Is it unethical to make a fake urban legend to see how/if it spreads?

I’m tempted to release a home-made urban legend, and see if it spreads. Could this be considered unethical, even if nobody gets hurt by it?

Of course, if it smears a person or a business, that’s unethical, no question. But what if it’s just a weird/funny story that hurts nobody?

What are your motivations for doing so?
Whether it is ethical or otherwise depends on whether you see the motivation or the consequence as the measure. If your only motivation is self indulgence then you may want to ask yourself if you would be proud of your achievment.

My motivation is indeed pure self-undulgence, and I think I would be proud if it spread widely.

Y’know, I was thinking of doing that myself. I was going to write up a “virus warning” to watch out for emails headed “hi!” because the virus in the email would scan your computer for pornographic pictures (I would explain that all porn pictures have special hidden registration in them for tracking purposes or something) and email them to all the addresses in your address book with obscene comments attached.

Now, I suppose my intended UL would be bad because it might cause emotional distress and deletion of possibly-important emails. Your only has the issue of portraying something not true as being truth.


Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorn is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that She is pink; logically, we know She is invisible because we can’t see Her.

It could perhaps be construed as wrong by UL researchers, because I would be polluting or altering a natural process.

Hey, making these things up for fun may be one of the natural processes!

You might avoid the ethical question if you make the ‘moral’ of your UL a public service announcement, like the ‘Mall Parking Lot/Tell your lady friends to be careful’ UL.

I still think it could be somewhat unethical. Are you entirely comfortable with people making up stories, as long as they’re a warning? If I make up a story that warns about wearing your seatbelt, is that OK? What about if I think homosexuality is wrong, so I make up a story about homosexuals who die horribly because of sodomy? Is that one OK too?

Why don’t we get together and create a UL describing that there is a chain letter which contains a virus and that all chain letters should be immediately deleted, especially any old one’s you might have saved on your HD. I might prove to be a good enematic.

Gaudere: “I still think it could be somewhat unethical. Are you entirely comfortable with people making up stories, as long as they’re a warning?” Because we can’t let anything in GD get away without some hint of religion or homosexuality, I’d like to point out that the Bible is the greatest UL there ever was. I sure wish I had written it.


Voted most likely to ramble on inanely - I hope I’ve not taken someone else’s title ‘cause as far as I know I just made that up and I wouldn’t want to make anyone mad at me or anything like that and all ya’ know.

Well, I did it. I had the thing written even before I started this thread, and now I’ve “planted” it in various spots.

I will consider it a success if it shows up on www.snopes.com or alt.folklore.urban.

And no, I won’t say anything else about it.

I already stated that if it smears somebody then it is unethical. If it smears a whole group of people (homosexuals), then of course that is unethical too.

And I assume you meant warning AGAINST wearing seatbelts. Since that could result in people dying, of course it is unethical.

Suppose this is the urban legend in its entirety: “A friend of a friend once looked at the moon, and it looked like he saw a volcano erupting on it.” Is this unethical? Perhaps it is, simply because it is a lie. I’m sure some could argue that lies are unethical, even if no one gets hurt.

I think this is very cool.

Has anyone (or do you know anyone) who has created a successful UL? Tough to prove, I’m sure, but what a warm feeling inside.

Sure! Why, I created the whole urban legend about the calls coming from inside the house.

Or maybe the story that I created that urban legend is, itself, an urban legend.

Not that I know of. But, I will easily be able to “prove” that the one I invented is mine, my last name is “encoded” it.

Gee, maybe I’m a little naive, or maybe it’s actually the opposite, I’m a little cynical. I’ve been just generally assuming that at least half of all the junk e-mail that has been forwarded to me by frightened, conscientious church friends, breathless with excitement at being the Chosen Vessels to Spread the Word (most notably the “It Takes Guts to Say Jesus” virus hoax, the junk about anti-perspirants causing breast cancer, Bill Gates is the Anti-Christ, the Great Gas-out, etc. etc.) has been made up out of whole cloth by giggling college students, late at night in their dorm rooms. I mean, come on, people, do you really expect me to believe that tampons contain asbestos and are going to give American women everywhere a slow, lingering horrible death? No, much simpler to believe that somebody somewhere made it up. I even saw a website where you can make up your own urban legend and e-mail it out. Tempting and scary, but half the people I know would believe it and dutifully forward it.

Actually, as long as we’re discussing “why not to do it”, it’s really out of consideration for those kinds of nice people that I personally don’t indulge. They are really such nice people, after all, decent, hard-working, the salt of the earth, and what would be the point of humiliating them by making up a scary e-mail and then snickering behind my hand while I watched them carefully spreading the word, say, that Betty Crocker was a real person who was being held prisoner by the CIA in the green room backstage at the Oprah show, and that if we all clapped our hands really loud at 12:05 p.m. on Easter Sunday, as soon as church was out, the CIA would hear it with their surveillance equipment all over America, and they would know that the jig was up and they would have to let her go. I would feel really bad if I let something like that loose on the Internet and had it come back at me, courtesy of our Youth Pastor’s mother, the dear sweet soul. She would be really seriously upset, too.

So I guess to me that’s the reason not to do it, because you can never tell who might go off the deep end, or even just take it the wrong way. My sister is still upset with me because she was the one who sent me the tampon/asbestos thing, and I told her it was stupid, but she really believed it, so now she’s mad because (a) I told her it (read: she) was stupid and (b) she thinks her niece is going to die of some horrible vaginal cancer. So now I’m mad at whoever put the dumb thing out on the web in the first place.

So, Revtim, I hope whatever it was you sent out, was at least plausible, or meaningful, or possibly helpful, or at least totally harmless, because no matter how ridiculous you may think you made it, you can bet that somebody somewhere is going to take it seriously (and let’s all hope that it isn’t something that’s going to make whoever it is go home and start cleaning his guns.)

No, this one is true! I swear! My sister’s husband’s mother’s barber has seen the tape! Really!


Cecil said it. I believe it. That settles it.

Notthemama, you may rest assured that I took great care in crafting my Urban Legend, and if it takes hold, the worst people will do if they swallow it whole is something very minor that they probably should do anyway.

A fake urban legend? As opposed to all the real, store-bought ones floating around?

I, and a couple of friends, wanted to try to do something in a similar vein but on a smaller scale. We wanted to try to come up with an off-the-wall catchphrase to see how far it could travel. An acquaintance used to use the name “James” to denote damage–I don’t know why, but it sounded kind of cool. For instance, if you went out to the parking lot and found that your car had been dented, you would say that “somebody put a James in my car”. It could also indicate illness or inconvenience by saying somthing like: “Man that tequila I pounded last night is really putting a big James in my lifestyle today!”

Sounded good at the time. Must’ve been the beer. Feel free to use it though…


“It’s only common sense,
There are no accidents 'round here.”

Does nobody remember the reference cherry flavor in a vault in France? Because you know that cherry flavored candy actually tastes nothing like cherries. It tastes like the reference cherry flavor. :slight_smile: