Family Thinking Daughter Is Backpacking In Asia Uncovers Her Elaborate Deception

Trust

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She took a closer look at the photo. Now that it was pointed out to her, she couldn't believe it. She had been deceived for over a month, and she couldn't fathom what they were telling her. But why would her daughter do this? And then the truth of it all sank in.

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Portraits

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Zilla van den Born from the Netherlands had entered the world of modeling at the tender age of 16, and soon, she was enamored by the way her photographs were manipulated to portray her in a different light. The photo editors would work tirelessly to ensure that her shoots were picture-perfect, but she didn't always agree with their modifications.

Adventure

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Zilla was 25 years old when she decided to pursue a career in the arts, and she enrolled at the Art Academy of Utrecht for a graphic design course. Her friends and family were aware of her dreams to travel the world one day, so they were unsurprised when she announced a solo 5-week trip to South-East Asia. little did they know, Zilla's photographs of her trip were about to stir major controversy.

Envy

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Laden with her heavy luggage, Zilla arrived at the airport in April 2014 and promptly posted a photograph of her sendoff on Facebook. Soon, comments flooded in -- all her friends and followers were awed and a little envious that the young girl was about to set off on the adventure of a lifetime. But nobody could have dreamed what was really going on in Zilla's life.

Idyllic

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Zilla continued to post photographs of her adventures in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia over the next 5 weeks. She posted snapshots of herself posing in the sapphire blue waters of Asia's idyllic beaches, silhouetted against the iconic skyline of Bangkok, as well as enjoying local cuisine. She had no idea how much backlash she would receive for these seemingly innocent photographs later on.

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Land Of Smiles

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Zilla added photograph after photograph on social media, to the envy of her hundreds of Facebook friends. In one album, titled “Thailand, the land of smiles,” she even poses with a Buddhist monk in the beautiful temples of Bangkok. Her rabid followers waited with bated breath for each snapshot of the young woman's seemingly perfect life -- and she never disappointed them.

Living The Dream

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She partied with many new friends she had made, went scuba diving in the crystal waters of the Thai island of Phuket with exotic marine life, and even posed with the local children. On the surface, it appeared as though she was living everyone's wildest dreams and adventures. But this was far from the truth.

Facade

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Zilla, despite her busy days of adventure, managed to keep her loved ones updated and would video call them on Skype from her various hotel rooms throughout her stay. And she did an excellent job of maintaining the facade she had built so elaborately around herself. He parents never suspected that anything was amiss with their daughter.

Evidence

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When Zilla's 5-week vacation drew to a close, her parents were eager for her to come home and show them all the photographs of her trip. They were proud of their daughter and happy that she had been brave enough to embark on such a journey alone in a foreign country. But when Zilla revealed what she had really been doing during her vacation, everyone was left reeling.

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Elaborate Ruse

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She had set up some exotic props in her apartment when she staged the Skype calls to her family, and all it took to make everyone believe that she was in Asia were a few paper umbrellas! When her loved ones had dropped her at the airport, she had disguised herself and returned to her Amsterdam apartment.

Painstaking Details

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You see, instead of going on a 5-week vacation, Zilla had decided to perform an elaborate social experiment. She had never left her apartment in Amsterdam for the entire 5 weeks, instead carefully photoshopping herself into believable scenes from her imaginary vacation. She revealed how she had managed to pull off such an extraordinary feat in a video on Vimeo.

Flawless

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Zilla had even studied Asian cooking videos and had recreated them in her own kitchen to give her posts an authentic feel. She had also successfully faked the shots of her snorkeling in her very own backyard swimming pool and then edited the exotic fish into the shots with Photoshop. The hoax was risky, and she had been careful to make sure there were no flaws in her plan.

"Friends"

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The most difficult aspect of the 5-week long operation was convincing people of the fake friendships she had made on her travels. Zilla even went as far as creating fictional identities for each of them and staging Facebook conversations to make her experience more believable to her friends and followers.

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Why?

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Zilla spent weeks creating her elaborate ruse and had successfully fooled everyone. She transformed her everyday surroundings to create the illusion that she was off on an incredible adventure. The entire process was painstaking, and she had told nobody about her secret. But her revelation baffled her friends and family. Why would she go to such an effort?

Social Experiment

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The experiment was a project for her university course. Zilla had set out to prove that social media is a powerful tool that many use to distort other people's perceptions of their lives. She wanted to prove how easy it is to portray yourself in a specific way on social media.

Intentions

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"...it’s not only the models in the magazines, but also our friends on social media who contribute to this fake reality. We should be more careful about what we believe, and ask ourselves why a photo is made — how and by whom and with which intention," Zilla said. And her message is a powerful one.

An Ideal World

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"I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media – we create an ideal world online, which reality can no longer meet,” Zilla said in an interview. “My goal was to prove how common and easy it is for people to distort reality. Everyone knows that pictures of models are manipulated, but we often overlook the fact that we manipulate reality also in our own lives.”

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Staged

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But not all of Zilla's photographs were edited. For the shot where she poses with a Buddhist Monk, she simply went to the nearest temple. It is ironic that the photos of the Buddhist temple were the most authentic posts Zilla created during her 5-week social experiment. But, understandably, Zilla's elaborate hoax has received mixed reactions from her friends and family.

Backlash

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Some of Zilla's Facebook fans praised her skills and took her message to heart, while others felt hurt and betrayed by her lies -- her loved ones were affected most of all. "If I had the chance to do it again, I don’t think I would,” Zilla confessed to BuzzFeed. “I really underestimated the impact of the project on myself and the people around me.”

Powerful Message

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What do you think about Zilla's social experiment? Should we always believe that our friends are living idyllic lives because of what they post on social media? Is it right to feel unsatisfied with our own lives because of the distorted reality we are shown every day in the media and in our own Facebook feeds? Think carefully next time you feel a twinge of envy -- seeing is not always believing.