Never mind guns or knives; it turns out that one of the most threatening objects in the world could now be a rubber band. A Facebook post about these seemingly innocuous objects has gone viral online after one woman in Texas shared a chilling story of attempted burglary. But was all as it seemed?
On April 21, 2016, Kim Fleming Cernigliaro uploaded a Facebook post that shot a chill through the internet. The Texan described how she was at home one day when she heard someone knocking at the door. It was not a “regular knock,” as she put it, either, but rather an urgent pounding. Someone was apparently very keen for her to answer the door.
Cernigliaro’s first thought was that someone was in need of help. However, in her Facebook post, she explained that she never answers her door when she’s alone. And so after several attempts, the knocking fell silent: it seemed that the stranger had just given up and left.
Cernigliaro claims that she then waited for about half an hour before venturing outside. She was, she said, expecting to find some leaflets or other junk mail lying on her doorstep, and so it took her a moment to figure out what had actually happened.
A rubber band had apparently been hooked around the door knob. According to Cernigliaro, it had been deliberately placed there to hold the door open when the latch was unlocked. So, a reportedly unnerved Cernigliaro immediately called her husband, who it’s claimed urged her to keep the family gun to hand.
Moreover, when Cernigliaro contacted the local police, it seemed that this was not the first rubber band incident that the sheriff had come across. In fact, a spate of similar attempts had apparently taken place in the local area recently. Home invaders allegedly rubber-band the door knob before knocking. Consequently, if the homeowner then answers the door, it makes it easier for the thief to push their way in.
However, Cernigliaro wasn’t, she claimed, about to kowtow to the rubber band thief; indeed, her Facebook post ended with a defiant threat. She said, “I have a GUN and I know how to use it, just FYI, I out shot my husband the last time we target practiced, so believe me, I will use it.” Unfortunately, though, any would-be thieves probably don’t follow her on Facebook.
Nevertheless, Cernigliaro’s post quickly went viral. The tale of rubber banding door knobs reverberated around social media as a warning. And as a result, several local newspapers also picked up the story and ran with it.
Indeed, some media sites went even further in their investigations and suggested that these criminals were actually casing homes in advance. And it made sense that the thieves would try to target homes with an owner inside who would open the door for them. All of these articles, however, took Cernigliaro’s word as gospel.
So it was that the story grew and grew. And as the Facebook post received coverage across the U.S., the rubber band came to be seen as a symbol of fear. The implication was that if you found one on your door, it could only mean one thing: you were probably about to be robbed.
As rubber band hysteria grew, then, headlines warned that if homeowners saw the elasticated fixture on their door knobs, they should leave immediately. Residents were further instructed to call the police or even arm themselves. And most of all, everyone was to be wary of answering the door to a stranger.
Seemingly, everybody was talking about the supposed rubber band technique. There was just one problem with the original story: it might not actually be true.
There are in fact several questionable points in Cernigliaro’s post. The first is to do with the doorknob itself, as pictured in her post. Why? Because in this instance, if a thief had wanted to break in, he could have just used his thumb to push down on the latch.
Cernigliaro also claimed that the sheriff told her, “It’s been happening all of a sudden,” implying that there had been other instances of this same crime. Urban myth debunkers Snopes, however, found no record of other home invasions being carried out in this way. It seems as though this claim was an exaggeration, then.
Snopes even went as far as to argue that the post itself was probably made up. In the end, in fact, it concluded that the post was nothing more than an effective tactic to make people more cautious when answering the door to strangers. Supporting this theory is the fact that when called to do so, no one came forward to corroborate Cernigliaro’s story.
However, this isn’t the first time that an unverified Facebook post has gone viral. Indeed, it appears that if people write a story with enough ostensible authority, almost anything can seem as if it’s true. And it’s proving a very tricky situation for Facebook to control.
For instance, of the top 20 Facebook posts about cancer, half of them contain false information. The number one most shared post in 2017, in fact, features a claim that is disproved by the very source it links to. It therefore seems that we should all be taking news on Facebook with a pinch of salt.
Occasionally, a viral post will have no obvious starting point, either, which can be a sign that it isn’t entirely trustworthy. For example, one rumor was based on a story about Facebook assuming ownership of uploaded photos, and it prompted users to begin posting “copyright notices” as a result.
In fact, though, this was another case of a false claim spreading faster than the truth. Finally, Facebook was forced to release a press release debunking the claims. It reassured users that any pictures posted on private profiles do not show up in searches.
Part of Facebook’s mass appeal is, of course, that it gives users the ability to share our stories with our friends. Quite possibly, then, Cernigliaro posted her warning with the best of intentions – but it ended up frightening a lot of people.
So the next time you see a post on Facebook, make sure to read it for yourself before sharing it. After all, it might be fake, false or completely misleading. Or it may be from someone – like Cernigliaro – trying to use social media to raise awareness with an embellished story.