Last week, rumors were circulating via email and SMS that Bollywood beauty queen and popular actress Aishwarya Rai has passed away in a car-crash and investigations were being carried out as to whether she was driving under the influence of alcohol. These email and text messages resulted in a wave of sadness among Bollywood fans in Singapore and Malaysia, and in other parts of the world. According to her manager who received calls from both Indian and international media, she was safe and sound in India, on the set filming for her next movie.
Where did these rumors come from? Apparently they originated from FakeAWish.com, a spoof website that was created in the name of fun. Templates for the 'news-reports' are available -- all one needs to do is to fill in the name of the celebrity and the place. Icons at the bottom of the template allow the user to email, IM or discuss the newly prepared 'news report'. The website however does feature a disclaimer - stating that it is meant for fun and purely for entertainment purposes only.
My response to this takes the form of two questions-
1. Why? Sure, the Internet has made possible a multitude of activities - and it is also glaringly obvious that some people have the time to generate such 'news reports'. But why?
2. Don't people learn? Bollywood fans for one, should remember that a few years ago there was a similar rumor going round, involving Shah Rukh Khan's death. With the amount of spam that keeps appearing in our inbox, you would think that people would have learnt that not everything you receive via email is true!
What maybe more important for us to consider is the other potential mis-uses of such a website - especially at a point in time that terrorism and natural disasters are major concerns for most of us.