The Belle Gibson Scandal

Belle Gibson's virtual reality has done real damage - but who will ultimately be culpable?

L Bender

The internet is a great source of interesting, personal accounts. However some stories come to us that in cross checking we ascertain to be an amalgamation fact and fiction. The authors who mix the two, curiously, never feel the need to point this out and when we discover this we're always left really disgruntled.

I’m reluctant to publish because from the outset the author’s intent to dupe me into believing it to be a true account leaves a bad taste.

We can’t publish in our features section because it's fictional content. Where we would normally have published the piece in stories (our creative writing section) we don’t because it’s been palmed off as something entirely different, a true story and that’s just not cricket.

Belle Gibson has made a living out of her new age therapy advice that she dispenses on line. That the kid is either a pathological liar or has Munchausen Syndrome seems fairly clear. Most people wouldn’t be prepared to build a whole industry, around a myth that they’re dying if they weren’t completely fucked up over what is, and isn’t reality. Which has us questioning has virtual reality become reality for some people as a result of our internet world.

A young woman like Belle Gibson posts total bullshit about herself dying, having strokes and fake heart operations and gains a whole network of people prepared to support her. That's pretty seductive to an attention seeker. Let's face it the basis of social media is gaining attention.

It seems astonishing, but true. People have wanted the best for Belle Gibson, and just like Lance Armstrong before her, we wonder at how disillusioned her supporters must feel, but also how in this world of virtual reality people feel like they know their instagram heroes - FYI - you don't. One just turned up as a liar of epic proportions.

Yet the question is who is most culpable? The sick crazy kid, who believed she “lived for years with the fear I was dying?” Despite never consulting a doctor or having a proper scan? Or the people who profited from her "dying". When Belle Gibson finally had a scan in 2012 at the Alfred, the doctor was never informed by her that her previous medical history included a brain tumor (which would have presented in the scan) but rather was asked to ascertain whether she had Multiple Sclerosis.

It seems Belle Gibson was looking to acquire another illness she hadn’t had yet … in her reality … whatever that is ... she was looking for MS to reside in her 'fictitious' medical CV which included terminal brain tumors, cancers in her blood, spleen, uterus and liver.

She failed to mention that she’d ever been diagnosed with a brain tumor to the doctor at the Alfred.

When Belle Gibson left the Alfred she was later informed by letter that she was in perfectly good health. But this didn’t prevent her from blogging her way into the zone of health-guru-inspirational-wonder-woman and sufferer of multiple cancers.

She went on to create an incredible Instagram following in 2013 based on the myth she was severely ill and her social media superstar-survivor status grew as a result of all the subsequent media attention she received.

Media attention that burgeoned without any checks and balances. All who interviewed her failed to follow up on any of Belle’s back story to see if it was legitimate, including Apple whose App along with Belle's endorsement promoted wellness. Penguin Publishers gave her a cookbook deal and Elle magazine called her the “most inspiring woman you’ve met this year.” Yet Elle received emails questioning Belle Gibson’s authenticity, which they dismissed as lies.

Cosmopolitan awarded her their “Fun, Fearless, Female” social media award. They too were sent an email putting Belle Gibson’s story in doubt, and like Elle before them decided against following up on these accusations. Cosmopolitan also decided not to strip her of the award because it was reader based.

Finally, one journalist, The Australian Newspaper’s, Richard Guilliatt outed Belle Gibson as a fraud.

Guillatt also found discrepancies in her claims, then failure to give monies she'd promised to charities. In her book she states that 25% of the company’s profits are donated to various causes. Belle Gibson has now hired a lawyer.

It’s not staggering that everyone in the media bought into Belle Gibson’s story without ever checking one detail. We’ve become slack in all manner of ways in society today. And never underestimate her selling power - she's overwhelmingly pretty.

We tend to take the written word (even on the internet) as gospel, we rarely challenge many people today and if we were duped by Belle Gibson, she’s only one person and we would have bounced back quickly, had not the media ridden on her coat tails gained her more exposure and followers who may have been ill themselves.

That none of the media with massive resources asked any questions about authenticity, is staggering.

Richard Guillart who broke the story, put it succinctly when he questioned: “But as Gibson’s business and personal story unravels, a bigger question hovers in the background: to what extent did the world’s biggest computer company and largest publishing house fail to check the veracity of the ­social media sensation they helped create?"

Which leaves hanging in the air a further point, to what extent is Belle Gibson their calamity and therefore their responsibility? In terms of messages she gave on the basis of ‘true’ accounts to sufferers of cancer, will it remain merely Belle Gibson who is culpable? Will any of the cancer sufferers who followed her recipes, and medical advice, have recourse to compensation from either Penguin or Apple as a result of everything she’s said being total bullshit?

mildred issue