Siri “9/11 conspiracy theory” joke is no laughing matter, say police

There are events in the human compass that just don’t lend themselves to being turned into comic moments.

Jokes about 9/11, for example, aren’t funny even at the best of times.

But 9/11 “humour” took a doubly-distressing turn in the past week, according to CBC.

Police in Regina, Saskatchewan, reported hundreds of dud 911 calls last weekend.

→ 911 is the works-from-anywhere emergency number in North America, like 112 in the EU or 000 in Australia. Mobile networks in North America let you dial 911 even if your phone is locked or there isn’t a SIM card in the device.

When you place a 911 call, the emergency services follow a protocol that tries to get help to you even in the trickiest circumstances.

For example, you might be able to dial the number, but then be too injured or scared to continue the call.

So, the call centre will call you back in the hope of being able to assess the situation further. (Emergency services get your so-called Caller ID, even if you have suppressed it for regular calls.)

And, unsurprisingly, it seems that Apple has taken some care to program its voice assistant, Siri, to make every effort to detect when someone is trying to call out for help from 911, too.

Whether you blurt out “nine-one-one” or “nine-eleven,” Siri will take no chances if she thinks that’s what you just said.

So you’ll end up connected to the emergency services, whether you realise it or not, and that means you’ll get a call back.

Once in a while, you can understand how this sort of mistake might happen.

Out of hand

But the Regina police say that things got out of hand when not-funny-after-all messages were circulated on various social networks suggesting things like this:

When you say 9/11 to Siri, her response is hilarious.

Say 9/11 into Siri and you'll be amazed.

Sure, if you know someone who is fascinated by 9/11 conspiracy theories, you might think it’s a great big wind-up to forward this sort of message to them.

But if they try it out, then as well as ending up amazed (or, more likely, perplexed), they might also unintentionally stop someone in a genuine crisis from getting through to 911.

We’ve warned about playing around on your iPhone with emergency numbers before, when dialling 911 but not completing the call was part of a hack to bypass the lock screen.

Back then, received wisdom suggested that wannabe “security researchers” were trying out the hack, just because they could.

That caused the needless risk that if they didn’t time the make-and-break of the bogus 911 call perfectly, then they’d probably get through to 911 unintentionally instead.

This is the same story all over again.

What to do?

We’ve told you what happens when you ask Siri about 9/11, so you don’t need to find out for yourself.

And, while you’re about it, don’t let anyone you’re with try it either, no matter how amusing it might sound after a few night-time drinks with your chums.