By Dan Pool, Editor
I am a regular news watcher. So when someone told me they were worried about clown attacks, I suspected a hoax as none of the major news sources had devoted any space to malicious or suspicious clowns that I could recall. I was certain that if in addition to ISIS, we had rubber-nosed, big-shoed psychos attacking Americans it would have made front pages across the nation.
But this person was pretty sure bona fide clown assaults had occurred in Georgia. So with Halloween looming and a fear that 27 clowns could spring out of a single VW bug unleashing a wave a terror, I felt compelled to research it.
I did vaguely recall hearing somewhere about clowns attacking people, but was pretty sure it had only been on social media, not the real media.
A Google search turned up what I suspected - the top results showed stories in both the New York Times and CNN about mass clown hysteria and various experts chiming in on the wave of faux-clown crime news. [Admittedly these are known as prime liberal news sources, but there doesn’t seem to be any political agenda with these particular clowns, as opposed to the current crop of politicians.]
According to the Times, clown fever broke out in August in Greenville, SC after there were reports of pernicious Bozos luring youngsters into the woods.
It spread like wildfire with similar clown reports coming in from Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, according to the Times.
But behind the hysteria, there were actually zero attacks attributed to make-up wearing, big-wigged culprits.
CNN.com had an awesome paragraph on the widespread hysteria. “Unless you've been hiding under a rainbow novelty wig, you know communities around the country have been perturbed by sightings of clowns or possible clown-related threats or any manner of creepiness ranging from flat-out hoaxes to actual credible events.”
It seems by reading the accounts, once the clown-attack train got rolling on social media three things followed:
• People thought it would be fun to use the fear of clowns in pranks either by calling schools or posting clown threats online which did not go over well and resulted in arrests. Threats against students are still illegal, even if you say it came from Shotta Clown.]
• People got sincerely panicky and saw clowns where there was only some poor guy on a roadside in a van out of gas [at least one report] or imagined them prowling or maybe riding tiny bicycles in wooded areas where authorities turned up nothing and no crimes followed. A lot of inaccurate reports came from over-active imaginations.
• Finally, people wanted in on the action. According to both news sources, clown mask sales soared, pranks were planned and people intentionally made fake reports so they could feel like they were part of the story.
Benjamin Radford, a folklorist and the author of "Bad Clowns," was quoted on CNN saying the clown-attack phenomenon was primed to spread widely and falsely. “The scary clown image is perfect for social media. It is custom-made to go viral. You have something that is both scary and funny. It's this combination of horror and humor, laughter and fears."
Much like the original Salem Witch Trials, you get nervous people trading in innuendo and gossip, throw in some genuine superstition and bad results follow.
Radford cautioned, “I think the important thing for the public to realize is underneath all of these sensationalized headlines, there isn't any original threat. The real threat is overreaction to the story, not the clowns themselves."
Horror master Stephen King took to Twitter to ask people to lay off, “Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria--most of ‘em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.”
Keep in mind, whether its clowns or some deal that seems too good to be true, social media is not reliable but in most cases even the briefest internet research will reveal common hoaxes.
Before you fire from the hip either in real life (maybe at an innocent clown) or with a social media rant, take a moment and research with a reputable source.