Reddit horror story about Arizona town sparks panic
Published Thursday, November 13, 2014 11:10AM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 14, 2014 11:42AM EST
Phones in the tiny town of Mammoth, AZ, have been ringing off the hook this week, with strangers calling local businesses to ask about the viral epidemic racing through the town, leaving bodies dead in the streets.
The only problem is there is no epidemic and the whole story has been made up. And now residents of the sleepy town are wondering how they got caught up in the modern-day "War of the Worlds" confusion.
The phone calls in Mammoth began two days ago, after someone posted an account of a viral outbreak in Mammoth in a post entitled "WTF is going on in Pinal County, Arizona??"
The first-person account tells of a crisis in the town in which a mysterious virus appears to be infecting Mammoth residents. First, it killed an elderly daycare worker, who began bleeding from the eyes. Then babies and children in town began to die.
Bodies were lying in the streets, the reddit user said, but local authorities were managing to keep the story from going public.
Commenters on the post began expressing shock about the account, with many offering to send help or to try to spread the word.
That's when business owners in the town of 1,500 began getting the calls asking if the story was true.
But none of it is true. The ensuing confusion seems to be a case of reddit users forgetting to read the fine print.
The post was uploaded to a "subreddit," or community page, entitled /r/nosleep. The page's description in the right hand column clearly states the page is meant to be a forum for "original horror stories,” where commenters are encouraged to "suspend their disbelief," play along in their comments, and stay in character.
"Act as though everything is true while you're here, even if it's not," the page advises.
Why so many redditors got fooled may come down to the tone of the comments, which seem to sound genuine.
Michigan-based writer named Maxwell Malone told CTV News in an email that he and a group of 10 other amateur horror writers are behind the post. They put the story together as part of a longer series of stories they've been working on, but it was a reddit user named The Dalek Emperor who was the actual author.
Malone and the group collaborated on the story for about a month, he said, deliberately coming up with a disease outbreak that sounded similar to an Ebola strain gone rogue.
They then had group members corroborate the author's story in the comments and seem genuinely concerned, to make the story seem more plausible.
The plan apparently worked better than anticipated, with redditors "upvoting" the post close to 3,000 times, and many apparently stumbling across the story believing it to be true.
Malone says he's found that many Internet readers read and share stories from the Web without questioning them. Given how quickly their story spread should serve as a warning, he said -- "specifically warning against believing everything that one reads on the Internet."
Malone also told Arizona radio station KTAR the story was never meant to be a prank, just a well-orchestrated story.
"We sincerely hope we didn't cause any serious harm for Mammoth, AZ or anywhere else," he told the station. "We are just horror writers writing horror -- essentially, just folks doing what we love."