[BUSTED!] Scams, Hoaxes, Urban Legends

Category: Reference

Have you heard? Mark Zuckerberg is giving millions of dollars to Facebook users who repost an announcement of the giveaway. Joel Osteen is charging $25 for prayer requests. Mr. Rogers always wore a long-sleeved sweater to hide the tattoos he got as a Marine Corps sniper. And McDonald’s is now offering a meatless McPickle sandwich. Read on to find out how (and why) nonsense like this spreads like wildfire online...

Who You Gonna Call?

"What… Mr. Rogers wasn't a Marine sniper? Oh, he was a Navy SEAL?" None of these statements is true, of course. They are examples of scams, hoaxes, and urban legends that circulate via email and social media. The Internet is awash with misinformation for a number of reasons.

Some hoaxsters are just having fun, like the originator of Mr. Rogers’ false bio. Others are doing it for likes, or upvotes, or other social media “currency” that boosts their online visibility. See this roundup of the best April Fools Pranks of 2019. Some are funny, some are weird, and some are just dumb, like the Online Pregnancy Test.

There is so much misinformation on the Internet that some people have made careers out of debunking it. Barbara and David Mikkelson launched Snopes in 1995; today the site gets over 300,000 visitors per day. (Be sure to check their Hot 50 to see some of most intriguing items currently making the online rounds.)

Urban legends and hoaxes online

Every time I mention Snopes, some readers comment about a perceived liberal bias there. I don't know if that's true, but it's good to have options. Other myth-busting sites include Hoax-Slayer, TruthOrFiction, and ThoughtCo Urban Legends. And since 1994, Scambusters has tackled messages that can cost you money, such as “miracle cures,” “insider stock tips,” and even “virtual kidnappings.”

The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey started her column, “What Was Fake On The Interenet” in May, 2014; she gave it up in December, 2015, when science convinced her that people cling to their cherished untruths like barnacles to a ship’s hull. Ms. Dewey explains, in her farewell column, that many hoaxes are purposefully perpetrated to drive traffic to hoaxters’ Web sites. The types of hoaxes reveal the mindsets of the people who are most likely to believe and share them.

Unintended Consequences...

One of the most famous cases of a real person's story that morphed into an urban legend involved Craig Shergold. In 1989, Craig was a 10 year old boy hospitalized with a brain tumor. A family friend began a campaign to get him into the Guiness Book of Records for receiving the most post cards, and before long it started spreading by email. Cards began to pour in by the MILLIONS, year after year. Even though Craig was cured in 1991 and his family made public appeals for the cards to stop, their pleas were no match for the power and longevity of the email chain letter. The Craig Shergold chain letter morphed and spawned a wave of bogus "sick child" emails that have caused untold grief to other families who were the targets of pranksters, as well as financial harm to charities such as the Make A Wish Foundation.

The people who forward, repost and retweet these stories without engaging a single brain cell are a marketer’s dream. They’ll believe anything that sounds outrageous, tugs on the heartstrings, or confirms their prejudices. And once they find a source of confirmation, they’ll keep coming back for more. Needless to say, it isn’t hard to sell just about anything to such an audience.

Of course, there’s also money to be made by debunking hoaxes. There are many debunking websites in addition to those mentioned above. UrbanLegendsOnline.com, Factcheck.org and dozens more sites promise to set your cranky uncle straight. But the people who believe these stories don’t go searching for proof they’re wrong, and the rest of us are starting to give up on the believers.

Google has announced a crackdown on fake news websites, cutting them off from the advertising programs that make it profitable for them to continue. Facebook has rolled out tools that make it easier to report hoaxes and fake news. I've long wished that Internet service providers or those who operate webmail services would implement some sort of filter on outgoing or incoming email. Gmail and others warn about potential malware and phishing attempts. Why can't they show a warning when a well-known hoax, fake news story, or urban legend is about to be sent or received?

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[BUSTED!] Scams, Hoaxes, Urban Legends"

(See all 21 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

16 May 2019

Old Ab was a head of times!

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
16 May 2019

Whenever anyone forwards or posts this type of information to me I send them this WONDERFUL video explanation about not believing it:
It's called "Soapbox Guy" and using humor it sums up beautifully what you are saying in this great article. Enjoy!

Posted by:

John K.
16 May 2019

How about this one that seemed to get a lot of traction?

New York, NY, April 2019 – In a Sunday announcement by National Football League Commissioner Roger Godell, the job of painting first down lines in regular season games will be open to ‘bidding’ by qualified candidates. Current practice is for the regular broadcast networks (CBS, Fox, NBC) to electronically scribe those lines electronically on the TV screen after each series of plays. In the interest of providing employment opportunities for more individuals, these lines will now be manually ‘painted’ on the turf by a group of what have become known as Line Runners. The NFL has issued a ‘bid’ for Line Runner applications from fleet-footed, dexterous individuals for these new jobs.

Posted by:

16 May 2019

Washington D.C., April 2019 – The U.S. National Institution for Science and Heat has proposed that all British Thermal Units be sent back to Britain. NISH Curator Andrew Blissford told the assembled press “After all, we fought the Revolutionary War to rid ourselves of this imperialism by the British Empire. It’s time we stopped using these BTUs and send them back to where they came from!” U.S. Congressman Robin Banks agreed: “It’s been over 200 years and these things have totally worn out their welcome here. I am proposing to just stuff them in a few 747s and return them to their country of origin. I am told we have suitable replacements – created by American companies – that can step in and take over.”

Posted by:

John K.
16 May 2019

Freedom, this one is better!

New York, NY, April 2017 – In a surprise joint announcement by the commissioners of both the National Basketball Association and the National Football League, the 2017-18 basketball season and the 2018 football season will BEGIN with the playoffs. Both sports have been experiencing significant player injuries during their respective seasons and, by changing the schedule, “we expect that teams will be in top form when playoffs begin,” according to Adam Sliver of the NBA. Roger Godell of the NFL stated his expectation that playoffs “will be much more competitive, knowing that entire rosters will likely be available to play.” ESPN staffer and sideline reporter, Nicole Barnstrom, stated “healthy men make for more aggressive play!” The only things left to finalize the playoff schedule will be agreements with the players associations and the broadcast networks.

Posted by:

16 May 2019

And since Lincoln was Al Gore's grandfather, he of course knew that the internet was full of misinformation!

Posted by:

Ed Tulloch
16 May 2019

You mentioned the McVeggieBurger, or reasonable facsimile...about 20-30 years ago, McDonald's in Malaysia had a McEgg--cheapest thing you could get, burger-wise--a bit of mustard, a squirt of catsup/ketchup/kicap ("c's" in the middle of a word in the Malay language are often pronounced "ch."), a dill pickle slice, and a single, sunny side up (if I remember correctly) fried chicken egg, all on the usual McBun. Supposed to meet a need in that seriously multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual, but seriously successful (economically) nation. I didn't see it in 2014.

Posted by:

Robert A.
16 May 2019

Those stories posted by Freedom and John K. seem as though they were originally posted by Onion.com, an outright and self-admitted humor/parody website, that makes exaggerations of topics in the news, not unlike "Weekend Update," on Saturday Night Live I've heard of instances of internet users actually believing The Onion stories as fact, as ridiculous as they are, to prove points in their postings.

Posted by:

16 May 2019

Just was "spammed" by a job posting on indeed! Nowhere is safe. Because of your site I did my due diligence before responding. Unfortunately I fell for one of the bogus jobs and shared more info than I normally would have. I've personally found at least 3 bogus jobs on indeed and I a friend's son has filed a police report on another. This is not fun!!! Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

Posted by:

17 May 2019

Snopes does have a liberal bent on anything political. You can generally read it if you read the article which most folks don't. Most all of the "fact checking" organizations these days do have a liberal bias, but then many are based out of news organizations where liberals outnumber conservatives about ten to one. It is what it is. Just be aware of it and try to actually read between the lines, er actually these days, that's just read beyond the headline and think critically.

Posted by:

17 May 2019

Yes Walter, but since the truth has a well known Liberal bias, there is no way a legitimate fact checking site could possibly not.

Posted by:

17 May 2019

In truth, mainstream media will usually present "both sides" when it involves differences of opinions, not facts. Only the minority that enter the field with an overtly political purpose (e.g. Breitbart) behave differently. Of course, professional journalists do have their own personal opinions, but they arrive at them as a result of knowledge they have gained from their jobs, rather than the other way around. Their work inherently requires observation and exposure to the experiences of others, as well as access to experts and investigative skills. So anyone claiming that the vast majority of news people (or the researchers at Snopes) are personally liberal, is actually conceding that the liberal viewpoint is the one most based on facts and acquired wisdom. It's not surprising that many of the same critics who complain about "liberal bias" will also say that scientists are unnecessarily alarmist in their warnings about human-driven climate change. If almost every climate scientist gives the same dire warning, would you call that "science bias" or simply the result of research and learning? It's a shame that anyone who struggles against ignorance and tries to tell it like it is (which really benefits us all) risks being criticized for having an "agenda".

Posted by:

17 May 2019

"Based on facts"?! Really, Kevin?!

"In truth, mainstream media will usually present 'both sides' when it involves differences of opinions, not facts" … "the liberal viewpoint is the one most based on facts and acquired wisdom."
You don't say!

What if what conservatives complain about, Kevin, is that what the MSM does is present the leftist viewpoint 90% of the time while presenting the conservative viewpoint only 10% of the time?

Last year, brutal Arctic cold sent temperatures plunging in parts of America's Midwest, with wind chills at "life-threatening" levels (as low as -40 degrees in many locations).

But still, we must beware of global warming or climate change. Indeed, thanks to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we now know that "we’re like, the world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change."

Quoting a "landmark" report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the New York Democrat went on to speak of "that fierce urgency of now" and compare the Social Justice Warriors' gallant calling and the SJWs' valient fight to the most murderous conflict in world history:
"like this is the war, this is our World War II"

In case you don't get it: the whiny Social Justice Warrior deserves as much respect and as much deference as the GI who landed on Omaha Beach and as the Marine who stormed Iwo Jima.

In any case, please refrain from making fun of AOC. After all, there are many important people, many of our betters, many VIPs, not least in the above-mentioned United Nation, who happen to agree with AOC.

• Al Gore, for one, has made the call for AOC's "fierce urgency of now", predicting that the Earth's ice caps will have melted within five years. (When did the former vice president make that prediction? That would be, uh, in the year… 2008…)

• ABC has predicted that within seven years, climate change would lead to the flooding of New York City. (When did they say that? That was also in… 2008…)

• NASA's climate change guru, Jim Hansen, has also made the call for AOC's "fierce urgency of now", warning that the President of the United States has only four years to save the earth. (When did Hansen say that, and to whom? That would be, er, to… Barack Obama in… 2009…)

• United Nations scientists and other climatistas have also made the call for AOC's "fierce urgency of now", warning that "There could be as little as eight years left to avoid a dangerous global average rise of 2C or more." (When did they issue this warning? That would, uh, be in… 2007…)

• The New York Times and the Independent have also made the call for AOC's "fierce urgency of now", predicting that global warming is so serious that very soon, snowfalls will be nothing but a thing of the past (see also the Washington Post). (When did that prediction come? Uh, that would be in the year… 2000…; while Le Monde predicted in 2016 that soon cinema will be the only thing left to perpetuate the memory of snow, CNN reported that NYC hasn't seen snow like [that of March 2018] in 130 years, marking "the fifth consecutive season that at least 30 inches of snow have fallen in New York City.")

Meanwhile, year after year after year, Britain's winters have proven to be among the coldest in a century.

• Time and again, the United Nations has made the call for AOC's "fierce urgency of now", issuing a dire warning that within 10 years, "entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels." (When did a senior environmental official of the UN tell us that an "exodus of 'Eco-refugees'" would threaten political chaos? Noel Brown made the comment in… 1989… "if global warming is not reversed by the year 2000"…)

• Awareness of the dreadful calamity that awaits humanity led to the annual Earth Day event, where the call for AOC's "fierce urgency of now" has been echoed year after year since 1970. (What exactly did the drama queens warning us about during the very first Earth Day? It was global cooling, with the very first Earth Day devoted to… the coming… ice age!)

As for "every climate scientist [giving] the same dire warning", check out Alex Epstein's Prager U video entitles "Do 97% of Climate Scientists Really Agree?"

Posted by:

17 May 2019

I figure you owe me about 29 minutes for forcing me to take the bait for that Snopes liberal AprilFool's page. The 'Mobile Stationary Bike" could have never been conjured up by a conservative, even if s/he belongs to a gym.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For the record, Snopes didn't create those stories, they just curated them from the Web.

Posted by:

18 May 2019

Yes Bob, the general public are pretty gullible (I heard a bookmaker once say "there's one born every minute, thank god most of 'em survive").
However it would be a shame if the sites like Newsthump were to be shut down - it is a spoof news agency but laugh out loud satirically funny and so clearly a spoof.
Facebook and Google need to concentrate on the scammers and political activists who simply lie or interfere with elections.

Posted by:

18 May 2019

Yes Walter, but since the truth has a well known Liberal bias, there is no way a legitimate fact checking site could possibly not.

Kenneth, that is one of the best one yet. Thanks for the good laugh.

Posted by:

Jim A
18 May 2019

The Information age brought us information as "Quantity vs Quality". I agree with the problem but not the solution. Whomever controls information, real, fake or somewhere in between, whether corporations, non-profits, but especially governments and their allies, will invariably corrupt it for their purposes: power and greed. This is the reality of human nature and human institutions that we are fools to ignore or deny. Remember: "Power corrupts and absolute power..." Better to have bad information out there, with warnings, than allow anyone to filter or control it.

Posted by:

03 Jun 2019

Enough with the false information. On the first Earth Day, I was a student, and I don't recall the threat of the next ice age being brought up in science class, and certainly not man's role in it. The discussion was actually about "greenhouse effect" and "conservation of natural resources" . (Remember those terms? Why don't conservatives believe in conserving anymore?) Climate "change" is really a better term to help those who don't understand the science. Warming is the prevailing term only because it is the most measurable symptom of excess CO2 and the most alarming effect. The rising global AVERAGE temperature actually disrupts climate patterns in multiple ways causing extreme outcomes in different places. Warmer-than-normal temperatures in some regions will be accompanied by unusually cold weather in other regions. All pattern-driven phenomena, including tornados, will be more intense, and more frequent, but also shifted into areas where they were hardly seen before. Hurricanes will contain more water and be more destructive.

So thank you for acknowledging that most weather has indeed become unprecedentedly extreme in the midwest, and that the winters are now colder than ever in Britain. Thanks also for citing Al Gore's prediction that ice caps would melt in 5 years (begin melting *irreversibly*, was his point). He was indeed wrong: It turns out the point of irreversible melting probably had already been passed when he said that. And thank you for telling us that "ABC" (who at ABC exactly?) estimated in 2008 that flooding would strike us in New York City within seven years. They were wrong, like you said, as Superstorm Sandy flooded the NY area 3 years ahead of schedule, in 2012. Rail tunnels into Manhattan now have to be rebuilt, as a result, but I guess that fits in with someone's campaign promise that America will need to be made again (repeatedly. Yes, shame on Obama if he was given warnings by NASA's Hansen and did not try even harder to overcome opposition from the fossil fuel industry and from deniers who learn what little they know only from the Republican mass media.

Posted by:

05 Jun 2019

too many scams

Posted by:

10 Jun 2019

Forgot to mention:

Climate change has occurred over hundreds of thousands of years in the history of the earth but has never shifted like this within a period of just 100-200 years, as it has since the industrial revolution and the growth of human population from 1 billion to 7.7 billion. So it is amazing that deniers resort to quibbling over little differences of 10 years to dismiss the predictions. It's typical reactionary behavior to attack the messengers by pointing out that they are not perfect. If anyone really suspects that some warnings are PURPOSELY over-alarming, then consider them just "truthful hyperbole". That is how a certain person in the White House has described the technique he himself finds necessary to persuade someone to go along with what you know is right.

So who cares if certain public figures climb on board touting the worst case scenario partly to further their own standing? Any inaccuracy in their estimates does nothing to negate the findings about human-accelerated climate change that the scientific community has indeed reached consensus on. The case made in that nit-picking "Prager U" video that Asteriks linked to was from 2016 and based on a few outlier's comments made years earlier than that. A lot of data has been compiled since then and shows the trajectory of climate degradation is actually even more drastic than predicted.

"A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing."

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