[BUSTED!] Scams, Hoaxes, Urban Legends
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.)
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.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 16 May 2019
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- [BUSTED!] Scams, Hoaxes, Urban Legends (Posted: 16 May 2019)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved