I’ve written before about the wonderful ways in which the internet allows us to access information we would otherwise not necessarily been able to see, and that is one of the amazing and brilliant aspects of it. Unfortunately, it also gives a mouthpiece to those who would otherwise have had a much smaller audience. This is as true for crackpot theorists as it is for advocates of terrorism, and in every case, there is a balance between free speech and censorship.
This week, self-professed cancer survivor, Belle Gibson, admitted that she had lied.
She had risen to fame with her claims that her whole foods diet had helped to cure her brain tumour. It turns out, she never had a brain tumour, and there are highly suspicious inconsistencies in her story. She reaped several thousand dollars from the sale of an Apple app, and was about to launch a cookbook with a major publisher when the story broke.
Gibson says that she had a troubled childhood, and that she left home at 12, forced to look after herself. She would not provide details about her family or her mother which would allow journalists to easily check her story.
Understandably, many are angry. Outraged, even. Those with cancer, those who have had friends or family die from cancer — to lie about something like this, and even worse, to gain financially, and to promote a ‘cure’ which is untested and unscientific, seems to be one of the worst things someone could do. It preys on those who are already clutching at straws. It dangles false hope in front of them, and it’s a terrible, despicable thing to do.
Gibson says that she’s been attacked via social media for this. I can only imagine the kind of vitriol which has been directed her way, and that’s a shame. The public can be brutal when wronged, and the internet horrifically so. However, her words, which I have only heard via the media, seem to be lacking a very important element.
I’m cynical enough to believe that Gibson would have gone on with this charade, had it not been for the inaccuracies in her company’s accounts and donations to charities, which turned up some weeks ago. As the walls started tumbling down, and people started digging into her background story, asking too many difficult questions, it became obvious that there was really no way out of this. Gibson had to come clean and admit that it had all been lies.
The trouble is, in doing so, she is not stepping up to make things better. She gives excuses as to why she did it, excuses about her childhood. I’ve not spoken to her, so it’s hard for me to judge just what her demanour is, but her words don’t seem to be that of someone who is contrite.
There’s some who argue that it’s simply her looks, her status as a young, white, beautiful woman, which will help her get through this. Formerly a media darling, it is hard to imagine that they will turn on her the same way they would turn on someone older, less attractive, less white. There will be many who come up with excuses as to why Gibson should be forgiven for this, and others who will argue that it’s our own fault, if we’re taken in by the promotion of such snake oil. There will be those who will suggest that it’s typical of a woman, to attempt to deceive us in this way. And in the end, Gibson is unlikely to be the last, man or woman, young, white or otherwise, to try — and succeed — in taking us all for a ride. Will we learn anything from this? Will it make us more sceptical? Perhaps for a while. But there’s so many of us who so badly want something to be true, that we’ll hold onto anything. Even when we probably know, deep down, that it can’t possibly work.
For Gibson’s part, there are likely weeks and months of lying low. As upset as we are at the lies and misrepresentation, this will blow over in the media soon. Something else will happen which will take the spotlight away from her, and we’ll be reminded in a six months or a year, or if she has to go to trial. Gibson seems to be making her peace in order to move on, but I don’t know how she means to do this, if she doesn’t truly face her own dishonesty, and how it affected many, many people. In her interview with The Women’s Weekly, she is quoted as saying:
“I just think [speaking out] was the responsible thing to do. Above anything, I would like people to say, ‘Okay, she’s human.”
Above anything, Belle Gibson, I think people would like you to say, ‘Okay, I’m sorry. And what can I do to try and reconcile my terrible mistake, and my appalling behaviour?’
That would be the responsible thing to do.