Friday, June 1, 2012

How to Stop the Lies: Viral Email for Dummies

Most of us have been guilty at one time or another.  No, I’m not referring to the whopper fed to the boss when the day is just too beautiful to be cooped up at work, or even about the few years’ difference between our stated age and what our birth certificate reveals.  I’m talking about the endless inaccurate stories, rumors, myths and outright lies—the BULL—spread via email.

Have you ever received an email detailing and extolling the amazing sniper skills of Mister Rogers…before it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood…during his military service in Vietnam?  I’m sure you’ve seen the one claiming President Barack Obama is a “radical Muslim” who “will not recite the Pledge of Allegiance.” Then, there’s one of my more recent favorites proving that Abraham Lincoln invented Facebook in 1845, complete with copies of original news clippings for evidence.  Or, how about an oldie but goody of great notoriety concerning the misadventures of a gerbil and Richard Gere?  All of those, of course, are undeniably false!
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The sheer number of urban legends, myths and blatant lies told about people, places and things spread via the internet, especially in email, is mind-boggling.  Then they are perpetuated and spread by countless thousands.  They go viral.  We do love to gossip, don’t we?

All too frequently, these lies leave the cyber realm and make their way into our real-world conversations.  Often, they’re distorted even further and peppered with insistent claims that, “I know the sister of the guy who was there when it happened,” or other such corroborating, though fabricated, details.

Granted, many such tales are fun and mostly taken with a grain of salt, fairly well recognized as mere amusements.  Some, too, simply smack of such pure ignorance, they’re completely ignored by all but the most gullible, unthinking sorts.  Unfortunately, many are of less obvious fiction and of much less good-natured intent.  Rather, they’re created to discredit people or smear their good names, being quite malicious in nature.

As we get so frequently bombarded with this crap, it’s tempting not to spend the time to check the facts; we tend to take them at face value.  We forward them without thinking.  Quickly, ridiculous stories become fact in the minds of many, and it’s often next to impossible to remove that impression once made, the damage done.

Haven’t we some obligation to the truth?  If we can’t resist the urge to forward the stories, shouldn’t we at least take the time to distinguish fact from fiction?  Really, how long does it take to do a bit of an internet search for the facts?

A general search using key phrases within a story can reveal more in-depth news stories and articles about a particular topic and its basis in truth.  If that’s too time consuming, there are many dependable, reputable sites who have done the homework for us.  They specialize in fact checking and researching a great number of questionable stories, myths and urban legends making the rounds.  Here are a few:

  • (see the Urban Legends section written by David Emery)
  • Mythbusters: Discovery Channel (
  • Hoax Busters (


Jongleur said...

Pointing people to these sites generally seems like a waste of time, most people don't believe them until they've been hit over the head over and over again. They are so burdened by their preconceptions that they refuse to contemplate any alternatives to what they consider to be the truth.

On the other hand, I at least sleep better knowing that I've done my best to gain a better grasp of the world as it really works, rather than as I thought it should work.

However, like you, I stubbornly keep a smidgeon of optimism in my back pocket, and hope that maybe this time, a 'true believer' will see the light.

K.R.J. said...

Yes, one can hope.

Thanks for visiting!