Saturday, January 24, 2009

The trouble with Internet rumours

Over the past 11+ years that I have been on the Internet, I have continually been amazed and disappointed by tendency of intelligent people to believe the most outlandish things simply because a friend emailed it to them.  Take for example the continuing myth that Madalyn Murray O'Hair is still trying to get Christian broadcasting off the air and that James Dobson (or someone else) needs your helping in fighting her and so you should call or write the FCC to protest. This would be quite a feat since O'Hair disappeared in 1995 and her remains were discovered in 2001. I'd say that if she could still be trying to stop Christian broadcasting from the grave, we have much more serious problems than we think!

I just got another one sent to me this weekend about a young boy from Iran who was apparently punished for stealing bread by having a truck drive over his arm (complete with grimacing pictures of the lad).  Sorry, not true; simply a common magician's stunt. But it really upset one of our supporters who thought that it was yet another example of the horrors of sharia law. From my work with The Voice of the Martyrs, I would say that sharia law is bad enough without fabrications like this one.  In short, the truth is never enhanced by such fear mongering, only diminished. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked if an email warning of a serious computer virus was true.  As my brother who owns a computer company says, Microsoft (or CNN, or Norton, or AOL, etc.) has never "announced yesterday" about any virus to anyone anywhere warning that it is "worst virus ever" that will wipe out your computer's hard drive.  These messages are far from harmless in that they keep people from paying attention to real virus problems.  As one source put it, "hoax warnings are typically scare alerts started by malicious people - and passed on by innocent dohusers who think they are helping the community by spreading the warning."  But they are not. So please don't forward them to all of your friends "just in case"!  I have even seen email "virus warnings" that instruct you to look for a specific file on your computer and to delete it, claiming that it is a virus.  Needless to say, some unfortunates have ended up deleting actual, legitimate operating files.  As Homer Simpson would be prone to say "D'oh!"  

We were recently forwarded some humorous (and apparently true) headline bloopers like "Kids Make Nutritious Snacks" and "Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers."  Unfortunately, lists of these bogus headlines have been reprinted over and over again claiming to be factual since at least 1987. Sure, they are harmless, but I was amazed to see some journalists actually publish them as late as last December as being actually true.

So, the next time you get some email from a friend that has been forwarded by a friend that has been forwarded by a friend and which 1) is warning you of some danger, encouraging you to take action and/or to forward the email to all of your friends, or 2) tells some story that seems a little "off" but claims to be factual (but which the government or a company "doesn't want you to know"), or 3) seems too good or funny to believe, may I encourage to do three things:

1. Check one or more than one of the following sites: 

2. If the story is found to be a hoax, please let the person who sent it to you know, urging them to inform all those whom they sent the email the actual truth, and to please check their facts before sending you such emails again.

3. Delete the email and pat yourself on the back for being a responsible Internet user.

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

Thanks Glenn for posting this. It really spoke to me and I'm certainly taking it to heart.

God bless