Get real, people: This rape hoax is older than WhatsApp itself
Fearmongering to blame for resurfacing of warnings about rapes at malls in Gauteng and KZN
A hoax chain message swirling in the electronic ether for nearly two decades – purportedly penned by a Johannesburg magistrate detailing a wave of rapes at malls across the country – has surfaced once again.
The message went viral on messaging service WhatsApp at the weekend, again drawing in Johannesburg Regional Court magistrate Hasina Habib.
Her name and job title appear at the top of the message as if she provided the false information, in an apparent attempt to give it credibility.
“Whoever has done this has a warped and weird sense of humour, and I cannot state strongly enough that I am totally against the content of the message,” she told Times Select.
“I was very concerned when I saw the message because I am the one who has been named. All it serves to do is spark panic, and as much as we want people to be concerned about their safety, this is clearly fake and a hoax,” she added.
The WhatsApp message reads: “Victims of this new crime wave have been found walking out of shopping mall restrooms completely naked. The scam begins when a man slips into a women’s restroom and sneaks into a stall. He waits until there is only one woman in the restroom in a neighbouring stall.
“He then quickly puts an out-of-order sign on the outside of the restroom door. The out-of-order sign guarantees no one will come to the woman’s rescue. The criminal stands on the toilet & points a handgun into the next stall, demanding the woman’s valuables binding her hands and mouth, and RAPING HER,” it reads.
The message, which goes on to list a number of malls in Durban and Johannesburg where women were supposedly raped in the restrooms, continues to circulate and has even garnered the attention of the police.
Police spokesperson Colonel Thulani Zwane said the hoax had its genesis in chain e-mails, long before the advent of WhatsApp.
“This message has been circulating for at least 20 years. Even before the advent of social media it was circulating as a chain mail. People add and change details before recirculation,” he said.
He went on to caution those who are fearmongering and using the fake message to achieve it.
Habib echoed his sentiment, saying it was designed to cause panic and did so using her name.
“I don’t know anything about it, and I am in no way to responsible for what is written there. I am not even in the criminal courts currently and, even if I was, I would not have access to the information that is listed in the message,” she said.
Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab said hoax chain messages not only wasted time, but played with people’s minds.
“They play with people’s minds, making them send such letters to as many people as possible in order to warn them about some forthcoming disasters or to achieve some promised happiness. The number of chain letters on the internet is growing exponentially.”
“This type of mass mailing is really influenced by how many users succumb to it.”
Tech guru Arthur Goldstuck said the hoax was in the tradition of urban legends.
“In the 1980s and 1990s it was spread by word of mouth, now it is by word of WhatsApp,” he said. “The regrettable aspect for the persons sending the messages is that it reveals them to be unable to think things through and to argue the case in the face of logic, to be gullible and, ultimately, to be fearmongers.
“The last is the most dangerous, as it can lead to heightened tension, which in turn can lead to further fear, panic and kneejerk reactions to what may be innocuous events. The consequences can be deadly if mob justice comes into play, as we saw with people actually killed in India due to WhatsApp messages about child abductions,” he said.