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Peter Coffin might currently be the most hated man on the internet, even though what he allegedly did has no real victims. According to the popular Singaporean blogger and model Xiaxue, who became fed up with Coffin’s Twitter taunts about her plastic surgery, Coffin, a YouTube comedian, carried on a charade of an online-only relationship with someone purporting to be an 18-year-old Japanese girl named Kimi Kobayashi. Not only does Kobayashi not exist, but her pictures are of a Korean model (arguably the only innocent victim). Xiaxue has compiled damning evidence that Coffin created the Kobayashi character, complete with the tasteless, racist and sexist jokes that constituted the pair’s public flirting.
In a thirty minute conversation with Runnin’ Scared this morning, a despondent Coffin, who’s been mocked relentlessly online for more than 36 hours, maintained that he did not create Kobayashi, but was instead the victim of someone else’s online identity games. “I’m just in a place right now,” he stuttered somberly. “I’m sitting here, and I’ve got these people coming at me from a million angles and I don’t know what happened.”
But whether or not Coffin made up Kobayashi — and it sure seems like he did — what began as a wacky internet tale complete with an O.D. of schadenfreude for a mean, culturally insensitive man, has now become a more interesting lesson about the psychology of the internet hive mind. Even if he carried on an online relationship with himself, and far from forgiving his own offenses, the cyber-bullying of Peter Coffin is now officially out of control.
At its most concentrated, the popular message board Reddit has had an absolute field day with the Coffin story. Though he initially took to the site to defend himself, Coffin said he couldn’t take the pile-on, and that’s when he decided to shut his computer, make his Twitter account private and un-plug. But it doesn’t seem like he has.
“I’m basically going to just shut off and leave,” he said. “I’m going to shut off and leave. I don’t know if I’m going to come back.”
A Twitter search of his name is most jarring and enough to conjure sympathy even for a man who by all accounts seems like an asshole. (In Singapore, “Peter Coffin” was a trending topic.) But the internet is full of bad comedians, racists and lonely people.
“Assuming I did make this person up, why would you do this to somebody?” Coffin wondered, in reference to the treatment of him online. “That would be a mentally ill person.”
Asked if he felt mentally ill, Coffin said, “Absolutely not.”
“I feel betrayed and attacked really hard,” he said, but he refused to say that Kobayashi was his creation, despite the mountains of evidence against him. “I know what it looks like,” Coffin said, explaining that although people are saying his fake relationship lasted 8 months, he really met Kobayashi, via Twitter, in December 2009.
“By February, I knew I liked that person,” he said. Though he said they talked via Sykpe audio, and the voice “sounded like any normal girl,” he worries that “I just spent a year talking to a guy.” Coffin said he has never seen the film Catfish, which details the relationship of a young man and girl he meets on Facebook, who might not be who she seems.
“It felt great to have somebody who reminded me of me, who understood me,” he said. “The fact that people are acting how they are sucks a lot, but I have to think about how dumb I had to be. I was completely…” His voice trailed off and he was crying. “Did I make myself believe it? I wanted somebody like that.”
These are the words of a broken man. Maybe he was disturbed and lonely enough to create a character and maintain two sides of a relationship for over a year, or maybe, though it’s less likely, he was duped over the same time span. Either way he’s now embarrassed himself in front of the whole online world trying to explain it. And yet, he’s not the most interesting part of this story.
As the taunts of “lol loser” grow, and story continues to go viral, the cyber-schoolyard becomes dangerous, the put-downs as oppressive as the attention is addictive. This is now a man on the edge, one who cannot stop himself from talking about his situation, be it on a message board or to a blogger. (After our post yesterday evening, he emailed us his phone number.)
“I probably shouldn’t do much more talking about it publicly because it doesn’t matter what I say at all,” he said, only to explain later, “I don’t want any of this to be off the record.”
At this moment, he seems to have no self-control and could very well be reading all of the things being written about him. Both as the subject and as an observer, it’s tough to turn away. And so again, as we said yesterday, here, in one man’s sad story, all of the worst things you’ve ever heard about the internet are true.