Last week, the Internet was captivated by the story of “Jenny”, a girl who quit her job via a series of pictures of herself with whiteboard messages. Coming closely on the heels of a JetBlue flight attendant who quit his job in similarly shocking fashion only added to the interest. In my office, the story was passed around, discussed and it caused a bit of buzz.
In the meantime, my office was also setting into motion a plot that some of us had discussed for a week or so: fascinated by the increasing frequency of celebrity death hoaxes, we decided to try and start one of our own. So that afternoon, a few people posted to Facebook and/or Twitter the “news” that Ian Ziering may have been killed in a boating accident. (I take credit for the boating accident part, but I was the only one in my office to think that Ian Ziering was a poor choice of celebrity, but I digress…)
Ultimately, the rumor didn’t get very far. A few people posted the news to Facebook… some looked for another source… one person said that she was getting in touch with a contact at TMZ, and that really got the room fired up. But while we were so brazenly full of shit, it never occurred to anyone in the room that the reports of TMZ’s involvement might be equally bogus. I even pointed this out, but they were just so sure that it had to be true… just like nobody doubted “Jenny’s” story of how she quit her job.
Well, the next day we all learned that Jenny’s story was a hoax. By this time, it was also clear that the Ian Ziering death hoax that we had concocted went nowhere. And the Internet was free of falsehoods (well, maybe!)… at least for a day or two.
Early Thursday morning, a big thunderstorm rolled through DC. Heavy downpours, gusting winds, lightning everywhere... some of it very, very close. As I rolled out of bed, I heard emergency vehicles stopping in the neighborhood, looked out the window and saw the “o” from the facade of a local restaurant lying on the roof and on fire. The DCFD was on the scene and ready to put out the fire. I grabbed my camera, ran out and snapped a few photos of the aftermath.
One of those photos just happened to be chosen as the lead picture for this story on DCist. The DCist folks were nice enough to use the description that I wrote up on my Flickr page as the text accompanying the picture on their website. In my writeup, I speculated that the restaurant may have been struck by lightning.
Now, I actually doubted that lightning was responsible for the damage for one simple reason: Thaiphoon is surrounded by taller buildings on all sides… for the entire block, if not more. The building next door is 8 stories tall with antennae on top. Thaiphoon is maybe two stories tall. And lightning is going to take the easiest path to the ground that it can find. That path would not go through Thaiphoon.
I fully expected my speculation to be doubted and debunked quickly after the photo gained widespread attention. But instead, after the DCist post, the story that Thaiphoon was struck by lightning got picked up and took off. People tweeted the news, people retweeted the news… at one point, it ended up on The Guardian’s website (courtesy of Richard Adams’ blog)!
Tonight, I went over to Thaiphoon to chat with the people there about what really happened to the “o.” Turns out, the most likely explanation was that water got into the light (which had been on for ten years straight) and caused an electrical short, which in turn caused the fire. There was no Act of God striking them down for serving delicious panang curry, just a simple physics lesson that water and electricity don’t mix.
But where the contrived hoax of Ian Ziering’s death had failed and the Jenny whiteboard story came clean after a day, my unintentional bit of chicanery pulled the wool over the unquestioning eyes of the Internet for about a week with little to no suggestion that my story might not be fully straight. I’m thoroughly amused.