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Writing the Soul of Kaycee Nicole

How far is too far in the realm of online deception?

I regularly give out false information about myself to online contacts that I do not know, simply because I don't want to take unnecessary risks for the sake of being honest.

Chances are I'm not the only one who has lied at one time or another online in order to protect my privacy, either. It has never really been considered immoral because we do it to stay safe, and it doesn't usually hurt the people we lie to.

What they don't know won't hurt them, right?

Unfortunately, when online communities become closely-knitted and emotionally interconnected, feelings can and do get hurt by all of this dancing around the truth.

One particular case that has received a great deal of attention is that of Kaycee Nicole Swenson.

KN was a 19-year-old girl living in Kansas who was supposedly dying from cancer (leukemia). She maintained a weblog throughout her battle with the disease where she quickly caught the attention of a lot of sympathetic bloggers with heartfelt diary entries. She even kept in touch with many of them via e-mail, chatrooms, and phone calls.

Kaycee's mother, Debbie, had a similar weblog where she talked about her own struggles as a constant caretaker for her daughter.

When Kaycee suddenly died on May 15, 2001, her blogging friends were soon lost in sorrow and despair, mourning the loss. They contacted her mother and desperately tried to convince her to allow them to attend her funeral or to distribute a mailing address at which gifts could be sent to her family.

Debbie refused.

This, of course, struck a lot of Kaycee's most dedicated friends as really peculiar, so they launched an investigation which led to some shocking findings.

Kaycee Nicole wasn't even a real person. She was just a figment of her mother's imagination.

When Debbie was finally forced to answer for all of their accusations, she dodged most of the questions and simply replied that Kaycee embodied the characteristics of several real cancer patients she had met. This, of course, didn't really satisfy all of the people who had come to love and cherish their friendship with Kaycee...

But my questions is... Why does it matter if Kaycee was real or not?

Consider how things would be different if the truth had never been revealed. Those people would still probably believe that they had lost a true friend that day, and would carry her memory on with them. Despite the fact that Kaycee wasn't real, the basis for her character was... Debbie admitted that Kaycee was essentially a compilation of different cancer patients.

Those people, those bloggers, who met and fell in love with this strong-willed young woman, should realize that they are perhaps even better off this way; instead of carrying on the memory of just one person, they can cherish the memory of many cancer patients.

The FBI did an investigation into this matter and determined that Debbie had not profited in any significant way, either, so that memory remains unblemished with greedy motivations behind its origin.

Debbie Swenson did something that few writers have done before: she brought a character into the world of the living, gave her a working heart and soul, and affected real people's lives with her work.

In my opinion, that should be the purpose of all writing: to make a real difference. So in this case, my hat is off to Debbie for her skill and wisdom.

Comments

Well, maybe we (because I was one of Kaycee's readers) can cherish the memory of many cancer patients, but we can also cherish the memory of having been duped.

If I'm going to put energy in a relationship, I want it to match reality, somewhat. Otherwise it makes no sense.

Have you seen The Matrix? Maybe we should all eat little pills that make us happy -- if we don't know we're not living in reality, where't the damage?

Some of my thoughts on the topic, in French:

http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/05/24/affaire-kaycee/

And in English:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/kaycee-nicole/message/778
http://www.metafilter.com/comments.mefi/7819#84986

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