I just wanted to warn all of my friends about something that has been occuring more and more lately, all through out the country. Groups of teenagers have been caught, in alarming numbers, playing a new and dangerous game called Spunkball. Spunkball consists of a group of teens in a car pulling up to a stop light, and looking around for a car stopped near by with an open window. When one is spotted, the teens shout, “Spunkball”, and throw a gasoline soaked rag that has been wrapped in aluminum foil threw the open window. On the outside of the foil is attatched a small fire cracker, with the fuse lit. When the fire cracker explodes, it shreds the foil, and the rag is ignited, causing a large flame that may catch the interior of the car on fire. Spunkball playing has already claimed two lives, caused uncountable injuries due to burns, and caused thousands of dollars in damage to automobiles. The best defense, say authorities, is to keep all windows rolled up when stopped at traffic lights, as only cars with windows down are being targeted.
How about this shocking episode?
This happened in the St. Bruno area of Montreal just a few days ago in a movie theater. A person sat down on something sharp on the seat. Upon examination, it turned out to be a needle with a note attached: You have just been infected with HIV. The Center for Disease control reports several similar events recently in other cities. All the needles tested positive. The center reports that needles were also found in the coin return section of public telephones, as well as in the coin return section of soft drink machines.
Or—worst of all—this?
Out shopping one day with his mother in a neighbourhood shopping precinct, a boy of about ten years old went off to the public toilet. … [He was found by a policeman] lying in a pool of blood in one of the cubicles with a crowd around him. He was still alive but was in a highly critical condition. According to an eye witness, the poor boy had been castrated by an ethnic gang of local youths.
These stories inevitably refer to the police or some government authority, and invariably end with an injunction to ‘pass this to everyone you care about, especially those with children’. AAAAHHHHHHHZOMG THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!!!!!
Before you start welding your car windows shut, wearing metal trousers, giving your ten-year-old son a taser, or forwarding these messages to everyone you care about,
Your first port of call should be Snopes, ‘the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation’, and one of the oldest continuously operating websites around (it started in 1995). Stick a choice phrase from the story into the search box, and you’ll quickly find that every story like this that’s circulating on social media is a load of crap. You’ll be surprised how long they’ve been doing the rounds for: some date back to the sixties.
Secondly, think about the source. Did it come from an official police account, or was it from ‘a friend of mine who works at the Met‘? Have you heard anything about this extremely newsworthy event on the news? In newspapers? Is it mentioned on police websites? No? Thought not.
When you discover that the story is in fact a load of bollocks, please—for the sake of those you care about—don’t forward it. These stories are corrosive in a number of ways.
- They make people scared to live their lives. Everyday activities like going to the cinema, driving, and taking your child shopping become fraught with horror and fear. Some people are unusually susceptible to being gripped by irrational terror, and urban legends like these could tip them into agoraphobia. In many countries, in particularly the US, the bloodthirsty media (‘if it bleeds, it leads’) delights in telling its viewers about the big bad scary world. These stories make things that much worse.
- Fear can become an obsession. Remember the mean-spirited chain letters that ended ‘if you don’t forward this to five friends, you and everyone you love will die in a fire’? There were people who photocopied and forwarded hundreds of the letters for fear of what might happen otherwise. These stories have the same effect.
- People stop looking out for each other. There’s a popular (and utterly false) story that gangs drive around at night with their lights off, killing people who flash or wave at them. Result: people stop telling other drivers to put their lights on. A particularly awful (and false) example is the serial killer who uses the sound of a baby crying to lure victims from their houses. Result: people stop helping distressed children. It pains me to say it, but: think of the children.
I have no idea why these stupid stories were written in the first place, but I suspect it was to seek attention, which is terribly sad in itself. You can do a really good thing by ignoring them, and politely pointing whoever shared them at this post. You’ll protect countless people from having their lives made a little bit more unpleasant.
Please forward this to everyone you care about.