The Disservice of False Hope and Internet Insincerity

Women are well known, collectively, for frequently being fond of so-called “over-sharing” online, and, particularly in light of much of what I’ve written in the last few months, I’d have to include myself as one of those people. The voice of disapproval for our readiness to document all the details of our lives is also easy to hear. My response to that, for the most part, is that if you’re not interested, don’t read. No one is forcing you to, after all, and what harm does a little online sharing do, so long as all basic online safety rules are followed?

In fact, I’ve frequently gone so far as to lean completely the other way, in praise of the value of online communities for support. That factor was a contributor in my decision to live blog our recent IVF cycle. It’s the very reason I’ve come back to blogging, albeit in slightly different guises, over and over again in the course of the last nine years. I could digress for hours, but simply put, writing and sharing online has the capacity to make me feel better about tough situations, and also better about great situations too.

But just recently, I’ve begun to see things from a slightly different perspective.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Internet is full of insincerity. It’s awash with people who will tell other people just exactly what they want to hear, regardless of whether they are qualified to offer advice, or whether what they are saying has even the remotest basis in reality. Online, people will tell half truths with absolute conviction and say things that they wouldn’t say directly to your face, because their own faces would give away what they really thought.

None of this is done through malice, or has even the slightest resemblance to “trolling”. It is probably driven more by an insatiable need to please, or to reassure or to be supportive. Knowledge of the existence of these behaviours is not in itself new to me, but the thought that it may be harmful is. What if, far from supporting other women, it’s actually doing them a disservice?

A case in point is a recent discussion thread I was party to in which it was clearly apparent that the thread starter was most probably experiencing an early pregnancy loss – or, to use a horrible, clinical term, a chemical pregnancy. Difficult for me, of course, because it so closely mimicked my own recent experience.

In summary, a woman at five weeks of pregnancy, experiencing ongoing light bleeding and pregnancy tests having shifted from showing positive to showing negative, asking for advice and help and reassurance.

The thread followed a familiar pathway. Immediate supportive noises along the lines of hoping that all is ok. So far so good. But then begins the stream of false hopes. How it was probably one of those notoriously unreliable tests. Tweed ample was too dilute. It was done at the wrong time of day. “People bleed all through pregnancy all the time” type stories. And then it escalates to the realms of true false hope – the suggestions that it must be “The Hook Effect”. Yes, I had to Google it too. It’s an apparently rare (very rare) phenomenon that occurs when hCG levels become so high that they can’t be read by a standard home pregnancy test. If it happens at all, it tends to happen after 12 weeks and at hCG levels exceeding 200000 mIU/ml. For someone barely five weeks pregnant, it’s clutching at straws.

The thread is punctuated by responses from the original poster about how much reassurance she is getting. And then of course that it “must be the Hook Effect” and lots of love and thanks all round.

In the midst, someone pops along to sympathetically share their own, less good outcome and the information that they were given by their doctors. That, however, is givem short shrift and they are told in no uncertain terms by the original poster that they will only trust advice from their own doctor.

Which leads me to wonder why on earth the question was posted in the first place. Why ask for advice, only to throw it back in someone’s face? The answer is that people are seeking to hear what they want to hear. And that, naturally, is things which will make you feel better, and tell you that it is all going to be OK.

Sometimes I want to be the voice of dissent, the one telling the different but wholly realistic story. Pointing out that only time, not strangers on the internet, will tell if it’s going to be OK. But I don’t. I’m mindful of what my grandmother taught me: if you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all.

And perhaps that is the motto that too many people live by. Perhaps it is what forces them to send false hopes out over the ether in response to other women that they have never met. It’s nice to be nice, but I’m still shaking my head, because the other thing I was always taught was to be truthful and sincere.

How is doing anything else helpful in any way? It may make the person you are responding to feel better for a short time, but there is still a good chance that their new found hope and optimism will come crashing down around their ears very shortly. A cycle of building hopes, having them fall, then be raised again and finally crash down has to be considerably more emotionally exhausting and overwhelming than just dealing with the bad news from the outset. I honestly think that false hopes can be the cruellest of things.

Perhaps it’s just me. And just because I’m a realist. But the bottom line is, and will always remain, that what will be, will be. No words typed on a screen by a stranger hundreds of miles away will influence the outcome in any way. Of course, neither will rushing straight to your doctor, if we’re honest. But it’s this impatience and need-to-know mentality, itself borne of the instant-information capability of the world wide web, that probably drives people to ask so many questions of others online. It’s all the sharing that we do in the first place that makes us want more, and quickly. It seems we find it so much harder to wait for anything these days.

This shift is potentially harming us all, though, by degrading our ability to be supportive in an honest and helpful way and eroding the true value of so many online communities.

I’ve long known that you can’t trust much of what you read online. But not everyone is so cautious and it seems like we’re slowly but surely turning in to a nation of people who use the Internet to supply the version of life we wish was really happening.

But of course that isn’t real life, so it still hurts eventually.


One Reply to “The Disservice of False Hope and Internet Insincerity”

  1. That’s really thought provoking Caro. I have seen only too often people giving false hope to others and then the ‘realists’ only trying to help with realistic, albeit anecdotal, advice then being set upon for being negative.

    I know when I was last pregnant, I was obsessed with Googling the measurements from each scan I had. Was it slow growth for the stage I was at? What was the likelihood things would be ok? Ultimately, could my dates (given I knew when I ovulated) really be that far behind?

    In the end, the internet gave me some power. I had pretty much deduced that things probably were not going to go the way I wanted them to and I had prepared myself for the bad news at each scan. I was also given false hope. I suppose it all comes down to how you deal with it. But sometime is does make me feel uneasy to think that the vulnerable, are only being made more so.

    Amy x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *