The One Place You Can Still Be Anyone on the Internet

Anonymity is dying online, hemmed in by online ID schemes and Facebook's colonization of the net. But there's one place you can still pretend to be basically anyone: the "Ask Me Anything" section of the popular message board Reddit.

The "Ask Me Anything" (or AMA) section of Reddit is one of its most popular, because it's a beacon of fascinating original content among the links and screen captures: Everyone from Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings to a four-year-old stops by and takes questions from random users. But it's also plagued by trolls, modern day hucksters who get a kick out of duping online yokels.

Yesterday, a moderator on the board revealed in a post that a user had been playing the board like harmonium. Over many months, this person had pretended to be, variously:

  • A former pickpocket
  • A 96-year-old grandma
  • A 17 year-old pregnant "scared" teen
  • A garbage woman
  • A "chick that washes cars for a living"
  • A blind guy
  • The blind guy's sister
  • A deaf girl
  • The Teenage daughter of a congressman
  • A guy who used to hit women
  • A woman who just got out of an abusive relationship with a guy
  • A cowgirl
  • Someone whose life was changed by Reddit
  • A former hobo
  • "A stereotypically mean high school cheerleader"

The fact this person used a single IP address to post as many users gave him away.

The One Place You Can Still Be Anyone on the Internet

Many of these garnered hundreds of comments and upvotes from credulous Reddit users. The imposter gave more or less believable answers, depending on who they were pretending to be. "Which decade did you see the world as you knew it change the most," one user asked the fake 96-year-old. "I think the 60s were the most turblent and the 80s were the most progressive with all the new technology," she replied. Not the hoaxer's best work.

Reddit has history of falling for these kinds of things. A couple months ago a user named Lucidending became an internet sensation after he claimed on Reddit to be committing physician assisted suicide in a little more than two days. Turns out he was a hoax, and Reddit users were so flummoxed they blamed the whole thing on me.

To be fair, moderators are aware of the frequency with which the too-good-to-be-true story turns out not to be true and are constantly instituting beter verification systems. Until they figure out a more effective solution, though, any crackpot with fantasies of being a rodeo clown, or a Vietnam vet, or whatever, will continue to pop onto Reddit. And if you're offered the chance to ask a question from a one-armed banjo-playing astronaut, do you really care if it's real?