This event has already been somewhat chronicled over at bcc, but I want to highlight and discuss as well.

The quick stories:

  • As many of you will remember, some prominent folks in the bloggernacle created a blog called “Under the Banner of heaven”, where the permabloggers were presented as real people to the bloggernacle, but in reality, they were fake identities created by already prominent bloggernaclers. In some instances, men posed as women, and confessed things like miscarriages to sympathetic, but duped, female participants. When the deceit was uncovered, there was much sadness and anger.
  • Well, a similar thing has happened on youtube this week. A supposedly teenage girl (home schooled, with over-protective parents) under the alias “lonelygirl15” started video blogging about her life, and literally millions of youtube fans tuned in (this is perhaps the best example of her video posts). Sometimes even sincere fans posted their own video responses, expressing empathy or encouragement. Now it turns out that the whole thing was fiction. You can read more about it here and here (thanks to bcc for the links).

Here is one of the many videos exposing “lonelygirl15” as a fraud:

Personally, stuff like this doesn’t make me angry. But it does make me think about 3 things….

  1. Most importantly, how HUGE Internet video can be. MILLIONS of viewers followed this story. Can you imagine the potential (good or ill) for Mormonism if someone did something similar (it would have to be SUPER creative, of course). Ask a Ninja is another example of something really silly, simple, creative, and with a HUGE following (it even has big time commercial sponsors now). Even my silly video that I did for a class project has been viewed close to 10,000 times now.
  2. How important real identity can be to functional web communities.
  3. I sort of respectfully disagree w/ Steve Evans that people should not be so outraged. I think they should be angry when stuff like this happens. It is dishonesty, plain and simple.


  1. Brian G September 14, 2006 at 8:34 pm

    I can’t believe I had to go through that lengthy registration process just to leave a comment.

    John, in the interest of fairness you need to get your facts straight. First, the name of the blog is simply “Banner of Heaven.” Second, I don’t believe anyone ever confessed a miscarriage. Third, the idea that BoH was created by “prominent” bloggernaclers is false and misleading. Steve Evans was well-known enough, and DKL was infamous, as always, but the notion that the rest of us were “prominent” is inaccurate. In fact, someone at BCC just expressed disappointment that I wasn’t a better known person when they found out I was involved.

    More importantly, I think you read Steve’s post uncharitably. He clearly said that he didn’t intend to change how people felt about the Banner of Heaven, and never said their anger was unjustified, but instead wanted to use it and the lonelygirl15 incident as a springboard for a discussion about memory and forgiveness.

  2. John Dehlin September 14, 2006 at 8:48 pm


    This is all good to know. I’m sorry for any inaccuracies (I am checking on the miscarriages thing though. This was told to me by a prominent, trusted source, who was very angry when the news broke).

    Have you guys/gals considered creating a Wikipedia entry on this? I think that would be really cool. Seriously.

    Finally, I’m sorry if I got Steve’s post wrong. To me, it seemed like he was saying that he was disappointed that people don’t like, or are disappointed, when stuff like this happens. Was that not the tone of his post?

  3. John Dehlin September 14, 2006 at 8:49 pm

    P.S. Sorry for all the resgistration hassel. I’m trying to limit spam (the plug-in isn’t enough), and I also am trying to keep the conversations under control. Barriers definitely help with that. :)

    The good news is that you only have to do it once, and then you’re golden.

  4. John Dehlin September 14, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    I went back and searched through my email. Here’s the quote I copied verbatim from an IM with a friend,

    “People confessed to mental illnesses, miscarriages, and other intensely personal things on the site over the last six months. And they were talking to cartoons…”

    I think I may have misread the quote. It looks like maybe the real people were discussing their real miscarriages w/ the fake people. Sorry for the confusion. I still think the point is illustrative, but I do apologize for getting the facts a bit wrong.

    Have any of the past entries been cleaned up or edited in the history/archives of BOH, or is it all 100% completely in tact? I went back and searched for the term, and found nothing.

  5. Brian G September 15, 2006 at 10:52 am

    Thanks for responding, John.

    As far as the intent of Steve’s post. He clearly writes:

    “I don’t intend to change people’s minds about Banner of Heaven — indeed, I don’t know if that’s possible, or desirable. Instead, I’m interested in the nature of memory, and I’d like to ask a few questions:”

    The thread went in another direction and he’s since shut it down. For what it’s worth, I’m not here to defend the Banner of Heaven either. I just wanted to do you the service of correcting some inaccuracies. My apology which is still up at the site expresses my feelings.

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I doubt we’re interested in a wikipedia entry. Honestly, notoriety was never something we were after. I know a lot of people may find that hard to believe and I can understand why, but it’s true.

    No, we haven’t changed a word or cleaned up the history or archives. It’s all intact.

    It’s been nearly a year, but whenever the Banner is discussed publically, even in the most innocuous way, it always ends badly. However, if you have any other questions feel free to email me.

  6. Rodney S September 15, 2006 at 11:23 am

    I was a little confused with one of your three points. First you said that you were not personally made angry but in the third point you stated that you thought people should be angry when things like this happens. A small point.

    More importantly an analogy came to mind: Some people do not believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon and yet see value in it as it brings people unto Christ. Such a believer might see many BoM characters not as real people but as archetypes, which when viewed through the eyes of mythos can teach powerful lessons. Perhaps the Banner of Heaven episode could be viewed in a similar vein. Though fictional the characters were archetypal and had a powerful effect.

    I see this as similar to a recent scandal about a book called “A Million Little Pieces.” It was powerful and touched many when it was portrayed as a memoir. Later when it came out that it was more of a fictional work the value of the message was lost in the scandal of how it was presented.

  7. John Dehlin September 15, 2006 at 11:32 am

    That’s a fair point, Rodney. I think I should revise my point to read “I think they have every right/reason to be angry” instead of “I think they should be angry.” I was not angry because I never got sucked in. Anyway, good catch.

    I understand your point about BOM historicity and “A Million Little Pieces.” I’m sure there’s value that was and will be derrived from BOH as well. I definitely don’t view any of those as worthless. I just think that it’s fundamentally wrong to identify yourself as something that you know you’re not–especially as the basis for a real, authentic, personal human relationship.

    No biggie. I don’t stand in big judgment or anything. I’m definitely flawed in lots of ways. I just wanted to voice my thought that we should all be able to agree that deception is fundamentally wrong.

    That said, I’m not perfect, and I know good has and will come from all of this.

  8. Rodney S September 15, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    John, I actually agree completely with you and very much appreciate your openness about being human and flawed. I am amazed that you are always able to offer a peace pipe when confronted with an emotionally charged rebuttal to something you have said. That openness is what keeps me coming back to your blog.

    I believe that deception is wrong too. The point I was trying to make in a softer and more respectful way was that many of the same people who are very critical of BOH and its deception are not willing to examine possible deception(malicious or collateral) with regards to church history and BoM historicity. Ultimately we must each decide which standard of truth we will abide by. That is our right and our burden. The tendency to not be willing to examine our own beliefs is universal.

    On the internet, with regards to the truthfulness of information, I apply the same standard as healthcare’s Universal Precautions. That is, when confronted with some body fluids, always assume it to contain HIV. Treat all information as suspect. See how it gels and feels. Try it on for size.

  9. n September 16, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    The value of something is lost when deception is part of it. Many great stories have been told and valued and labeled appropriately as fiction. In like manner, there have been blogs where people have created characters as authors and clearly identified them as creations.

    There was a disturbing movie in the 90s called The Truman Show. Most of you probably are familiar with it. The premise was Truman Burbank’s life was staged unbeknownst to him. Situations were created and his reaction to it all was broadcast to the public. In short, he was exploited.

    To exploit means “to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage”. I’d say in both the case of the bloggers and youtube girl, they were unfairly using the public for their own amusement and/or observation and in the case of youtube incident, fame and riches.

    It is not surprising what someone trying to land a film deal might do. The Mormon bloggers on the other hand ought to be familiar with D&C 50:6. That experiment is indefensible.

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