By Pavel Konoplenko
The allure of the recent Powerball – particularly the $500+ million prize – attracted a lot of people to buy their tickets on the off-chance that theirs would contain the winning number. While most of us understand the mind-boggingly small probability involved, many of us still jumped on the opportunity to take a shot and be a part of the historic drawing. The New York lotto slogan captures our thoughts on the matter perfectly: “Hey, you never know.”
Besides giving millions of people false hope, the national hype surrounding the Powerball also gave some people the opportunity to gain attention. Most notably a man by the name Nolan Daniels Photoshopped the winning numbers and put the picture on Facebook, with the caption, “Looks like I won’t be going to work EVER!!!! Share this photo and I will give a random person 1 million dollars!” As of writing, the picture has over 2 million shares.
After being debunked quickly, many people were quick to criticize those who shared; charges of gullibility, thoughtlessness, and ignorance were levied against them. However, those sharing the picture weren’t much different than those who were buying the tickets.
By sharing the picture, each person was entering a lottery with zero cost and a prize of one million dollars. Is it worth it? Yes you get insignificant odds of winning $1 million for clicking the Share button. The expected value isn’t much different than the actual Powerball.
Now of course all those who shared could all have done some careful examination and research. However it takes work to prove to fully prove to ourselves that it is fully fake; plus prior knowledge is rarely enough to dissuade someone from chasing big dreams. Ultimately, they put their hopes of winning on the very slim fact that the picture that the picture isn’t fake – and the profile authentic – and that they’d be lucky enough to be chosen.
We all know that we most likely will never win a significant amount of money by sharing a picture or buying a $2 lottery ticket. Yes there are those who won multiple times (and are taking advantage of it in their own unique ways). However large the odds against us, we always tend to believe that we are special or that we encountered a unique situation (this case being an authentic social media philanthropist). Vague understanding of probability and unformed conviction of inauthenticity will never stop us from trying and holding on to that slimmer of hope; in many ways that’s a very human trait and criticizing those involved is pointless. So let us enjoy believing that one day we can win millions by buying a lottery ticket, and let others believe that they can win a million by sharing a picture.