One of Stephen King's greatest skills as a horror writer is how he uses the misinformation spun in small town rumor mills as a character itself to expose the vulnerability of his subjects' fragile collective subconscious. Then he turns that vulnerability against them, and against us as readers. The scariest things in his books aren't vampires, plagues, ax-wielding writers or killer clowns. The scariest things are regular people and their capacity for evil when presented with mistruths. (OK, Pennywise from "It" was flippin' terrifying. But I digress.)
Tuesday, Burlingtonites experienced a similar phenomenon, albeit far less sinister, with the first (we think) Fake Burlington Rumor Day on Facebook. Local Facebook users were prompted to update their FB statuses with fake local rumors and tag them with 802 in parentheses. (VT's area code, obviously, but also the day's date, August 2.)
Status updates ranged from inside jokes between friends to "secondhand" info about local businesses closing (or burning down, or being busted for dealing meth) to pregnancies to … well, you name it. On Tuesday, Facebook in the Queen City was turned upside down and inside out. It was as though some great hand reached down and lifted the veneer from the real, and ever-active Burlington rumor mill, exposing its twisted inner workings for all to see. It was a fascinating social experiment. It was frightening theater. For many, especially BTV expats, it was just really confusing. And more often than not, it was downright hilarious.
Local musician Matt Perry was the architect of FBRDOFB. Here's what he had to say on the mini-phenomenon he created in — what else? — a Facebook message to 7D:
"Fake Burlington Rumor on FB Day, aka (802), is a realization of a dream I've had for upwards of two weeks. I thought what better day than 8/02? " he writes. "Post something ridiculous, but just real enough that it could be true. I almost didn't do it, I thought it might be stupid. Turns out it was just stupid enough."
Indeed. Not surprisingly, Perry goes on to say that he enjoyed seeing bewildered comments from people not in on the gag. But his favorite moment was when he realized it had caught on beyond just his circle of FB friends and to the larger Burlington community and beyond.
"Sadly this will probably be the crowning achievement of my life," he continues. "It's either this, or the time I scored a hat trick on Tim Thomas in a charity hockey game at Gutterson Fieldhouse in 1997. (802)"
Perry certainly caused a stir, as there were hundreds of such posts yesterday. A few fake posts even made the rounds as "real" rumors when they were reposted by unknowing FB users who assumed they were rebroadcasting true updates. Here are some of the day's choicer posts:
Members of cherished Burlington rock band Party Star, including guitarists Matt Perry and Kyle Chevalier, form new, age-appropriate adult-contemp band, Luncheon Moon. "Michael Bolton is one of our main influences," muses Chevalier. "It just feels so right," adds Perry. Catch their first show as they hit the mainstage at Starr Farm in September. (802) - posted by Marie Whiteford
Off to bed...gotta rest up...Mark Mcgrath from Sugar Ray throwin' out the 1st pitch at the Lake Monsters game tonight! (802) - posted by Matt Perry
SHOCKED that Bob Wagner is NOT a natural redhead!!(802) - posted by Monique Ford
Just bought my first horse. (802) - posted by Bob Wagner
Breaking Burlington news: UVM to be shuttering it's doors for good due to low attendance and budget issues - potential buyers of the facilities include University of Phoenix, the US Dept of Defense & eclectic rock band "Phish". (802) - posted by Tanner McCuin
I can't believe the Farmhouse is closing after, has it even been a year? (802) - posted by Steve Hadeka
Citing chronic depression, Tom Messner retires from WPTZ. This forecast calls for rain. (802) - posted by Dan Bolles
OMG, I just saw Bernie Sanders holding hands with Rand Paul in the Senate cafeteria! (802) - posted by Casey Rae Hunter
Damn, I guess I'm going to have to find a new place to buy my incense....BPD just raided Spirit Dancer on So. Winooski because apparently they were cooking up a new type of meth called "Healing Crystal" in their basement. Bad vibes.... (802) - posted by Jay Blanchard
I guess a bowling alley/Vietnamese restaurant is moving into the spot where Border's was. About time. (802) - posted by Jason Cooley
I'm pregnant! (802) - posted by Rebecca Kopycinski
Larry From Barre is offering piggy back rides to the bathroom. One way for 50 cents, round trip just 75 cents. (802) - posted by the Other Place
And finally, there was this story, which first appeared yesterday on the Mars Pyramid website but, curiously enough, has since disappeared:
Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011
BURLINGTON, Vt. - Matthew Perry of Burlington, VT, was arrested earlier this evening on charges that submitted, as well as abetted in the submission of, false reports pertaining to various crimes and emergencies throughout the greater Burlington area. A total of 47 felony counts have been filed against Mr. Perry, punishable by up to 45 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, a civil lawsuit for libel and defamation of character has been filed by Bob Wagner, also of Burlington.
The charges stem from a series of Facebook postings, initiated by Mr. Perry, known as "802", in which Mr. Perry as his associates posted knowingly false and slanderous claims about businesses and individuals in the Greater Burlington area. When taken into custody, Mr. Perry's had no comment on the specifics of the charges, only stating "I am not guilty of the crimes I have been wrongfully accused of. 802."