Every so often, I receive an email from my mother warning me to be careful in mall parking lots when an old woman asks for help.
Or not to stop if I see a baby left on the side of the road.
Or not to pull over if an unmarked police vehicle flashes lights while I’m driving down a dark country road.
To each and every one of these emails, I reply with two words: urban legend.
These are modern-day scary stories, no different than those told around the campfires when I was a kid – Bloody Mary in the mirror, the hook on the car door, the phone call from inside the house.
These stories have little basis in reality, but spread from person to person to person until our sister’s best friend’s brother’s ex-girlfriend’s best friend’s mother was there, we say. Thanks to social media and email and text messaging, the stories spread faster, wider and become more localized.
Recently, warnings of a fictional period of lawlessness in which all crime is legal spread from Louisville to Cincinnati and Cleveland and New Orleans and Detroit.
Louisville Metro Police traced it back to a message on Twitter from a juvenile who said he intended it only as a joke. The idea came from watching the movie “The Purge: Anarchy,” the sequel to the 2013 movie “The Purge.”
As the message was retweeted and emailed and posted to Facebook, the scenario became more and more terrifying and real to those who read it – except that it wasn’t. It was all fiction. A simple tweet became urban legend in less than a month, with all the usual twists and turns that urge people to heed the warnings of the story.
Even as Louisville survived its supposed “purge” without a single incident, this new urban legend took on a life of its own. The reality that it didn’t happen paled in comparison to the fear it might happen.
Delaware’s supposed “purge” was scheduled for Friday – and all was quiet, save the usual crimes that occur on any given night. Still, the legend has already taken on a life of its own and it will target other cities and towns.
How do you stop an urban legend? A healthy dose of skepticism.
Yet, here we have “the purge” of Delaware – that did not happen.
I’m not a bit surprised.
I never did believe in Bigfoot or Bat Boy or that Elvis is still alive. I never worried about needles maliciously hidden in Halloween candy. The moon landing was not filmed in a Burbank studio.
More recently, I’ve rolled my eyes at the Knockout Game, I laughed at the chipping of citizens signing up for government services in Hanna, Wyo., and I am certain that the cure for Ebola is not being secretly held only for Democrats.
Every time one of these new tall tales comes along, a quick Internet search proves me right. Urban legend. Hoax. A satirical article taken as truth.
It all boils down to the old adage: don’t believe everything you read – other than this column, of course.
Reporter Stacy Kess can be reached at 614-373-4166 or on Twitter @StacyMKess.