Saturday, July 26, 2014

Toilet Seat Spider Hoax

An internet email hoax has making the rounds for years now, regarding the Telamonia dimidiata spider being found under toilet seats in Olive Garden restaurants in north Florida and fatally biting people where the sun doesn't shine. But the spider in question is found only in Asia, and it isn't venomous.

This message was in itself a recycling of an older email hoax circulated in 1999, except under the name "South American Blush Spider (arachnius gluteus)". Nothing mentioned in the story is genuine; there is no such spider, no such airport ("Blare Airport"), no such medical association, no such doctor, no such restaurant ("Big Chappies"), and no such aeronautics board.

Usually, we never ever learn the origins of these hoaxes, but in this case, its author has stepped forward. According to UC Riverside's entomology department:

The creator of the hoax contacted me and we have since kept in touch. The hoax was purposely filled with incorrect information such that if the reader checked into any bit of the information, a red flag would arise because there would be no credibility to the citation of information (no medical journal with that name, there is no spider named Arachnius, there is no Blare Airport, etc.) He wrote the hoax to show that 1) people are gullible, 2) that the internet is a frighteningly fast way to spread misinformation, 3) that people forward on information without checking the veracity of the information. He never expected this to spread so quickly and so widely.

It's interesting to see how the text of the email has changed drastically over the years, with other people altering it odd ways. Whoever changed the name of the restaurant from "Big Chappies" to the Olive Garden must have had an agenda for wanting to smear that place's reputation - someone from a competing chain, perhaps?

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