Back in the dark ages of 1998, I jumped on the internet as part of a research class I took in my undergraduate years and I guess you could say that I have never looked back. The internet of old barely resembles today’s internet. While we didn’t have a thing called social media, we most certainly were social and connecting but for many of us there was always a sense of weariness and mindfulness when connecting with virtual strangers. Somewhere along the way that sense that used to be a part of the internet experience has gone the way of the rotary phone for many of us and as a result, we are just wide open for the players who want to play with our emotions.

In the past week, I have seen two stories go viral that frankly should have made someone stop and think. Instead in this brave new world, we forget that anyone can put anything on the internet and just like we wouldn’t just trust a physical stranger who tells us a fantastic tale, maybe we shouldn’t trust virtual strangers as freely either.

Linda Tirado, who goes by the handle of Killer Martinis wrote a piece several weeks ago that slowly went viral. It was an awesome piece on poverty, as someone who both professionally and personally is fairly knowledgeable about poverty I thought it was a well written piece. It most certainly was a piece that made the scourge of poverty more digestible to those who are not familiar with it. Linda gave us a tale of a life so miserable and so grinding that by the end in this season of giving, you just wanted to help make her life a little better. Next thing you know, the Go Fund Me campaign is in full swing and Linda receives over $60,000 in donations. This would be an amazing example of the human spirit if only it were true. See, Linda is not poor, back in the day Linda would be called a grifter. Linda is now claiming that her fabulous tale was not meant to be viewed as a present day reality, just a piece of good writing. Nevertheless, Linda collected a whole lot of cash from people who thought she worked a shitload of jobs, lived in a motel and had a mouth full of teeth in need of dire repair. Linda, you played the game player and caught a payday. Simple as that. Never mind that by presenting as a well-spoken white woman, you knew you had the magic card to getting this unexpected payday.

Next up on players who played, we have Elan Gale; a no name producer for “The Bachelor” who spun a tale on twitter about a fellow passenger on a plane caught misbehaving; all because she wanted to get home on Thanksgiving Day. Elan regaled the masses with an imaginary woman named Diane who apparently had a personality so hard, that Ebenezer Scrooge would have been shook up. In the process of telling a fantastic tale of dumpy middle-aged Diane, Elan managed to fall back on sexist and misogynistic behavior that involved telling imaginary Diane to eat his dick. What’s interesting is that millions applauded Elan for his compassion but few questioned his behavior. Is telling a stranger to become intimate with your intimate parts how we behave in 2013? Anyway like Linda of the killer martinis, Elan’s tale turned out to be a product of his imagination. He claims he gave a few people a few laughs on Thanksgiving Day, no harm.

Increasingly we live in a world, where we act first and think later and frankly there is a huge danger in doing so, it leaves us open to people who prey on our vulnerabilities and who have no compunctions about exploiting them for their own purposes. We also live in a world where truth is fungible and everything goes, call me a grumpy ole woman but I do not like this brave new world. We may no longer live anonymous lives online but it seems clear that people are not who they claim to be either despite no longer hiding behind a fake name and photo. As they used to say in the old days, if it sounds too good to be true…you know the rest.