Urban Legends and Hoaxes
Is the government or AOL planning to implement an email tax? Does your lipstick contain dangerous levels of lead? Will Microsoft send you money for forwarding an email? Do you need to add your cell phone number to a Do Not Call directory? Should you boycott Pepsi because their new cans are offensive?
There Must Be 50 Ways to Say...
No, Nyet, Nein, Non, and Nope! All of the above are FALSE. Some of these rumors, urban legends and hoaxes may have a ring of truth, but they are all bogus.
In some cases, rumors are started by well-meaning people who just got the facts bass ackwards. Others are malicious -- created to intentionally mislead the public, damage the reputation of a company, or to attack an individual.
The Dying Child Hoax
One of the most famous cases of a well-intentioned email blitz 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.
A Knee "Jerk" Reaction?
I've devoted considerable time and effort over the last 15 years to educating people about hoaxes and urban legends. But it seems that a majority of people are willing to believe almost ANYTHING they read in an email, and blindly forward it en masse, without bothering to check out the validity of the claims being made.
In some cases the sheer lack of logic on the part of the knee-jerk reactionaries is stunning. A widely circulated rumor a few years ago claimed that 23 people had been attacked by the Klingerman Virus, transmitted in a blue envelope that arrives in your postal mailbox. If something like that was REALLY happening across the country, do you think you'd be learning about in an email? Wouldn't the news be trumpeted from every radio, television, and newspaper headline? But still, millions of people heeded the warning to "PLEASE PASS THIS ON TO EVERYONE YOU CARE ABOUT" without engaging a single brain cell.
So before you forward ANYTHING... think first, then verify. Visit a news website, use a search engine, or check it out at one of the urban legend verification websites. I always point people to Snopes because they are professional journalists and do an excellent job of researching each rumor.
Got comments, questions, or a heated argument? :-) Post your thoughts below.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 28 Feb 2006
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Urban Legends and Hoaxes (Posted: 28 Feb 2006)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved