Yesterday, a woman who said she was the victim of sexual assault posted a video to Reddit. In the video, she tries and fails to wash off a quarter-sized wound on her forehead. Redditors had been claiming the wound was fake, a bit of makeup wizardry that should have easily washed off.
It didn’t. The wound was very real.
But why did she need to prove any of this in the first place?
It all began when the victim, theoculus, posted a photograph of the wound to the social news site yesterday.
Here is how the Toronto resident she described the attack:
“The man grabbed the back of my head and forced it down onto the pavement. Hard. I tried to communicate that I didn't have any money, thinking it was just a mugging. He then fumbled at my waist band and managed to pull my pants down. At this point, I wet myself out of fear. He made to pull my underwear down as I desperately tried to kick him off. Then, headlights shone further up the street so he pushed himself off me and ran off in the direction he came from.”
But the photograph of the wound wasn’t enough to silence skepticism. In fact, it’s what spawned the scrutiny.
Redditor I_FRIENDZONE_CATS looked over theoculus’ submission history on Reddit, noticing that she’d once posted a photograph of her Halloween costume. She’d dressed up as a zombie, and used makeup to create a fake wound on her face.
“I really, REALLY don't want to say this is fake, and I'm sorry that the internet has done this to me,” I_FRIENDZONE_CATS wrote, “but you have a history of using effects makeup to look like a zombie.”
Was the wound a fake? This wasn’t exactly a smoking gun -- nor really any type of gun, really -- but it was enough to send redditors off on an angry, fraud-busting frenzy.
theoculus attracted a following of people donwvoting her across the site. They found more “evidence” of her fraud -- in particular, a so-called “victim-blaming” comic she created a month ago.
Wrote redditor traken: “Detective mode: By combining the two pieces of evidence [posted] above, [theoculus] is possibly an anti-rape activist resorting to a false account of attempted rape in order to further her cause.”
To be fair, Reddit has suffered a few scams in its time. Last year, for instance, influential redditor and forum moderator Saydrah was outed as a social media professional. She was alleged to have traded influence on the site for money (Saydrah denied the allegations).
More famously, earlier this year redditor Lucidending claimed he was a terminal cancer patient and was willing to let redditors ask him anything in his final moments. That drew the attention of Reddit’s millions of readers, and even international news organizations like USA Today and the British Daily Mail. But Lucidending turned out to be a fraud.
Do past instances of fraud somehow validate skeptical witch-hunts, especially on a site that boasts about 20 million unique visitors a month?
A month before the Lucidending debacle, redditors had turned their considerable skepticism on Maya Gilsey, a 21-year-old college student who said she was shaving her head to raise money for a cancer charity.
Some said she was a fraud. One claimed to have reported her to the police. They were wrong. Gilsey wasn’t trying to scam anyone. She just wanted to raise money for charity.
Unlike the Gilsey case, it seems no one’s reported theoculus as a scammer to the police. But she says she did receive death threats. And redditors seemed to believe her after she posted the video -- although it’s impossible to know for sure what really happened. We reached out to her and are waiting to hear back.
Whenever a scandal like this breaks out, Reddit tends to correct itself. I_FRIENDZONE_CATS -- the original skpetic -- apologized after theoculus posted the exonerating video. And other redditors jumped to her defense from the beginning. In comments across the site, they called out the skeptics -- and the value of any site-wide witch-hunt.
As redditor thevirginlarry wrote:
“Would anyone else here rather fall for a weird Internet prank about attempted rape than further victimize a victim of attempted rape? Sometimes being a rube is better than being an asshole. Ok. Always.”
Photo via Robert Couse-Baker