Chain of Fools When peer pressure goes viral.

Chain of Fools When peer pressure goes viral.

  • Words Jenna Mahale
  • Photograph Daniel Dorsa

At around four in the morning on May 1, 2017, I was sent a magic cat. It did not fly through my half-open window, but appeared on my phone screen as ASCII text art: “Send this to 10 friends and you will ace your finals” read the words below its wand, conjuring clouds of asterisks, cedillas and commas.

While the missive was obviously good-natured, perhaps even adorable, there was a touch of quiet malevolence in its implication. Would a refusal to reproduce the message result in academic failure? And what if the recipient of the text doesn’t have the requisite number of friends upon whom to inflict the curse further? 

Last year, the writer Kathryn Schulz likened the increased transmission of chain communication to a timely disease: “Like a virus,” she wrote in The New Yorker, ...

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