This post is about the tragic story about a nurse in England who may have committed suicide because she was prank called by two DJs
People on Twitter quickly starting debating the morality of this story and whether or not the Australian DJs are morally culpable for the nurse's apparent suicide over their prank. It was fascinating to see the various arguments put forth, and it was the ones that defended (or kind of defended) the prank that I do not agree with.
There is a large unreal sense pervading most of the discussion. Why did this prank work in the first place? The impersonation of the Queen and Prince Charles were horrible, who in their right mind would fall for it?
Well, we know the answer to that question. At least two well-educated nurses fell for it.
Why did they fall for such an obvious gag? From my experience trying to educate people about PC Security (and failing massively), it all comes down to humans are at nature, a trusting species. Many, if not most people, want to trust other people. And that trust extends to unsolicited communications whether it be hucksters at your door, over the phone, on the web, or via e-mail and instant messaging.
It is this trust that causes people to buy a water heater with a 30 year punitive contract at the door, give their credit card to a "Web security company" because of a pop-up on their computer, or subscribe to the notion that Ezra Levant knows what he's talking about. (I digress, moving on....)
This trust is why gag shows and prank calls work. If people were not trusting, Just-For-Laughs Gags would not exist as a show.
And this is why I generally do not like pranks and gags perpetrated by strangers on unsuspecting victims. It is a violation of the unspoken trust social contract we have with each other. When you ask, "hey buddy, got the time?" you don't suspect for a minute that the person you ask will prank you and give you a spurious answer. For most people, their "bullshit antennae" is rarely even on, never mind tuned with a high degree of accuracy.
To build up the proper degree of cynicism, people need to be burned to learn that fire is hot. It is experience that is the best teacher. Which means that you have to be burned first. And even more surprisingly, you may have to be burnt multiple times before you catch on.
So back to the hospital. Many on Twitter assume that the hospital did not have a proper security procedure in place. We don't know that for sure. I can testify that the best security always falls apart because people have to implement it, and since people are trusting by default, that security can and will fail.
How is a nurse trained to be a nurse? Do medical schools teach them how to answer phones and go through an exercise of learning to determine liars, pranksters and criminals from common folk? Of course not. When the hospital implements a security protocol, does the training consist mainly of a manual that staff read and sign off that they read it? Probably. Intense training to teach how to tell a liar from an honest person is expensive and time consuming.
It was a nurse answering the phone. (This is normal worldwide, as far as I know.) Is that nurse in a high stress occupation where most of her skills and mental energy is expended taking care of her patients? Absolutely. Is answering the phone a distraction she doesn't need but is part of her job none-the-less? Absolutely.
And that's why this prank really rubs me the wrong way. Taking advantage of people who are just trying to do their job, and violating their trust is damned near criminal. Life is hard enough as it is, there is no need to add to someone else's burden, because you do not know how well they will cope with it.