Posted: Mar 26, 2014 10:00 AM
Created for a social media conference, a YouTube video propelled @TrappedAtMyDesk to posthumous fame. Shannon McKarney, a Canadian blogger, created the video after a visceral emotional reaction to tweets from a young woman who quickly succumbed to a rare cancer. Further investigation questions whether the whole thing is an internet hoax — calling the enigmatic woman's very existence into question. Questions remain, both about the viral content and about why we seek YouTube validation and inspiration in 140 characters or fewer.

Meet Amanda

Amanda's Twitter account@TrappedAtMyDesk — has 5,123 followers and only 169 tweets. Her tweet count will never increase, at least not at her hand. The last update was written April 14, 2013, when Amanda's brother announced her death. Amanda's Twitter existence began innocently enough, in 2009, but became inspiration-worthy in early 2013 when she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The death sentence diagnosis propelled her to live without boundaries, without regret — and with a stunning dose of clarity brought on by staring down a three-month gun barrel.

@TrappedAtMyDesk finds a soundtrack

Her death alone wasn't enough to turn 169 tweets into life-affirming inspiration devoured by the internet. Shannon McKarney stumbled on @TrappedAtMyDesk's final tweet and found herself reading back through the timeline. Amanda's story struck a nerve, and McKarney created a video, the tweets backed by "Let Her Go" by Passenger. The video was originally created for a social media conference, but later distributed in hopes that someone who knew Amanda would come forward to divulge more information about the mysterious Amanda.

McKarney's video goes viral

No one contacted McKarney about Amanda's real-life identity, but the wistful video picked up steam rapidly, the type of viral content coveted by so many content creators on the internet. (At the time of writing, the original YouTube video has 964,679 views, and there have been versions created in other languages by other users, making the viewing ripples difficult to calculate.) Jezebel helped spur the video's viral wildfire, but comments and responses to the video catapulted it to the stratosphere. Clocking at just over four minutes, the "Trapped at My Desk" video has been described as "life-changing."

Is "Trapped at My Desk" another internet hoax?

Viewers began to question the truth behind the video as people tried to discover more about Amanda's life and not simply her death. Jennifer Mendelsohn writes comprehensively about the holes in the story — holes that get deeper and wider as she digs through tweets and contacts and talks to doctors. Mendelsohn's case — partially based on some sound medical opinions — points toward hoax.

There's something intoxicating about a limited timeline and the opportunity to live wildly and beautifully, to open oneself to clarity and slough off the pettiness of the mundane moments of our lives.

Why our response to "Trapped at My Desk" matters

Viewers responded to "Trapped at My Desk" with raw emotion. Commenters mentioned their own brushes with cancer, their experiences with regret and their desires to embrace life the way Amanda did when she realized hers was going to end. There's something intoxicating about a limited timeline and the opportunity to live wildly and beautifully, to open oneself to clarity and slough off the pettiness of the mundane moments of our lives. Does it really matter if the whole thing is a hoax if it makes people appreciate their own lives — and their own mortality — just a bit more?

Evaluating and appreciating life is never a bad thing — but there is danger in blurring the line between reality and crafted emotion-baiting. Death, illness and tragically short lives can be found in homes and hospitals in every corner of the world. There's no need to fabricate heartbreak, and searching for it on the internet can siphon our time and sympathy from the people in our real lives who could use our emotional investment.

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