Scams, Hoaxes, Urban Legends and Their Busters
Guess what? Mark Zuckerberg is giving millions of dollars to Facebook users who repost an announcement of the giveaway. Bill Gates is giving $5,000 to every Facebook user who shares a link. Mr. Rogers always wore a long-sleeved sweater to hide the tattoos he got as a Marine Corps sniper. And Amazon's new Petlexa can understand your pet's bark or meow, and place orders for what they want. 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 2017. But some are dangerous, like the Bill Gates “forward this link” ploy; people who click on that link may be vulnerable to surreptitious downloads of malware.
Still others are politically motivated. Fake news websites proliferated during the 2016 presidential campaign, crossing the line from satire to outright lies and disinformation.
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.) David Emery earns his daily bread at About.com’s Urban Legends page. 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. Hoaxbusters,org, Hoax-slayers.com, UrbanLegendsOnline.com, 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 said in December they were rolling out tools that make it easier to report hoaxes and fake news. Supposedly, users will be prompted to click a warning that a story may be fake. But I tested a couple of well-known bogus stories, and they were posted to my page with no warnings.
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 3 Apr 2017
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Scams, Hoaxes, Urban Legends and Their Busters (Posted: 3 Apr 2017)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved