Through the 111th Congress of 2009-2010 and into the 112th Congress of 2011-2012, an urban myth regarding the U.S. Congress has been making the rounds. HB 1388, the story goes in bulletin board posts by Hutaree Tina Stone and in e-mails ricocheting about the Internet, has just been passed by Democratic legislators and signed into law by President Barack Obama. According to the story, the measure sends either $20 million (or $20 billion) to the Palestinian militant group Hamas and arranges for members of Hamas to be transported to and settled in the United States. Outrage ensues.
The story is not true, and the legislative label “HB 1388” is the first clue. The bills before the Congress that come closest to starting with “HB” come from the House of Representatives: they are labeled H.R. for most action bills, H.J. Res. for most constitutional amendments and declarative resolutions, and H. Res. or H. Con. Res. for more declarative statements. None are labeled “HB.” In the 111th Congress, H.R. 1388 had to do with provisions of AmeriCorps, and in the 112th Congress H.R. 1388 is a bill regarding the supply chain of rare earth metals. Neither has anything to do with Hamas. The lack of news stories on Fox News heralding the arrival of Hamas militants to live in New Jersey is a third indication that the story is a hoax.
Thanks to an emergence of a new tool, it’s possible to find out where the hoax is running especially hot. Given a search term Google Correlate displays the spatial pattern of that search term across the 50 states in terms of z scores (standard deviations above the mean for all 50 states). The following map shows the states where search interest in the “HB 1388” story is highest:
Arizona (with a search frequency 2.2 standard deviations above the 50-state mean) and Colorado (with a search frequency 2.0 standard deviations above the mean) are the places where interest in the HB 1388 myth runs highest. Massachusetts and Rhode Island (with a search frequency for “HB 1388” 1.8 standard deviations below the mean) are the states holding the least interest in the “HB 1388” story.
Generally speaking, the states that voted most heavily for Barack Obama in 2008 are also the states in which search engine activity regarding the HB 1388 story is at its highest. The places where voting opposition to President Obama ran highest are also the places where interest in a wildly incorrect legislative story runs highest. That the story happens to implicate President Obama is probably no coincidence.