Did you know that the US Congress has just passed a law that will require you to be licensed before you can send or receive email? You will have to pass a written test demonstrating minimal competency and understanding of the rules of the road.

Not. For heaven’s sake, I just made that up. (Bet you believed it, didn’t you, just for a second?) It is that easy to start a rumor, and through E-mail spread it with such speed and across such a distance that it can make your head spin. That kind of power is probably why some people really get off on starting rumors, hoaxes, warnings about this or that thing, all with the intent of getting your knickers in a twist over nothing. These rumormongers are counting on people being sufficiently gullible or careless or, conversely, caring, to perpetuate whatever ridiculous rumor they have started. And otherwise intelligent people fall for it all the time and help spread the lies and the fear, and at the very least, waste the time of all their E-mail buddies.

Please, DO NOT PASS ON ANY E-MAIL WITHOUT CHECKING ITS AUTHENTICITY. You can do this in seconds, literally. Take a key phrase (you can highlight, copy, and paste if you like) and google it along with the word hoax.

My guess is that lots of intelligent, well-meaning, NPR-listening friends of yours have sent you the following E-mail:

“On NPR’s Morning Edition last week, Nina Totenberg said that if the Supreme Court supports Congress, it is in effect the end of the National Public Radio (NPR), NEA & the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). PBS, NPR and the arts are facing major cutbacks in funding….”

Being the intelligent, well-meaning, NPR-listening soul that I am, I immediately googled hoax nina npr and up came 244 hits confirming that it was a hoax…indeed, the very first hit was npr.org itself. This took me approximately, oh, 15 seconds.

Perhaps the cruelest category of hoaxes is that of the missing child. How many of you have immediately circulated such E-mails to “everyone you know”? Perhaps your reasoning was “I don’t know if it is true, but in case it is, I’d better send it on.” And so you cry wolf, and your E-mail pals cry wolf, and their E-mail pals cry wolf, and pretty soon there is so much howling going on that any real messages about real children who are missing are totally obscured by all the lies that caring people have helped perpetuate. GOOGLE IT!

Sometimes there is a grain of truth in the email: there was an E-mail circulated about Kelsey Brooke Jones who was indeed missing—in 1999—for a mere two hours. Her parents sent out a frantic message that has continued to expand and circulate for six years now because they never bothered to E-mail those they had alerted to say their daughter had been found, and because people have mindlessly sent it on ever since.

From the Child Alert Foundation website:

Despite all the good organizations and people in this world who are here to help save missing children, there seem to be a number of those with nothing better to do with their time than to flood the net with E-mail hoaxes concerning missing children.

We at CAF would like to urge each of you to investigate unsubstantiated E-mail reports that you receive before passing them on to others on the net. About.com has an archive section of reporting such cases of these hoaxes and there are links to other areas on the net to seek information about such hoaxes.

In other words, GOOGLE IT!

Another oldie is the E-mail tracking hoax that starts off: “Netscape and AOL have recently merged to form the largest internet company in the world. In an effort to remain at pace with this giant, Microsoft has introduced a new E-mail tracking system as a way to keep Internet Explorer as the most popular browser on the market. This E-mail is a beta test of the new software and Microsoft has generously offered to compensate all who participate in the testing process. For each person you send this E-mail to, you will be given $5. For every person they give it to, you will be given an additional $3.”

Goodness, do you think P.T. Barnum was right?

Then there is the hoax warning people that if they have a file called jdbgmgr.exe on their system they’d better delete it right away as it is a virus. Puh-leeze. This is a perfectly harmless file that is supposed to be on your computer. Google it before you start madly deleting files from your system.

The Neiman Marcus $250 Cookie Recipe hoax was a classic (see urbanlegends.about.com for details and what I hear is actually a very good cookie recipe!)

I do have a favorite virus warning—about the Amish Virus. The subject line says something like WARNING: AMISH VIRUS and the body says something like
You have just received the Amish Virus.
Since we do not have computers or even electricity, you are on the honor system.
Please delete all of your files.
Thank thee.

A side note: I thought the Amish Virus was so funny that I passed it on to people I don’t normally send jokes to…including two friends who are professional psychics. They were the only two who did not get it. They both phoned me, upset, wondering if they really had to delete all their files!

Read more about hoaxes:

P.S. for PC users: When you are forwarding an E-mail message, please put your cursor in the body of the message you want to forward and do a CONTROL-A which selects the message contents, then CONTROL-C which copies the contents. Then address a fresh E-mail, put your cursor in the body of the new E-mail, and do a CONTROL-V which inserts what you have copied into the new E-mail. That way you do not have all the >>> in front of your message, neither do you have a message within a message within a message, all sort of attachments from the chain of people who have forwarded the message. It’s clean, easier to read, and takes seconds. Your E-mail buddies will thank you.

And if you don’t start minding your p’s and q’s, your E-mail buddies might just petition Congress to revoke your E-mail license.

Julie Savage Parker divides her time between being one of the two publisher/editors of WNC WOMAN and her web design business, and patting three dogs with two hands. [ handwovenwebs.com ]

First published in WNC WOMAN magazine, July 2004

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