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People like to pretend on the Internet. Men pretend to be 13-year-old girls, Nigerian scammers pretend to be millionaires who need your help, dumb people pretend to be smart and cats pretend to be people.

Certain people take it a little further and play an actual character, like a wise mom or a cartoonishly wild frat boy. You can't get away with putting on a totally new personality in real life, what with pesky facial expressions and body language and body odor giving you away, but when the only thing people can see is typing, you can get away with some outrageously fake characters, which might fool people. For a couple of paragraphs.

Unfortunately, I think the people who pull this shit buy into the illusion more than the people they are targeting. They want to be this cool character as badly as they want other people to think they are that character. Here's some popular roles people like to play:

7
Badass

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This person likes to give advice along the lines of "Kick that bitch in the teeth and ask her to make you a sandwich!" in response to statements like "My girlfriend wants us to spend more time together."

He always implies an additional "Because that's what I do!" or just straight out says it, even though he does not actually discipline his uppity girlfriend this way, because he does not have one.

In his imagination, he keeps bitches in line, and they like it. He slams things on the counter when a cashier talks back to him, and they gulp and ring up the rest of his order respectfully. Recreationally, he lives a very similar life to Vladimir Putin.

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Putin has some rad rec activities, but he is still a terrible person.

If he has any guns, or a real Japanese katana from Japan and totally not the Home Shopping Network, he will let you know. He might film a video of himself using these things and post it, depending on his level of self-awareness.

In any given discussion, his approach will involve cartoonish violence, unrealistic profanity or a bafflingly non sequitur devil-may-care attitude in response to an imaginary lesser person's concerns (often a woman or a parent).

This can be really weird and inappropriate when it comes to certain subjects, like politics. "If I were Obama, I would have smashed Mitch McConnell's head through a wall and stuck a pipe up his ass, and said SMOKE THAT, BITCH! Then he'd be all crying and screaming and I would sit down and read a Maxim."

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Coach

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"I love your work, you're doing great stuff, really, but I've just got a few tips for you that I think could really help you achieve your potential." Very encouraging words from a teacher, or mentor, or parent, or maybe even a colleague. Less so from a random person on the street -- or the Internet.

I'm not just talking about unsolicited advice ("You need to read The Secret!") or weird criticism ("You use the word 'the' too much!"), which is bad enough already, but all of that plus putting on a weird artificial character I picture as Coach (from Coach).

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You younger kids might recognize him better as the voice of Mr. Incredible, or I think he is on Parenthood now or something.

The difference between a normal person going around giving unwanted advice to people and a Coach type is whether you can easily add "champ" to their statements without it seeming out of place. "I've read a lot of your writing, champ, and I'm really encouraged by how you've been improving. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, sport, but there's a few problems you really need to tackle to become that awesome writer we both know you can be. I know you can do it, so keep at it, tiger!"

As you can see, it's more than pushy -- it's a little delusional. We all know about fans who lose touch with reality a bit and imagine themselves as best friends of their favorite actors or celebrities, and address them in public like they know each other and are entitled to their friendship.

This is the same thing, except the Coach types imagine themselves not only as that person's friend, but also as that person's Morgan Freeman -- benevolent, wise, experienced and plausible in the role of God. The target will naturally be anxious for the Coach type's approval (hence the reassurances that they're "doing great" and "really improving") and value the nuggets of wisdom.

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"I want to see you tone down your use of the passive voice, son."

Which they wouldn't if this were some random douche off the street. But the Coach knows he is not some random douche off the street. He knows writing/acting/drawing/relationships. He has really thought about these things and can see what's really going on. He needs to let the target know quickly that he is Morgan Freeman bringing genuine insights and not Johnny Anonymous complaining about some petty stuff he doesn't like.

So he goes really heavy on the Coach language, with all the champ/buddy/sport/tiger talk he can muster, short of using the actual terms. Like a lot of Internet persona players, he usually fools himself, too, so if his target turns his advice down, he really thinks he is "saddened" by his Daniel-san being too impetuous and immature to take his wise Miyagi-like advice.

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5
A Real Character

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There are genuine "what a character" personalities in every community, online and off; people who naturally think differently or have a charmingly distinctive way of expressing themselves. And then there's people who pretend to be those people.

People trying to get attention on the Internet is nothing new. Back when it was the ARPANET, some Department of Defense researcher probably emailed made-up stories to other research groups about how he totally just had sex in the lab.

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This guy just drew the first ASCII boobs.

Nowadays, people continue to brag about made-up sex stories, post shocking pictures or try to "troll" people into arguing with them, but even worse, some people basically try to be Internet Jim Carrey.

In place of goofy faces and exaggerated voices, they use a lot of folksy, idiosyncratic slang ("sayin'" instead of "saying," "whaddya," etc.) and pretend randomness.

Sometimes the fake randomness is sprinkled throughout their spiel. Perhaps they open with "BOOBS! Ha ha! Bet that gotcher attention, dinnit? Nah, I'm joshing ya. What I really wanner talk about is ..."

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I guess they're going for some kind of a cross between a grizzled prospector and a wisecracking slacker?

A lot of times it takes the form of painful, forced analogies. Sometimes it's funny and enlightening to have someone explain serious concepts like politics or philosophy using an analogy to something totally incongruous, like pop culture or penis jokes. Maybe you compare the Romney campaign staff to the Soprano crime family, and it helps people understand who's in charge of what part of the operation.

Or maybe you heard someone do that and saw that it was well-received, so you try to explain supply-side economics using Sonic the Hedgehog, even though you can't actually think of any connections. But economics doesn't have anything to do with Sonic! Only a cool out-of-the-box thinker like you would have come up with that connection! It's not important to have any substantive parallels! You can just recite whatever you were going to say about economics, replace random terms with Sonic and Tails, and bam! You're the teacher from Dead Poets Society!

"Alright, alright, alright, listen to me. So this economics bidness is about supply and demand, right? BO-ring! How's about we say Sonic the Hedgehog represents supply and Tails represents demand. Crazy, right? But hold your horses, fuckos, and hear me out. Supply-side economics, or Sonic-side economics, as I like to call 'er, is all about decreasing taxes (or rings) so that suppliers (Sonicers) have more money (Sega Genesis consoles) they can use to expand (jump off a ramp) and hire more workers (Dr. Robotniks), who share in the wealth (Marios and Luigis). BOO-yah! That right there is supply-side economics in a nutshell, my friend!"


If you don't understand economics after this, I don't know what I can do for you.

This is kind of sad, if you think about it. The fact that someone thinks it's that easy to create a charming, offbeat personality implies that they think all the real zany people out there are putting it on, just like they are.

AVOCADOS!

Did that work? No? OK, moving on.

4
Spartacus

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Nobody likes being singled out for some stupid thing they did, and this person's coping mechanism is to create a fantasy where it's not just them. They imagine a whole group of oppressed compatriots they are bravely standing up for.

Say a guy complains about how George Orwell's Animal Farm should no longer be part of high school curriculums because it was about the Vietnam War, and is no longer relevant. (Unlike the other all-animal treatment of the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Meow.)


I make this photoshop and then I find out it's actually a thing. Well.

When he is inevitably informed of how stupid he is, he might figure it out and laugh it off, he might cry and run away or, if he is a Spartacus type, he will create a cause around it. This isn't some people laughing at him for his individual mistakes, this is oppression against newbies, or outsiders, or Orwell haters.

This way he's not a sad little dude who is all hurt and vulnerable, he is a brave voice speaking up for the imaginary throng of new people who, like him, came to this online community looking to express their opinions on how the best scene in Star Wars is when Han Solo has to outrun a boulder. For all the misunderstood people out there quivering in fear, who dared to say Brave New World was better than 1984. Or that Prince's "1999" was better than Apple's 1984 commercial.

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You decide!

It's an easy way to try to convince themselves (and hopefully others) that this is about something bigger than themselves -- a fight for justice -- and not about themselves and getting their feelings hurt. Even though it is.

When he finally makes his impassioned speech about the unfair treatment of newbies/outsiders/men/women/Honda owners/furries that he's decided is endemic to this community, the Spartacus raises his metaphorical fist with a rallying cry of "Who's with me?" and the result is usually dead silence.

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3
Philosopher

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Another thing people love to be seen as is a philosopher. I don't know why. Philosophers are awful. At least the kind they're trying to play.

This is a character who supposedly looks at his cup of coffee in the morning and it causes him to think about how we all got here, or Plato's Allegory of the Cave, or something. Every fucking thing in life allegedly triggers some deep exploration of one of the issues that is covered in a freshman philosophy class.

Waiting for the train? Determinism. Cat peed on your bed? The problem of evil. Someone drank all the milk and put the carton back in the fridge? Consequentialism. Maybe euthanasia.

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And this makes me think about censorship.

The Philosopher constantly starts discussions of far-fetched hypothetical ethical situations (if you had to pull a switch and a train would run over either an old woman with cancer or a young girl with cystic fibrosis) and retarded, abstract pie-in-the-sky discussions (which quantum mechanics particles God would be made out of if God existed and was female).

Some people are genuinely interested in these stupid questions, which is fine. I think it's a waste of time, but me playing computer games is a waste of time, too, so who's to judge? The Philosopher character, though, doesn't really care that much about these questions. He or she cares about looking like a person who cares about these questions.

You can tell from a number of things, like the fact that they often use big words when simpler ones will do, and the fact that they barely know how to use them, like a high school student writing a college application essay and attempting to use SAT words they'd just been given two months ago.

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These words are usually sprinkled into clumsy phrases like "It gives me cause to ponder" or around grown-up sounding phrases like "due to" and "in lieu of."

2
Insider

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Another selection in the "let's pretend" cast of characters is the Insider -- the person who has "connections" in the "biz." One of the most common bizzes they pretend to be in on is the movie industry, although politics is a popular one, too.

Usually Insiders do not really have the balls to straight out lie and say they work in Hollywood, because that leads to specifics -- "What studio do you work at?" or "If you've really blown Tom Cruise, what is the birthmark on his left testicle shaped like?" -- and they know they're going to get tripped up sooner or later.

Instead, they just adopt the language of a Hollywood insider, including many of the stupid slang terms used in industry rag Variety, like "prexy" for "president" or "sesh" for "session," because busy Hollywood types don't have time for wasteful syllables.

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I couldn't even tell if this was positive or negative at first.

Or maybe they adopt the habits of another well-known insider source like Ain't It Cool News and the way they capitalize movie titles. Or both. Then they just write like they're slightly drunk and breathless, as if they just came back from a post-premiere cocktail party and they're good as gold.

They'll also conspicuously avoid giving sources for anything they say -- not just for opinions, but for obvious facts like release dates, where normal people would provide a link to the article they just read. If an Insider just read a press release saying Madagascar 3 opens on June 8, 2012, they'll say, "Word on the street is that DreamWorks' MADAGASCAR 3 hits theaters June 8!"

As if they just heard this from their good friend Ben Stiller after he wrapped up a recording sesh.

On the political side, you get a lot of "People are saying" and "I've heard" with no link to the article they clearly heard it from. "I've heard the Obama administration is about to release some numbers," where they're trying to make it sound like they heard it hot off their informants in the political grapevine and not off CNN.

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1
Master Manipulator

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One of the worst things about the popularity of NLP, the pickup artist community and hypnotist shows is that they have stupid, socially inept people convinced that they are puppet masters.

These are people who are terrible at getting people to do things the normal way -- by maintaining a good relationship with them and having enough emotional awareness to know when it's appropriate to ask for things -- so they get excited at the thought that they can get people to do things by sitting in a certain posture or tracking eye movements or whatever.

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"You are now my slave!"

On the Internet, people also try to pass themselves off as "manipulators." Some people do it deliberately after having messed up and taken a lot of flak, finding a safe cover story in "It was all a social experiment! Got you all!"

"Haha, I was testing you!" they might say. "I wanted to see how you might react to someone saying Jews weren't people! You all passed, brilliantly! I couldn't be more pleased with how my experiment turned out!"

But some people actually believe their own story about how they are good at manipulating others, which involves a lot of seeing what other people do and then inventing a reason why that's what you wanted them to do the whole time. It's a lot easier to fool yourself on the Internet, where usually the worst that can happen (if you're careful about your privacy) is some negative words, which you can convince yourself you were totally "trolling" for. It's harder to convince yourself you really wanted certain kinds of real-life consequences, like a kick in the balls.

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"Haha! You ... played right ... into my hands. Oh God. Call a doctor."

I can understand why a person who doesn't have a lot of control in their daily life would be sorely tempted by the chance to pretend they are a wizard or puppet master among strangers. Unfortunately, you have a better chance of opening an old book and getting sucked into a fantasy world where you can find a luckdragon you can bring back with you to scare off the kids who were bullying you than of being able to actually manipulate the bullies, or anyone else, using psychology. (Exception: parents. Parents can manipulate their own children pretty damn well.)

So that's my advice to everyone who wants so hard to be someone they're not: Get off the Internet and start flipping through every antique book you can find. Hurry! Before someone else finds it!

For more from Christina, check out 6 Double Standards We're All Guilty Of and 5 Examples of Americans Thinking Foreign People Are Magic.

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