Remember when you were a kid and your parents were scared that someone would poison your Halloween candy? Remember how that never happened to you? That's because there isn't a single recorded instance of a stranger poisoning children's Halloween candy. The only time that any child died was because their own parent poisoned their pixie stix.

The rumor and paranoia of poisoned Halloween candy spread via word-of-mouth back then, but now that we have the internet, hoaxes can spread much more rapidly. However, we can also see how the rumor is spread, and use that knowledge to debunk it.

The rumor du jour is that outdoor workers are being given water bottles from strangers laced with fentanyl. Let's take a look at how we know it's false, and why people are spreading it.

Photo by Dim Hou on Unsplash
Photo by Dim Hou on Unsplash

If you ever see something that seems like it would be a big news story shared- without a link to any reputable source- it should raise a red flag. Wouldn't a worker dying of fentanyl given to them by a stranger make big headlines? Instead, the information comes to you as a screenshot of a redacted email, like this:


There are a lot of clues here that this is phony. First, isn't the tone of this email shockingly casual? Second, it's a company big enough to have multiple job sites, but the email is only sent to 17ish people. Doing some light Googling, Oncor is a Texas energy company with 4000 employees. Even if this is only sent to bosses and managers, that cannot be enough people to notify of this life-and-death occurrence.

Of course, you could just look to, because they probably already did the digging for you. This fake story has been all over the place, including San Diego, Chicago, and Spokane Washington. So either there is a string of dead workers that no reputable news source has thought to report on, or it's totally phony.

This rumor appears to fall under the category of what we refer to simply as scarelore, a type of urban legend or tall tale that is intended to frighten its audience, often prompting them to share is as a "safety warning" without questioning whether the story has any truth behind it.

But why do people start and spread these things?

I saw one conspiracy theory that the Texas rumor was started by utility companies so workers would be more dependent, and therefore more loyal to them, as their only source of water on a job site. I think there's enough of a logical stretch on this theory that it could become a yoga teacher. Because these things are so anonymous, it's hard to pinpoint exactly why someone would go to the trouble of creating a hoax like this. I believe it is simply for the thrill of perpetuating the prank.

There are many reasons why people spread false content like this, even when it's easily debunked, and the Washington Post does a nice deep dive on the subject. It's not because people are stupid- it's a combination of factors that mostly boils down to the fact that we tend to naturally assume things we see on the internet as true, especially when we see them more than once.  A hoax's success builds upon itself until its viral.

Fentanyl is incredibly dangerous and deadly, but I don't think we need fake stories to make us more scared of it. It's scary enough on its own.

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