Tuesday, March 26, 2013
What Have We Learned From the Asteroid DA2013cl2 Hoax?
This is just the latest in a string of hoaxes and false doomsday predictions. Remember asteroid 2014 AZ5? How about the Mayan Calender apocalypse? Comet Elenin?
There's no point saying we don't learn from these things, new people come onto the internet all the time, or have missed out on the previous hoaxes. There is always a new audience who have never come across these scams before. And these are not harmless scams, people get worried sick about them, and it could push vulnerable people to self harm.
What to do? When these kind of hoaxes come up we can do our utmost to debunk them, rather than ignor them as we are sorely tempted, and more than debunk them, we can try and give people the mental tool box that will help keep them from being taken in by these hoaxes again.
Get them to look at the source of the information (conspiracy forums is never a good source of information), is it consistent, can it be traced back to where the information is supposed to come from? Is the alleged spokesperson real. These are all fairly easy to do, and you can step people through the process.
Other things, like the real naming conventions for asteroid and similar technical matters are harder, but some simple guides to reliable web searching so people realise how to look effectively for this information will again help people so that they won't be fooled (the hyperlinks above give my approach to this for each of the cases above, judge for yourself if this works).
There will be other hoaxes, our fond wish tha post the failed Mayan Apocalypse people would be immunised against apocalyptic scares was not granted. But if we can help people identify hoaxes, we can limit the emotional damage they can do.