Quick, everybody panic! Seven incidences of mass hysteria bigger than DNSChanger

Posted By GABRIELLE LEVY, UPI.com  |  July 9, 2012 at 5:22 PM
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Over the weekend, we were warned by the FBI that we could wake up Monday morning with no Internet access.

Quick, everybody panic!

The FBI busted an Estonian crime ring last year for setting loose a virus called the DNS Changer, which switches computers' identifiers in the domain name system--often referred to as "the Internet's phone book"--to steal millions of dollars through manipulated advertising.

The agency set up a safety net, allowing infected computers to stay online through July 9, at which point they would lose access. Although as many as 47,000 people in the U.S.--250,000 worldwide--were said to be at risk for an Internet shutdown, no major outages have been reported.

Mikko Hypponen, the chief research officer at the Finnish Internet security firm F-Secure, said on Twitter that users were unlikely to see a blackout due to the actions of service providers.

But the DNS Changer virus is hardly the first incidence of widespread--and ultimately unsubstantiated--fears. Here are a few of the craziest incidences of much ado about nothing.

1. Y2K (Also called the Year 2000 Problem or the Millennium bug)

As we approached the turn of the millennium, fear began to spread of massive global infrastructure failures due to a tiny little two-digit problem. Computer systems supported only a two-digit year, prompting speculation that anything from air traffic controls to elevators would be vulnerable to breakdown. People turned survivalist, clearing grocery shelves out of fear that the computer glitch would shut down the credit card system, and pulling cash out of banks. But when the clock struck 12:00 a.m. on January 1, 2000, a whole lot of nothing happened.

2. The War of the Worlds panic

War of the Worlds: The New York Times front page from Oct. 31, 1938.

In October 1938, Orson Welles read H.G. Wells' novel about an alien invasion as an episode of the Mercury Theatre on Air. Read as a series of bulletins, and without commercial breaks, many listeners were accidentally tricked into believing an actual alien invasion was happening. Panicking people called police, and newspapers reported thousands fleeing their homes.

War of the Worlds: The New York Times front page from Oct. 31, 1938.

3. The Salem witch trials

In the winter of 1692, girls living in Salem, Mass., began to experience strange fits. When pressed, they pointed the finger at three women--a beggar, a slave, and an elderly impoverished woman, who were arrested and accused of witchcraft. Their arrest set off a literal witch hunt, in which more than 200 people were accused and 20 were ultimately executed.

War of the Worlds: The New York Times front page from Oct. 31, 1938.

4. December 21, 2012, the 'Mayan apocalypse'

For years, people have said the Mayans predicted the end of the world--on the winter solstice of 2012. In fact, the Mayans kept a cyclical calendar, and the infamous date actually refers to the end of a calendar cycle of 5,125 years. Still there are those who believe December 21 will bring with it major catastrophe, such as a collision with a black hole, a planet or an asteroid, despite a thorough debunking by scientists.

The newly discovered Mayan calendar that goes far beyond 2012. (National Geographic)

5. The 2011 Rapture and Judgement Day

Christian radio personality Harold Camping predicted the biblical Rapture--the day when "God's elect" would be taken to heaven--would occur on May 21, 2011, followed by Judgement Day, or the end of the world, on October 21. Camping claimed he had biblical proof of his calculations--despite making a similar prediction for September 1994. Some of his believers quit jobs, sold their homes and otherwise halted their lives in anticipation of a trip to Heaven.

6. The Red Scare

The first Red Scare, which took place after the end of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, was a period of widespread fear of a similar revolution in the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson pushed the passage of the anti-immigrant Sedition Act, and several years of bombings by anarchists rocked the U.S.

Senator Joseph McCarthy. (United Press/File)

The second, more famous Red Scare, refers to the period in which the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted a campaign against so-called communist spies. Hundreds of people were blacklisted, imprisoned and lost their jobs on accusations of affiliation with the Communist Party.

7. The zombie apocalypse

You know, zombie cheerleaders. UPI/Kevin Dietsch
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A spate of strange incidents earlier this year had some people convinced that a zombie apocalypse was finally upon us. It started when a man in Florida viciously attacked a homeless man, chewing on his face, even as police shot him several times. Then, a Baltimore man admitted to killing a fellow student and eating his brain and heart. After several other strange incidents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention felt the need to reiterate that zombies do not, in fact, exist.

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