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Fact or Fiction

Once a upon a time, we had to look up the home encyclopaedia to check the meaning of a word; to learn why Hippocrates is considered the ‘father of medicine,’ or to research the difference between a fascist, a communist, a socialist or a capitalist. For in-depth facts and figures, a trip to the local library helped.

The internet, or more accurately, Google, has singlehandedly shaved off hours in attempting to locate the correct research, pouring through umpteen manuals or looking through piles of text books to find the facts required for an assignment. All hail Google!

Speaking for myself, I find it a pleasure to toss in a few key words on the search engine, to be provided with not one, but several options to read and explore. As for checking out the meaning of words, it takes but a few, quick finger strokes and, ‘pronto,’ the answer appears. No dragging out the heavy, cumbersome dictionary from the book shelf. We are indeed, spoilt!

Granted, social media and emails have not only broadened our scope with the length and breadth of information, but we need to also be aware of and beware of ‘misinformation,’ that abounds. Misinformation that can ignite anger, incite hatred, fuel prejudice, spread further  fabrications to the undiscerning or insidiously instil fear or panic.

Chain letters fall into the last category! An archived chain letter, dated early 1939, has the same hall mark of the current chain emails that circulate on the internet. Similar content but different mode of distribution!

The chain letter or email urges the recipient to make a designated number of copies and to distribute them onto family, friends or acquaintances. The warning ‘do NOT break the chain!’ generally accompanies a list of requirements. The receiver is forewarned that he or she may suffer bad luck or dire consequences if the given rules are ignored. The blackmail is softened somewhat in that an appeal is made to the superstitious, by promising good luck or fortune once they have passed on the letter.

The modern-day chain letter has crossed over into social media and is categorised as hoaxes or urban legends.

Vulnerable recipients can be tricked into deleting their files once they’ve received a hoax email warning them about unknown viruses or can be harmless enough and yet, implore the recipient to pass the warning on. The ‘Life is beautiful,’ forward is one that comes to mind.

See the Snopes warning at: http://www.snopes.com/computer/virus/lifeisbeautiful.asp

Receivers can also be tricked into revealing their personal and financial details such as their bank account number, or be enticed into acting as a financial go-between with a fraudulent or fictitious company. Many Australians have lost their life savings through naïvely dealing with these unknown and unscrupulous people.

The lesser of the two evils is the Urban Legend.  How many of us have received emails promising monetary rewards for forwarding to all our email contacts, a message from well-known companies such as Microsoft and AOL?

See further details on Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/nothing/billgate.asp

Emails that tug at the heartstrings, invite the receiver to sign a petition to ensure action is taken to correct a public injustice; to make certain a vital operation for a particular child takes place or to prove their belief in God.

See the petition request on Urban Legend: http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/blbulger.htm

In the past week, I came across some erroneous or netlore warnings posted by family and friends on Facebook.

The first notice cautioned friends to beware of strangers accessing their private Facebook content.

Facebook Graph App Privacy: http://www.snopes.com/computer/facebook/graphapp.asp

The second warning was on a fictitious website purportedly created by paedophiles to access posted photographs of children.

Facebook ‘Greatest Gift’ Group Paedophile Warning: http://www.snopes.com/computer/facebook/greatestgift.asp

Just quietly pasting the relevant link via their Inbox will be enough for them to delete the post or place a notice that the warning is a scam or hoax.

While these deceitful and devious emails swarm the net, don’t despair! There are some measures that can be taken to check if the content of the emails are genuine or not.

I use Snopes or TruthOrFiction often but have several others to explore as well. Bookmark them and when your sixth sense or just plain old common sense antenna rears its noble head, search the sites with a few key words and voila, you will soon know whether to discard, ignore or pass on the email.

Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/

TruthOrFiction: http://www.truthorfiction.com/

Hoax-Slayer:  http://www.hoax-slayer.com/

Urban Legends: http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/internet/

© 2013 Wendy Robinson

Don’t be fooled. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. ~ Unknown

Loosen up! Relax! Except for rare life-and-death matters, nothing is as important as it first seems. ~ Unknown


Comments on: "Fact or Fiction" (2)

  1. Isn’t our access to information amazing! And yes, there’s all kinds of misinformation and sleaze out there too.

    I love those sites- Urban Legends and Snopes. Now and again something that seems like it must be a hoax turns out to be true. Those are my favorites.


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