Mandie Stevenson's story is a perfect example of why it's important to read everything carefully when filling out forms online. Yes, we know they can be mindnumbing and it's incredibly easy to auto-pilot your way through clicking. Doing that, though, might just lead you to accidentally confessing to being a terrorist who plans to commit genocide.
Yes, it sounds crazy. But it's happened.
Mandie was planning a trip to the United States from her native country of Scotland. The 29-year-old was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer three years ago and was planning her trip to New York City as part of her bucket list. UK citizens can use an online form called ESTA to waive their need for a full travel Visa. Mandie filled the form out on her work computer. One of the yes or no questions on the form reads:
"Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?"
Somehow, Mandie managed to click yes to that question and didn't notice when she hit the confirmation page. She quickly scrolled to the bottom to click that she was confirming all of her answers, and just like that , she managed to inform the US government that she was a terrorist.
Non-Terrorist Mandie was like:
Unfortunately for Mandie, this isn't exactly an easy thing to fix. To take care of the issue, she had to travel over 400 miles to the US embassy in London and sit through multiple interviews. Eventually she was cleared to travel, but not in time to make her original trip. In the end, her mistake cost her over a thousand dollars to fix.
People have been pretty vocal about their dislike for that question - not because terrorism isn't real, but because no real terrorist is going to click "yes" on an online form. Travel editor for The Independent, Steven Calder, has criticized the entire process.
Nobody who was engaged in terrorism, espionage or genocide would ever tick 'yes'. I don't imagine that anybody has ever deliberately ticked this box, but once you are on that list you are never going to get off it. America is completely unforgiving. If that box gets ticked for whatever reason, immediately it's as though the alarms go off, the shutters go down and you are into a spiral of despair.
Mandie certainly hit that spiral of despair pretty hard, telling the BBC that postponing the trip was an issue because of her health.
I live in 12-weekly cycles because I get scanned every 12 weeks. I book my holidays in very specific times and this New York trip was going to be before I get another set of scan results, so I was really looking forward to it. It was stress that I didn't need. I thought because it was a genuine error it would be quite an easy fix but I was quite wrong.
Twitter pretty much agrees the question is just setting people up for failure.
@mashable As of people will openly admit it. Whoever designed the form is a doofus.— The Laymen Show (@The Laymen Show)1538357241.0
@AnnieDuke Yes, you would think that any actual terrorist dumb enough to check the box would be easy enough to catc… https://t.co/7da4GR1QRR— FuN dAd Todd (@FuN dAd Todd)1538331680.0
@mashable Why is that question even there? Good lord!— Toni Philips (@Toni Philips)1538337346.0
@TrevorHMoore @fpdforbes Phil Collins once accidentally ticked it because he misread the question.— I’m not actually a little fish called Nemo (@I’m not actually a little fish called Nemo)1538175910.0
@BosCityFAN @BBCScotlandNews I've been asked the same question in customs. I thought the same thing, but I didn't say yes.— Tom Schneeberg (@Tom Schneeberg)1538232581.0
@BBCScotlandNews That’s hilarious why would anyone have on the form a box that would let someone check that? Even i… https://t.co/mSwXGeOlcg— Ryan Volkman (@Ryan Volkman)1538188868.0
@AnnieDuke Enables the govt to later revoke immigration privileges by showing false statement under relatively low evidentiary standard— Joel Fleming (@Joel Fleming)1538331458.0
@chelseakenna @fpdforbes @e1n So they can charge you with lying.— Groovy Santa (@Groovy Santa)1538174051.0
Soooo yeah; sometimes online forms have questions that make no sense. That's just reality. Be careful. read it all, and double check your confirmation pages people!