Whistleblowing and accountability
The curious case of Alexandra de Beaumont
Last Monday, a few Facebook posts were sharing a link to a GoFundMe for Alexandra de Beaumont, a fellow ’22 MIT student fighting natural killer cell leukemia. I didn’t know this person, but I had every intention of donating, once I crossed a few items off my to-do list. Then I got a message from my roommate: Did I think the GoFundMe was a little fishy?
I thought it was a pretty simple problem, although I was a little disconcerted that I was friends with this unknown person on Facebook, with 156 mutual friends. I messaged a few of the people who had shared the link, to respectfully ask if they personally knew Alexandra. None of them did, but the donations list was littered with names of my friends and classmates.
The more I looked at it, the more confusing the GoFundMe description became. The NK cell leukemia diagnosis came six months ago, but Alexandra went on a leave of absence in January. The goal was £56,700, where the description only asked for a few thousand pounds. Alexandra de Beaumont was neither in the people directory nor the alumni directory.
We had very slim evidence, and I also knew that my social circles were not wide enough to conclude that this person didn’t exist. What kind of ignorant gossip girl would I look like if I sounded the alarm that one of my own classmates was lying about their identity?
I felt like the two of us were getting nowhere, so I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org. For the uninitiated, it’s a mailing list Faraz Masroor ’21 created his freshman year to send memes (highly recommend). It was the only corner of MIT I could think of where I could ask the question, “Does ANYONE know who Alexandra de Beaumont is?” and be taken seriously. There are 350 people on that list, and although I probably don’t know half of them, I trusted them to answer me in good faith.
Emails flooded into my inbox for the next 36 hours. It was like watching the most extraordinary parts of MIT work together. We had Course 6 magicians who accessed cached versions of Alexandra’s personal website and showed that posts from “2018” were posted in 2020. We had incredibly meticulous people who watched three years of graduation videos from the high school in Alexandra’s Facebook profile. We had courageous ones who just messaged Alexandra to test knowledge of all our MIT quirks. We had some first years who said they knew an Alexandra de Beaumont who had tried to pass as a 2024 before.
And perhaps most importantly, we had skeptics who reminded us that these discrepancies — no matter how suspicious — didn’t prove that Alexandra wasn’t an MIT student.
When I woke up in the morning, there sat an email from our dear overlord, Petey. He applauded our investigative work and suggested we ask the Registrar for any student’s academic record. My roommate emailed the Registrar, and the official results were in: Alexandra de Beaumont never had an academic record at MIT. There was no question that the MIT claim was a scam. Now the question was, “how are we going to alert MIT students?”
There were multiple worst-case scenarios at play. What if this was a crime ring organized by people who could physically harm me? What if this person was lying about being associated with MIT, but not about the cancer part? There were also less worse scenarios. What if this was a social experiment from the Media Lab? What if Harvard was pranking us?
Since it had all started on Facebook, my roommate made a public Facebook post. That garnered some dubious comments from unknown accounts, so they took it down. The loudest we could be while staying within the MIT community, then, was dormspam. I wrote up some key points of what was uncovered the night before and made it clear that we did not take issue with the claim to NK cell leukemia, only the claim to MIT.
Surprisingly, whoever was behind this kept going. At least three burner accounts appeared, claiming to know Alexandra de Beaumont, who were themselves unverified. A finsta account for an actual MIT student, who confirmed that they did not have a finsta, appeared and then disappeared. With so many eyes on the GoFundMe, we noticed every change. Every time someone got a refund and the total went down. Every time an update was added or changed, to claim membership with the Teenage Cancer Trust of England, then the (nonexistent) Teenage Cancer Group of Berkshire. Currently, the fundraiser is closed.
There’s no lesson at the end of this article. I don’t even know how I feel about the whole thing. I’m upset that someone took advantage of the goodness of MIT students, I’m proud of us for trying to protect our community, and I’m worried that this will make every one of us a little less likely to donate the next time we come across someone in need. That’s the cruelest part of Alexandra de Beaumont: the shattered trust.