You may have seen this photo floating around Facebook, or even better, you may have received personally on Whatsapp:
The caption accompanying the photo warns about a girl ringing on your doorbell to collect signatures for insecurity. We have no idea what insecurity is, but apparently it can result in you getting robbed in your own house by said girl and three men that are hiding behind her.
I have so many questions.
Firstly, the thought of three grown men crouching behind a girl in plain sight is pretty ridiculous. Since the whole idea is to hide yourself until the opportune time is given to rush into the targeted victim's home, why would they want to draw attention to themselves by performing such an absurd action.
Secondly, if this was happening in "a lot of neighbourhoods", especially Singapore ones, you can be sure it won't only be circulating around the net. It will be plastered all over the front pages of our local newspapers.
Thirdly, for a widely circulated hoax, not a lot of thought and effort went into it. Remember the "bacteria from eating sashimi" hoax earlier this year?
So much details and story-telling went into that one. If this was the Star Wars of local Whatsapp hoaxes, then the recent "collecting signatures for the insecurity" one is the crappy sequel with Jar Jar Binks in it.
You just can't wrap your mind around how your auntie could have fallen for that hoax and then spread it around in the family group chat.
So why do people fall for these dumb hoaxes? Let's look at the 3 parts that make up a dumb hoax and why they work.
1. Tap into existing fears
Ever since the first chain letter was copied and mailed out, or the first chain email was forwarded, that decision to take action is almost always done out of fear. People share stuff when it triggers their fear of bad things befalling them.
Let's look at the bacteria in sashimi hoax again. What made it work so well was tapping into the age old fear of losing loved ones so suddenly without warning. The son dies, and the wife goes mad. No one wants that to happen to them.
2. Make it personal
A hoax thrives on the illusion of it being shared due to a personal experience. No matter how exaggerated or mind-boggling, a personal experience will be viewed by some as being more credible than what's reported in the news.
Take bacteria in sashimi hoax, note how it opened immediately by stating this is a message from "my sister". Oh my. A sibling! Of course the sibling is not going to lie! IT'S FAMILY.
Personal names like 'Ann' and 'Wan Kam' in the message also adds a layer of believability to the hoax. If the earlier fear hasn't caused your auntie to share the message to your family chat yet, this sort of personal touch to add a layer of credibility just might.
3. Add a random photo to accompany the story
"A picture says a thousand words". Too bad we have no idea whether lies are included in those thousand words.
Add an accompanying photo to any story and it does add a sheen of credibility to it. It doesn't matter if it's taken out of context. This is why I suspect that the reason many of the older generation get fooled by these hoaxes is due to the fact that they did not grow up learning photoshop or being exposed to CGI.
We may find it easy to identify when something is doctored, but your auntie may not. So if the bacteria in sashimi hoax was accompanied by a random plate of maguro sashimi, it will only add to the "truth" of the story, not distract from it.
We live in the age of fake news. Where a deluge of information at the tap of a button (or a push notification) has rendered many people either unable or unwilling to check how accurate a piece of news is. Especially those that gets passed around Whatsapp group chats. The irony is that verifying a piece of news through a quick Google Search is equally as easy as tapping to spread it around.