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Hoax Inoculation

The most wide­spread virus on the inter­net is the gulli­bil­i­ty virus — okay, so it’s more of a meme. In any case, it’s a major nui­sance, and sucks up ridicu­lous amounts of time and ener­gy due to peo­ple sharing/forwarding non­sense mes­sages or wor­ry­ing about virus hoax­es. Those of us who are on many mail­ing lists or have many cor­re­spon­dents or lots of Face­book friends end up see­ing these stu­pid things umpteen times, and they get more annoy­ing every time they appear in our Face­book feeds and inbox­es. Please, stop. Now. Before you for­ward any­thing please ask your­self these ques­tions:

  • How sure am I that this is true? Have I ver­i­fied it with a reli­able source? (Hear­ing about it on the Rush Lim­baugh show does not count.) Go to some author­i­ty that you absolute­ly know to be trust­wor­thy and rel­e­vant to the sub­ject at hand. If it’s a med­ical alert sort of thing, check it through the Mayo Clin­ic or a sim­i­lar respectable, estab­lished, accred­it­ed orga­ni­za­tion.
  • Who wrote this thing? If it’s been for­ward­ed mul­ti­ple times, it’s high­ly unlike­ly that it’s true.
  • Would you believe this infor­ma­tion if you saw it writ­ten on a bath­room wall? For­ward­ed emails have the same lev­el of cred­i­bil­i­ty.
  • There are cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics shared among almost all email hoax­es. Exces­sive use of excla­ma­tion marks and delib­er­ate­ly alarm­ing lan­guage are just a few of them.
  • The fact that some­thing has been stat­ed on a web site instead of an email does not make it any more like­ly to be true. I could put up a web site in just a cou­ple of min­utes that stat­ed, in very author­i­ta­tive lan­guage, that spam­mers have caused the hole in the ozone lay­er. Check the sources.
  • I don’t care if some­one else said he checked it out. You need to check it out. I don’t care if it’s from your moth­er, unless you know for a fact that it’s a sto­ry com­ing from her per­son­al, first-hand expe­ri­ence. I get urban leg­ends from my rel­a­tives all the time, and that doesn’t make me any more like­ly to believe them.
  • If what you’re for­ward­ing is a virus warn­ing, check it at Com­put­er Virus Myths or Syman­tec before send­ing it on. Even if you got the mes­sage from some­one who should be reli­able, check it out. I worked in the devel­op­ment depart­ment of a very well-known inter­net com­pa­ny where we reg­u­lar­ly received “alerts” from the MIS depart­ment that were almost always virus hoax­es.
  • For­ward­ing emails to a great many peo­ple will not accom­plish any­thing but fill­ing up mail­box­es, wast­ing time, and annoy­ing every­one. It will not save women in Afghanistan or help you earn mon­ey or get free mer­chan­dise. Even when there are legit­i­mate polit­i­cal or social issues at hand, peo­ple who want to get alerts on those sub­jects have sub­scribed to mail­ing lists for that pur­pose or will seek the infor­ma­tion out on web sites. They don’t need to get them from you.
  • Chain let­ters don’t make any­one feel loved. If you want some­one to know that you’re think­ing about him, pick up the phone and call him, or send her a per­son­al email, or snail mail a card or let­ter. But don’t for­ward a chain let­ter.
  • The same goes for “likes” on a Face­book post. Those things are called “click­bait” and they are non­sense. Jesus doesn’t care how many “likes” a pho­to of a dying child gets, okay? If you real­ly care, pray for the kid, or even track down the child’s real name and loca­tion and send her a card or some­thing, but don’t go click­ing that but­ton, because it means noth­ing.
  • Keep an eye on the FTC’s Scam Alerts page. That will def­i­nite­ly help you out.

At the very least, take a minute and check with Snopes.com, which is the pre­em­i­nent site for debunk­ing hoax­es and urban leg­ends: