Munchausen syndrome is a common name for facticious disorder where people consciously fake illnesses for their own gain.
This is distinguished from malingering – where the gain would be something obvious like money, drugs or missing military service – and instead the gain from factitious illness typically includes the indirect benefits of faking – like being cared for, avoiding family conflict and so on.
The person is deliberately faking but they may not be fully conscious of all the emotional benefits – they might just say ‘it feels right’ or ‘it helps me’.
Obviously, this has been a problem for millennia but there has been an increasing recognition that the phenomenon happens online. People take up the identity of someone with an illness that gives them a special place in an online community.
This could be a standard online community where their ‘illness’ becomes a point of social concern, or their pretence could allow them to participate in an online community for people with certain disorders or conditions.
The article gives lots of example and some ways of spotting Munchausen fakers that also gives an insight into their thinking:
Posts consistently duplicating material in other posts, books, or health-related websites. Characteristics of the supposed illness emerging as caricatures. Near-fatal bouts of illness alternating with miraculous recoveries. Fantastical claims, contradicted by subsequent posts, or flatly disproved. Continual dramatic events in the person’s life, especially when other group members have become the focus of attention. Feigned blitheness about crises that will predictably attract immediate attention. Others apparently posting on behalf of the individual having identical patterns of writing.
The piece gets quite wordy at times (well, it is an academic article) but it’s an interesting insight into a motivations of people who ‘fake sick’ on the internet.
Link to full text of article.