Column Date 2006-09-23

Let’s start an internet rumor!

With all the garbage e-mail going around on the internet, it seems that I receive a story a week that sounds unbelievable.

And it is: after checking these stories out (I use either or it’s clear that fully 99.9% of them are unbelievable. They’re usually gossip. Rumors. Innuendo. And totally made up.

But millions of people forward these e-mail stories to each other – believing (or wanting to believe) that they’re true.

Which started me thinking: where do they come from? Somebody has to sit down and write these stories. So why not me?

As a scientific experiment, I’m going to invent a story right here – you’ll be the first to see it. Let’s see how long it takes before somebody pulls it out of this column and starts circulating it on the internet.

Let’s make up a story about something that’s been in the news a lot recently: obesity.

Before we start, let’s remember that a good story must get its readers involved – often by making them shake their heads in wonder (“Can you believe that guy actually ate a pie made out of worms?”), or by making them happy (“Identical twins, separated at birth, run into each other at worm-eating contest!”), or by getting them angry (“Twins sue city for $20,000,000 apiece, claiming illness from bad worm pies at downtown festival”).

Let’s get our audience angry – so when they read the story, they’ll feel a sense of righteous outrage and pass the story along.

Here are the facts:

1. Obesity and overweight are epidemic in the USA.
2. Airlines are struggling; many of them are in
3. Fuel prices have gone out of sight, and will
probably go higher.

Put them all together, and you can invent a neat story that almost makes sense:

“New York. September 14. The Airline Conference Association, an industry trade group, announced today that all airlines operating in the USA will institute a 20% surcharge for obese and overweight passengers, starting December 1st.

With the exorbitant cost of fuel, the association says that airlines can no longer afford to absorb the cost of carrying thousands of extra pounds of passengers from coast-to-coast.

“We’ve already made our first-class salads smaller, and taken the extra olives out of our martinis,” a spokesperson said, “so this weight reduction plan is just another logical step to get back into the black.”

He pointed out that a plane holding 180 passengers who are each 50 pounds overweight is carrying an extra 4.5 tons of weight. To move 4.5 tons from New York to Los Angeles costs the airline thousands of dollars more than flying ordinary size people.

“And if we somehow wind up with a flight filled with truly obese people,” he added, “we’ll have to remove some luggage just to make sure we have enough fuel to finish the trip.”

“Screening passengers for extra weight will be tricky,” he admitted, “but standing on a simple scale and taking a 10-second body-mass index test will take just a few moments.”

So there’s the story. 100% fiction. No truth to it whatsoever. Keep an eye on your e-mail – and let me know if it shows up.

And remember – you read it here first.

©2006 Peter Tannen