August 1, 2013
Fact Check Before Forwarding That Email Because It’s Probably A Hoax
As this reporter previously noted, we all have those relatives and friends that insist on sending us various emails that often times turn out to be hoaxes. More often than not it is a virus warning, and what makes this all the more annoying on a personal level is that I write about viruses, hacks and other computer related issues. Wouldn’t I be among the first to break the news rather than hear it via a forwarded email that has been making the rounds more than a fruitcake at Christmas?
Part of the reason these continue to be a problem is that email, social media and instant messaging allow for instant sending and forwarding of “anything.” Someone tells you a lame joke, post it on Facebook.
Someone tells you that a celebrity just died, tweet it!
Someone tells you that there is a new virus that could delete your hard drive, ruin your credit and erase your DVR… well, by all means forward that.
Because what happens if these are true and you didn’t do it? You’d look like you were out of touch! That can be the only explanation as to why hoaxes and other falsehoods continue to spread.
In the old days,, (also known as BI – Before Internet), we might have heard that Mikey, the Life cereal kid had died, or that someone ate Pop Rocks and drank a Coke and died, or was it Mikey drank a combination of Coke Pop Rocks and died? What does it matter, because it wasn’t true! Mikey didn’t , but hoaxes lived on.
Back then there was no real way of checking to see if this was true. On the playground, it was a lot of “no he didn’t,” and “yes, he did, I heard it from a guy.” Unless you took the time to go to the library, do a painful amount of research on microfiche and old newspapers you were simply out of luck.
Today we have Snopes and Google and Wikipedia. We also have the media, and one thing I note when responding to someone who sends me a “Virus Warning,” is to ask, “Did CNN, Cnet, FoxNews, Bloomberg, PC World, PCMag, RedOrbit, Forbes, Fortune, or any other creditable news organization report on this virus? If the answer is no then this isn’t real.” I don’t deny that it might be real, because let’s face it I don’t want to be wrong anymore than anyone else, but I will ask for a source.
That’s the journalist in me that never stops being a journalist.
The question is why there aren’t more skeptics. I get virus warnings and other hoaxes from people that will call BS at any politician that says anyone on TV. I get hoax emails and other nonsense from people that won’t answer talk to salesman or telemarketers on the phone over fear that it is scam, yet an email is believed hook, line and sinker.
There is a difference.
The reason is that those hoaxes were sent by one of their friends or relatives and maybe my mother, father-in-law, cousin, aunt or friend assume the person doing the sending already vetted the information. However, the first rule of a skeptic should be not to stop being a skeptic.
Unless the story is confirmed online by Snopes, CNN, Fox, et al, then we don’t have “confirmation.” Journalists won’t often break a story without two sources. Sometimes it is better to be late than be first they say.
Unfortunately, when it comes to hoaxes in emails people like to hit send and think about whether it is real afterward.
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