Myths, rumors, urban legends, disinformation, and propaganda get amplified by the all-pervasive Internet and its trolls. Sometimes, this deluge of twaddle causes people who should know better to waste time, energy, and resources needlessly. Sometimes, it inspires a popular TV show like the MythBusters.
Urban legends and the related types of false information can cause problems in even the most well managed security operation. All it takes is one senior executive or official to believe something nonsensical and lend his authority to it. This may lead to money wasted on useless equipment and programs.
My first-hand experience with this problem includes a fake bomb detecting device that I later encountered as a detector of hidden ivory. This ludicrous device started as a fraudulant detector of lost golf balls. This scam lasted for years and made millions from sales across several continents.
I was suspicious of its use at a security checkpoint and managed to examine a unit and then do some research. Apparently, nobody else thought to do the same, even though lives were at stake.
An enduring myth exists that legions of prostitutes from all over the world descend on major events. This pernicious myth usually focuses on sporting events and it usually tries to link any masculine pursuit with human trafficking.
A version of this surfaced in 1998 when Jim Brown, the parliamentary assistant to Ontario Solicitor-General, Bob Runciman and one of Ontario`s Crime Commissioners, was forced to resign after he said Toronto’s Santa Claus parade gave fathers a chance to slip away and visit prostitutes. Senior police officers jeered at this idiocy.
More recently, this was supposed to occur at the World Cup, Vancouver Winter Olympics and at the US Football Super Bowl in February 2016.
The current trend is to equate the commercial sex trade with human trafficking. There are differences between women trafficked into prostitution, local sex workers, and those who migrate to other countries for work. However, irrational activists argue that large groups of men at sporting events result in increased demand for commercial sex that only trafficked women can meet.
On closer examination, every study I read revealed a large discrepancy between claims made before large sporting events and the actual number of resulting trafficking cases. I found no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution. Reputable anti-trafficking organisations, sex workers rights organisations, and many neutral researchers and observers also refute this claim.
Yet despite the lack of evidence, this urban legend persists. It persists due to the large number of militant reformers, politicians, and journalists who profit from it. This urban legend provides inexpensive fundraising and publicity for agendas that include misandry, prostitution abolition, halting immigration, and exaggerating foreign threats.
This sensationalism breeds a waste of limited resources. For example, the airports at San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose and underwent training to spot victims of trafficking in advance of the Super Bowl. Would you like to guess how many trafficked women they found?