We reflect on 2013 and reveal our top 5 hoaxes or scams of the year based on the number of search requests, pages visited and social media/email queries we received during the course of the 12 months.
5. I Hereby Make Myself Look Silly
In what we can only describe as a classic case of armchair lawyering, the assertion that posting legal sounding words and sentences does anything whatsoever to your legal rights regarding privacy is as laughable as it is genuinely troubling.
Whilst it would be lovely to demand pretty much everything we wanted just because we asked for it using sentences like “you are hereby notified”, “legally privileged” and “ALL RIGHTS RESERVED WITHOUT PREJUDICE”, life doesn’t quite work like that.
The only thing you would accomplish by posting legal not-even-pseudo-legal-jargon onto your wall is to make yourself look utterly gullible. Sadly bypassing terms and conditions that you have already agreed to is a little more tricky that understanding what “foregoing prohibitions” means.
So you are hereby notified to stop being so gullible, and to share our website to everyone you pass on the street. It’s the law, after all.
4. The Hidden Speed Camera
There is nothing that irks a driver more than the thought of a hidden speed camera, out to get you. Which is probably why many helped spread a photo across cyberspace apparently showing what was a hidden speed camera, trialling in the UK/US/Spain, depending on what variant you read. The photo showed some subtle looking gadget appended onto the metal guard rails at the side of the road, ready to trap any unwary, speeding motorist.
However what you were really looking at was a camera sensor, which worked in conjunction with a highly visible camera at the side of the road, used in Switzerland.
Of course this much more mundane, less controversial and much more accurate explanation was far less appealing to share, so the lie went viral, meaning many people didn’t know if the hidden camera was real or not.
But we’ll give you a clue. It’s not real.
3. Attack of the toilet spiders
The toilet spider, a.k.a. the Two-Striped Telamonia, reaches the number 3 spot. This warning prays on three common fears, the fear of spiders, the fear of being dead because of a spider, and the fear of cold toilet seats. Only not so much the last one.
This false warning claimed that a surge of fatalities was found to be the result of a spider hanging around underneath toilet seats in airport restaurants or various Olive Garden establishments across the continental US.
It could sound plausible if it wasn’t for several pesky facts that got in the way. First, spiders very rarely kill humans, secondly, the Two-Striped Telamonia isn’t found in the US, thirdly the Two-Striped Telamonia isn’t dangerous, and fourthly, some dude made it all up.
Not that that stopped people manically sharing the warning with their friends.
2. Stranger Danger
If the words “I WANT TO STAY PRIVATELY CONNECTED TO YOU” ring a bell, then it’s probably because of this classic warning that has managed to make its way on our 2012, 2013 and now 2014 most popular hoax list.
Like many rumours, it starts with a misunderstanding of how Facebook privacy works, and the threat of having strangers see our personal information. The “warning” falsely claimed that when others liked or commented on your stuff, then this somehow made it publicly available to pretty much anyone with an Internet connection.
Nonsense. Unless your privacy settings were set to public, in which case it’s a fair assumption that you don’t really care if strangers see your statuses, photos et al.
And like many a typical warning, it offered a completely useless “solution” that did absolutely nothing whatsoever to help. Something to do with unchecking Likes, we think.
1. Revenge of the Hacker Giraffes.
It all began with a game.
Answer the riddle. Get it right, then celebrate jubilantly. Get it wrong, change your Facebook profile to a Giraffe. And like many social media memes, it spread virally.
However pranksters were not far behind, quickly exploiting the viral success of the game by asserting that changing your photo to a giraffe would give hackers access to your Facebook account.
Using the ambiguous threat of “hackers” and ultimately making no sense at all are two common attributes to your typical Facebook warning message, and this example used them both brilliantly.
Unless hackers managed to uncover a new exploit that allowed them to infect JPG images, and somehow inexplicably succeeded in infecting all the Giraffe images that would turn up in your average Internet image search, you could rest assured that this was nothing more than illogical nonsense.
But it didn’t stop hundreds of thousands of Facebook users thinking hacker giraffes were out to get them. Or something like that.
What rumours will 2014 see? We can only wait and see.