Know a Hoax when you see one
Read this carefully. The Blogfather is about to teach you something.
Now, for the lesson.
The very first thing that should trigger alarm bells is when someone says “a friend’s friend family” or “my sister’s friend’s colleague’s son” or “my girlfriend’s dog’s previous owner’s landlord’s mother’s granduncle’s gynaecologist”. If it isn’t first hand info, it probably isn’t real.
Second, not a single person involved in the story was named. If it isn’t verifiable, it is even less probably real.
There are always three consistent elements to fake stories. It always takes place in a real and familiar establishment (in this case, Legoland, though which one in the world isn’t specified). It always involves a very trivial slip (the friend’s friend family – ah, never even say if mother father or granduncle’s gynaecologist – “taking her eyes off her 6 year old for just a moment”), and the description of an elaborate, yet believable-if-you-really-think-about-it crime being committed mid-pants down with at best a very vague description of a perpetrator who is not identifiable, much less prosecutable.
Finally, the only legitimate times I see a story ending with a plead to “Please spread” with a generous dose of exclamation marks is when I see postings of missing kids and elderly (with clear identification, including names, state of dress and last seen location). Seriously, if I wanted to share the true story of my kidney being stolen while I was in a drunken stupor, I’d call the New Paper or The Online Citizen, not ask my Facebook friends to help me make my post viral.
I’ve written at length about how stuff like this (think the AMK Hub and Tampines false kidnapping allegations back in 2012) creates not just unnecessary moral panic but an otherwise irrational fear of anything and anyone that doesn’t reside within the confines of your home. I’ve even helped to derail a suspicious story last year about the child-grabbing incident at a PCF Education Centre. And yet, yesterday someone asked me who does this kind of thing, and why these stories still persist.
I said, “Conspiracy mongers are dangerous animals. Their naivete feeds the innocent to make them naive as well. I would rather kill the fire than quietly let it breed.” The statement only addresses the messengers, though, and not the source. For that, I told her of a conspiracy theory the Wife told me about once that might explain the fascination with things that go viral in the online world.
It is common practice for biologists to create viruses that do not otherwise exist in the wild to experiment with (some PR and marketing agencies experiment as well, with viral campaigns; heck, even I do it). The noble ones are looking for a better vaccine to fight off a related strain. Then there are the others, who just want to see how far their creations can spread, without consideration of consequences.
So imagine, if you will (and I reiterate again, this is a conspiracy theory), that a number of years ago, scientists created a potent virus with air- and water-borne capabilities that can only affect humans, and as an indicator of its having taken effect on its human host – as well as its mode of transport – it’ll give people runny noses. Then for the sake of studying the effectiveness of such a virus, a mere 2 drops of it was dropped from an overhead bridge onto an interstate train, with the assumption that the virus will die off after a couple of days and no one would be the wiser. What was intended to be a study in how sickness may travel in a populated area, mutated to become a permanent fixture in the human condition called influenza, or the common cold.
Stories like the one shared above are extra-deplorable to The Blogfather because it targets the very insecurities that parents will have, at best causing a nagging anxiety within families to their child’s interaction with an otherwise harmless world, and at worst empowering the fear in their hearts that the world is not safe for anyone, and converting us all into unresponsive, untrusting introverts who want nothing to do with anyone, because they now think every single person is inherently evil and should never be engaged, thanks to an elaborate lie.
Moral of the story? Doesn’t matter if you’re the originator or just a helpful messenger; know that everything you do has consequences, and make sure the consequences of your actions don’t make the world permanently sick.