Cerebral palsy blogger “David Rose” exposed as fake

Picture of Hunter Dunn, a young white man with cerebral palsy, wearing a green jumper, sitting in a wheelchair looking to his left (at an off-picture computer screen)This post is also published at Same Difference, and you can comment there or here.

Back in August, a blog was set up titled “Dave on Wheels”, purportedly by a young disabled man called David Rose living in a nursing home in California. The man was profoundly deaf and had severe cerebral palsy, communicating through a Tobii speech aid using eye-gaze input. David Rose had a sister, Nichole Rose, and apparently “David” was so severely disabled that all his entries were in fact published by her. (More: Special Ed Post.)

A couple of weeks ago, “David” purportedly went down with pneumonia and was taken into hospital. The last entry published, last Thursday (11th Oct), was one that “David” had written and given to his sister to publish in the event of his death. The entry told of three friends he had known who had had that type of pneumonia and died of it, including a girl he had known when aged 10 and contained a message to his friends thanking them for being so awesome. The blog built up a substantial following by people who found Rose’s story and personality inspiring; however, a website that had taken to him, called The Chive, became suspicious when attempts to contact Nichole came to nothing and one of the Chive’s contributors received an email pointing out that the picture of “David Rose” actually belonged to another disabled man named Hunter Dunn (and was lifted from the Tobii AAC company’s own website). Ultimately, yesterday The Chive posted an admission that they had been hoaxed.

The author of that email put up a website presenting her evidence, titled “Dave on Wheels Exposed”, which has one entry (as I write, this uses a theme which crashes some mobile browsers). It contains some screenshots of the original blog, which has since been removed (along with the Twitter and Facebook accounts that were used to support it). It concludes that the author of “Dave on Wheels” was a paedophile who used it to attract the attention of underage girls, hence the profusion of underage-looking female friends “Dave” had.

The hoaxer is obviously a quite articulate person who justified their deception on the basis that it moved and inspired people, causing an “outpouring of positive, emotional energy” and may have prevented a couple of suicides, and that someone donated $500 to an American cerebral palsy charity in “David Rose’s” name. Still, the scam was believable - in hindsight, perhaps it should have aroused suspicion that a blogger died soon after starting their blog, and that this was not mentioned in the “sister’s” tribute, and that the disability community had no knowledge of this person before his thank-you post did the rounds last week - and the news of his death caused made a lot of people upset even though they had only recently, or even only just learned of his “existence”. However “inspiring” it may have been to non-disabled people, to many people with disabilities and their friends, it is likely to have been an infuriating or highly distressing act of emotional manipulation as many of us have lost disabled friends or relatives at a young age, including from pneumonia (or had a brush with it themselves) which is a fairly common cause of death among people with spinal cord injuries in particular. In particular, the well-known autistic blogger Amanda Baggs was admitted to hospital with it early last month, and I have been unable to find any more information on her situation.

I think the “paedophile” explanation is far-fetched; there have been a number of hoaxes over the years on the Internet, including several fake cancer blogs, the “Gay Girl in Damascus” hoax which brought a dramatic climax with the author’s supposed arrest, after which “she” was revealed to be neither gay, female nor anywhere near Damascus. This particular hoax had a similar pattern of a dramatic conclusion followed by fairly rapid exposure but was much longer in the making, with one anonymous commenter on the “Dave on Wheels Exposed” blog alleging that they had been in correspondence with “Dave” since 2008. Whatever good this person thinks he may have done does not justify the hurt and the emotional manipulation it involved.

Update: Some called Jessica Roy from the New York Observer just asked the faker to contact her by email, through a comment on the DOW Exposed blog, so we could see the whole scam revealed before very long.

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