable image. ("Photoshopped!" they cry.) And now they were the ones who stowed away rational thought aboard Lucidending's magical dream train.
I'd recently seen Reddit's fundamentalist skepticism first-hand while reporting on the story of Maya Gilsey, the college student who tried to raise money on Reddit for cancer and was hounded by angry users who thought she was a scammer. No matter what proof she offered—a local news story about her efforts, pictures, links—-Redditors refused to believe her. And here was Lucidending, with his crazy tale and absolutely no proof, elevated to Reddit God. There are plenty of reasons for this differential, but chief among them is Reddit's female problem. The board, with its ridiculous "Men's Rights" forum, often displays what one twitter user calls "loony anti-woman rage." Lucidending was a dude.
This was all running through my head when I posted that fateful tweet a few minutes later: "I have a confession to make: I was lucidending." It was a joke. The joke being that my claiming to be Lucidending was as believable as Lucidending's claim to be a dying cancer patient. If I really wanted to out myself as lucidending, wouldn't I just log into his account and post something?
I shouldn't have been surprised when people took my tweeted "confession" as fact. The first post accusing me of being lucidending went up the next evening. It went nowhere. The second post went up yesterday: "Lucidending has been outed! Adrian Chen—Gawker staff writer…" A little more traction, with 288 "upvotes." As this was happening, I guess I could have tweeted a retraction to my confession. But it seemed like they were having such a good time, and I didn't want to burst Reddit's bubble again.
Then today it hit the front page: User RT100 posted a screenshot of my confession, along with some critical tweets I'd written about Reddit and its dealings with Maya Gilsey, the implication being I'd faked the whole thing to prove a point about Reddit's double-standard. General reaction: "What a douche." The AOL Internet culture site Urlesque reported the conspiracy as fact. Reading my @replies on Twitter right now would be enough to make a normal person seek out their own lucid ending.
But hear me, Internet: I did not pretend to be dying of cancer on Reddit, and I have no idea who did. I have no proof. But I can tweet it if you want.