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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: