India’s SMS Hoax Panic: Could It Happen In The U.S.?

I talked with Shlok Vaidya about what conditions would lead to an “SMS panic” like the one last week in India. There’s also a cameo by John Robb in there:

Trying to think of something that fit the mold of what happened in India, I asked Vaidya about the calls for Obama’s birth certificate in the U.S. Those rumors are more difficult to debunk because the target audience was already distrustful of the government and mainstream media, and right wing institutions were either slow to distance themselves from the demands and rumors or propagated them themselves. So even once the birth certificate and a Hawaiian newspaper birth announcement were made available, so-called “Birthers” weren’t convinced and claimed the birth certificate was fake and/or called to see a long form birth certificate.

Some Birthers will never be convinced, no matter what evidence is produced. This is similar to the problem in India: no one could prove conclusively that the northeasterners weren’t in danger. Any attempt to engage with Birthers and conspiracy theorists, such as such as Cass Sunstein’s “cognitive infiltration” proposal is likely to backfire and make them even more paranoid.

TechCrunch: India’s SMS Hoax Panic: Could It Happen In The U.S.?

2 Comments

  1. I think the other criteria that can be met in India and probably not here is a lack of alternative information channels. My guess is that most mobiles in India don’t have cheap Web access.

    A mass of people aren’t going to panic and take action that is personally inconvenient to them (bugging out, rioting, taking up arms, etc.) based on a single information channel unless it’s the only one available, if the action the message demands is inconvenient, people are going to try to verify this message by contacting people they know where the trouble is going on (“The Martians are here? Looking out my window, no Martians, but it’s nice out.”) or checking news outlets, etc. Getting people to retweet is easy. Getting them to collect the kids, load up the car and bug out… hard.

    Only way this could happen in a First World country, I think, is if for some reason (Net backbones down, cyberattack, etc.) alternate information channels were blocked and the “panic time” message is something people already believe likely.

  2. And yet we have “Homeland Security Alerts” being built into the next version of Apple’s iOS (caution: Alex Jones bluster: http://www.infowars.com/apples-ios-6-includes-government-alerts/).

    And we have older folks & kids who *rely* on these devices during the day- a time of “narrowed info channels” where there’s no TV .. so yes, it *could* play out the same, especially in an urban center.

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