Posted by: justawriter | August 13, 2009

Far Afield – Snopes.com is your friend: or repeating a lie is worse than lying

I have many pet peeves. Most I try to ignore to help preserve my sanity. But the one that really moves me to do something is that ugly wart of the Internet age, the chain e-mail. I’m not talking about the ones that predict my doom if I don’t immediately inflict a copy of their misspelled ramblings to my five/seven/10 closest friends in the next 10 minutes. If even one in a hundred of those silly things were true I would be surrounded by a hellish craterscape that would make No Man’s Land look like Sunday in the park.
I don’t even mind so much the scams telling me I’ve won the Swedish lottery or I am the only person trusted by the widow of Africa’s top general to move her money out of her country. The senders of these e-mails are hard working criminals who provide employment for law enforcement officers around the world.
By the way, I recently received an e-mail purporting to be from our local Internet provider, asking for my login and password so my e-mail service could be sustained during an upgrade of their equipment. Needless to say, this e-mail did not come from our local Internet provider, especially since the reply-to address was for an account in China. A word of advice, no legitimate business will ever, ever, EVER request your login or password over the e-mail. If you think the e-mail might be legitimate, go to the company’s Web site or contact them by phone. DON’T reply to the e-mail.
No, the e-mails that set me off are the ones that lie to me – allegedly in the service of a good cause. The e-mail that sparked this editorial was one received by my nephew that told him Congress was going to require him to list all his guns on his 2009 income taxes and require him to pay $50 apiece for them. It was surrounded with a pack of other lies, like a Senate committee could put this into law without a vote and that it was currently under consideration. Well, I was suspicious because I don’t think there has been a gun control bill that has even come within a sniff of getting out of a subcommittee since the Brady Bill and now-expired Assault Weapons ban in 1993 and 1994.
It turns out there was a snippet of truth to the e-mail. A gun registration bill was introduced in Congress. It was introduce nine years ago. It didn’t get a co-sponsor, much less a hearing. It had nothing to do with income taxes and most of the other details that panicked my nephew weren’t in the bill either. This bill is even deader than the fabled Norwegian Blue in Monty Pythons “Dead Parrot Sketch.” To paraphrase John Cleese: “This bill has kicked the bucket, it’s shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible. This is an ex-bill.”
Now before you all write me about the current version of the bill, HR 45, let me ease you mind that for all practical purposes that bill is as dead as the bill introduced in 2000. It has no co-sponsors and no groups lobbying in support of it. The National Shooting Sports Foundation Web site lists an accounting change for ammunition taxes as its “most vital legislative priority” in Congress and doesn’t even have HR 45 on the front of its legislative alert page.
A quick visit to http://www.snopes.com confirmed this. Snopes is one of the most valuable resources on the Web, in my opinion. The proprietors have collected scores upon scores of chain mail, urban legends and potential scams and have tried to determine one simple thing: are they true or false? The also give links to the sources of information they found so you don’t have to take their word for it.
Even when some of these e-mails have a grain of truth in them, the nature of the Web lets them take on a life of their own, long after they served any purpose. Did you get the one from the 10-year-old cancer patient who wanted to set the world record for most get-well cards? He is 30 years old now and has spent the last 19 years telling people to stop sending the damn cards.
The group that helped grant the boy’s wish had to move because they were inundated by so many cards they couldn’t get their work done. The Atlanta post office holds millions of cards that still come to that address every year for the required period and then they are sent to a paper recycler.
There are at least a half dozen different versions of the story floating around. Some of the kids recovered and are adults now. Some are long dead. Others never existed at all.
Either way, none of them want the cards anymore. So if you get one of those e-mails, just say no and tell everyone who got the same e-mail to do the same thing.
These e-mails are bad, but there is another category that I feel is truly destructive. These are the true crime warnings. There are about 30 different Amber Alert e-mails listed on Snopes. These are a mix of hoaxes and real cases and it is difficult to tell the difference. Real, active Amber Alerts can be found here: http://www.ncmec.org/missingkids/servlet/AmberServlet.
As with the card e-mails, even the authentic alert e-mails circulate years after the cases are closed. These e-mails sometimes generate thousands of false reports that steal the police’s precious time they need to locate a missing child and work on other real crimes. These e-mails also torment the families. How would you feel if you had buried your murdered child and received several phone calls a day saying she had been seen alive in Chicago or Hawaii or New Orleans?
I have been told that I should mellow out about these chain e-mails. I do try to ignore the harmless ones, like the lucky chains and enjoy the ones with silly jokes or sentimental poetry or stories. But don’t send me an e-mail that lies to me. I will tell you and everyone else you sent the e-mail to that you lied to me. There are enough wonderful, fascinating, glorious truths in the world to learn and discover that I don’t need to waste my time with lies. And thanks to resources like Snopes and Google, you don’t have to waste your time with them either.

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