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That time I won the Powerball twice

Posted on 3 December 2012

Short version: this photo is fake and I didn’t think anyone would believe it and I’m sorry if you did.

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

Earlier today, I was killing some time while waiting for the brakes on my bike to be repaired. I went online, and saw another one of those “I won the Powerball” hoaxes. If you aren’t familiar, here’s the Snopes entry on both of them.

So, for no reason other than I thought it would be funny, I downloaded both images. Then I found an old photo of me holding something. Then I opened Microsoft Paint and did one of the worst jobs of combining all three photos that I possibly could. Seriously. Look at the hands. Look at my shirt. Look at the wall in the back right corner. I used the rectangle tool and spray paint, and didn’t even do a good job of that. Then I uploaded the photo and combined the statuses of both of the other messages to write “Looks like I won’t be going to work EVER!!!! Share this photo and I will give a random person 1 million dollars! and yes, I am one of the winner of 580$ Million PowerBall :) I will pick 10 random people to get 1 Million $ each if you share this! I care for others too! :)” It doesn’t even make sense.

I can honestly say that I didn’t think anyone would believe it. Aside from the terrible image, there’s the fact that the Powerball has long-since been claimed. Even if you didn’t know the first two were fakes, surely you would think a third– with two winners and with text identical to previous viral pictures– would be. Plus I’m in Canada. Plus- those hands. I’m not saying this to try to belittle anyone who was taken in. I’m saying this to try and explain why I didn’t foresee a future where people would believe it. I figured a few of my friends would maybe get a laugh and give it a like and that would be that.

Four hours later I’m looking at 200 shares (and growing by the minute), a few messages, and a couple of friend requests. A good portion of these are people who get the joke. A few are people who realize it’s fake, but don’t know that I figured everyone would think it was fake. And, unfortunately, a growing number of people seem to think it’s real. So I’m going to write this and attach it to the original picture before it gets too far. But first, some observations:

On the internet, context is everything

The thing I didn’t anticipate about this is what would happen once the photo got shared and people who didn’t know me started to see it. Here’s the thing: if you know me, you know I didn’t win. You know I don’t write phrases like “I am one of the winner of 580$ Million PowerBall” and I definitely don’t punctuate it with emoticons. So you see that and you immediately get the joke.

But what happens when you don’t know me? One or two people deep, you might still get the joke. But as you get further removed from me, you lose all the context for who I am and my previous actions and my writing style and are only presented with the image of a stranger and the text. One person deep, it’s a joke. Three degrees out, and I’m some jerk playing a hoax.

In fact, looking at it I can easily see where the original prankster may have been doing the same thing: quick photoshop and a share, just for a laugh, thinking no one would believe it, and if any of his friends did, it would easily be corrected. And then it spirals. (I have no idea if this happened, but I could see that happening). I’ve been looking at the second prankster’s Facebook and Twitter feeds and I’m pretty sure he was just playing on the original. Granted, he seems to be using it for internet fame, but it really does look like he made it fake-on-purpose, and yet people still took it to be real.

The irony of this is that the further removed this photo is from the original source, the more realistic it seems. If I were to email people directly saying this, most would go “fake!” But if the email comes from a friend or acquaintance… suddenly it seems more plausible, because presumably it passed their BS filters first.

There is nothing everyone knows

A while back I listened to a fascinating piece on those Nigerian prince scams— the ones that promise you untold riches if only you share your bank account number with a random stranger using broken English. It’s one of those things that you think everyone would be onto by now, yet is still out there. Why? Because:

“There are always going to be some gullible people who are new to the Internet who haven’t really heard of this particular scam before. That’s actually a very effective technique for them because it filters out the people who are aware of the scam, and the only people who are going to respond are the people who are unaware of it, and there always are going to be some of them.”

So even though I’m aware of the Powerball winners, and the hoax, and how to see bad Photoshop… there’s always going to be someone who isn’t. It’s Eternal September online.

People are really nice

The worst thing about this is that the people who take these scams to be true seem to be genuinely awesome people. The inclination from many corners is to disparage them for being so easily taken, but really these are just people who haven’t developed a cynical view of humanity and take statements at their word. If they were a bunch of jerky jerkfaces then I might be mad that they are out there. But as it is, they are just nice people saying “good for you” and “how nice” and they probably donate money to charity and help with fundraisers and ask you how your family is. And I don’t want these people to not exist. I want their to be more of them. But what I don’t want is for them to be taken in by a scam that is more than just a joke photo. All the time you hear about people giving out credit card numbers to scammers and you think “Why would they fall for that?” and the reason is because they believe in people. And while I want them to maybe get a little bit more savvy about how to tell the real from the fake, I don’t want them to lose that inclination to believe in the good. I want to have that inclination myself.

So anyways, that’s why I’m posting this and I’m hoping the basic message of “be careful” spreads as much as the hoaxes have.

 

 

Filed under: social media

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