I casually browsed my Facebook feed this morning and I ran across a rather laughable “share” by someone whom I wouldn’t classify as the sharpest pencil in the box. He’s a nice enough guy (or was when I hung out with him years back) but he has a nasty habit of “sharing” things on Facebook that are patently and obviously false.
You know the things I’m talking about. Stories of tragedy and misfortune aimed at educating the reader so they don’t make the same mistake. Public service announcements meant to make people aware of some horrible problem or issue running rampant in the world. Except there is no issue, no problem, and no verifiable instance of tragedy. These stories are false. All of them. They may have originated from some tiny grain of truth but then the internet and all its fine citizens got hold of them and blew them out of proportion.
What bothers me here is not that someone created a stupid “urban myth” of any sort. That happens all the time. Those of us with fully functional brains can easily pick out the silly from the truthful and move on. The problem I have here is the blatantly ignorant spreading of the untruthful.
So let’s get a few things straight (and this is just what I’ve seen on my own Facebook):
- You cannot melt your contact lenses to your eyeball by staring at a fire. The amount of heat needed to melt the lens is far greater than what is present standing five feet from a fire. You would need to dunk your entire head into the fire for several minutes while holding your eyes wide open. Sound physically possible? No, because it isn’t, and if you believed for a second that some idiot actually melted his lenses to his eyes by casually watching a bonfire, you should probably stick your head in the nearest blaze.
- There are no deadly toilet-spiders waiting beneath your toilet seat to bite your ass. This is a popular one that I have seen shared three or more times in the last few months. The species of spider blamed in the “article” is completely non-venomous and totally harmless. No one has died as a result of this spider lurking in a bathroom stall waiting to bite your bottom when you sit down to pee. Could there be a spider hiding in your toilet seat? Absolutely. Is there a rash of horrible, deadly bites claiming the lives of bathroom-goers nation wide? No.
- Drug dealers are not handing out deadly narcotics in the form of kids candy, stickers, or otherwise at your child’s school. How stupid do you think those people are? The popular story goes like this: “police have issued an emergency flier warning parents about the danger of drugs marketed to kids” and then shows a badly written scare-tactic flier taped to a window. The truth? A bunch of easily terrified mothers with no brains and no common sense issued these fliers, panicked a bunch of people, and caused a big problem for police. Way to go, moms.
- This is a big one. A popular internet story says that dialing 112 on your cellphone when you are being pulled over by a police car will connect you with the emergency dispatch operator where you can verify that the car pulling you over is legitimately a cop. It preys upon a woman’s fear of being overpowered and raped/murdered by a man dressed in a cop costume. And while many of the stories circulating the internet are mostly harmless, this one could get someone killed. Dialing 112 doesn’t do jack. If you have any question about the legitimacy of the uniformed police officer making your traffic stop, DO NOT do anything until you have called 911 and asked for verification. Do not get out of the car. Do not pull over on some lonely dark highway. Never pull over for a vehicle that is not a clearly marked, unquestionable police vehicle.
And those are just some of the common ones. They’re all well-intentioned stories aimed at helping people to prevent the same misfortunes detailed in their myth. But deeper than that, beneath their shocking surface, it’s a lot worse than just a bit of bad information. They target specific fears and phobias and they prey upon people’s instincts. And they all seem like they could be true, so gullible people believe them. Believing that spiders might lurk under your toilet seat is pretty harmless. So what if you check under the seat every time now? But believing that a false number can save your life when pulled over by a rapist could get someone…well, raped. And that isn’t okay.
So here’s my public service announcement on the issue: please, for the love of God, stop reposting this stuff without first verifying it as fact. You’re not doing anyone any good by disseminating false information. In fact, you’re part of the problem. The internet has the potential to be the greatest tool in the spread of valuable information ever created, but it’s being ruined by people who, well intentioned or not, spread baseless and false information. Don’t be that person. You have a brain and a set of eyes, so use them. Do a little sleuthing before you share something with the caption “OMG i just saw this on the interwebz AND ITS TRUE omg” because when you’ve gotten to this point, there is no turning back. You’re an idiot.
Snopes.com is your friend.