Friday, August 10, 2007

How to lose friends and terrify people

It looks like one of those video-sharing sites that's not GooTube. It even ends in ".tv", the way the cool sites do now. An embedded video window beckoned me to click Play.

It started to play a news clip from Miami television station WBFX, talking about a serial killer on the loose. As people in hazmat suits clean up a bloody crime scene, a youthful reporter described the demographics of the victims, and they were all remarkably like me-- male, early 40s, background in journalism. Geez.

And then my intestines froze: on the wall of the crime scene, written in blood, was my name, with the warning that I am the sericl killer's next victim. The reporter says the cops are hoping to find that person before the serial killer does. The video ended, and the only part of my brain that still functioned was the part trying to decide whether I should call 911 and have the police take me into protective custody, or if I should just drive to the police station myself.

But then comes the real punchline: I've been hoaxed. The website and video are part of a viral promotion for Dexter, a show on FXUK about, wouldn't you just guess, a serial killer. Someone I know -- one of my closest friends, actually -- entered my name, demographics, and email into the website, which then generated the video and sent me a link. Now that I'm in on the gag, the website offered me the opportunity to scare it forward by providing someone else's info. Even though, in a world in which a major city can be paralyzed with fear by a few strategically placed Lite-Brites, a website that cranks out serial killer threats is wrong in too many ways to count.

Of course, I sent one to everyone I know.

So far the responses I've gotten have been muted: real death threats, charges of assault, social ostracism (my brother's email read simply: "You are no longer my brother."). Even when they later claim to notice the anomalies in the video -- a Miami tv station would never call a parking lot a "car park", the "handwritten" message is written in Helvetica type, there is no WBFX in Miami -- seeing their name in blood was terrifying to every one of my victims. They calmed their fears by promptly sending a video to everyone they know.

The next step: some moron will send one of these to an elected official, and wind up on the receiving end of some Secret Service lovin'.

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