Saturday, January 03, 2009

I am Urban Legend Police

I am the email killjoy.  Whenever I am forwarded a piece of email that sounds even remotely suspicious, too good to be true, or too opinionated, I immediately go to Snopes to check the validity of it.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, I find that it is false.  I then click Reply All, and politely tell everyone that it is crock.  Sometimes, I only click Reply to Sender.  Sometimes I only blog about it.  My hope in replying is that people employ just a smidgen of skepticism and use a bit of fact-checking before sending stuff around through email and perpetrating hoaxes.  I don't know what ticks me off more, the people that start urban legends or the people who blindly accept any thing they read as fact and perpetrate them.  Idjits!  OK, that being said, I sometimes fall for false information and sent a dubious email to three friends that bad-mouthed John McCain.  I stand corrected!  That didn't stop me from fuming over the tons of false emails I received about Barack Obama.  I didn't bother to reply to those because being a bigot is often a lost cause.  Here are some other examples that have ticked me off:

1. Photoshopped Images

I found this photo on Photoshop Disasters (which I am a huge fan), and I was totally outraged that it received a National Geographic Viewer's Choice award.

Image from usefilm
Is it really possible that people can suspend their belief in the physics of reflection?  Is it not obvious that this image was completely photoshopped badly?  Hello are you blind?   Thankfully, after many requests, National Geographic took down this picture with this response.

2. Water bottles

I received an email from my HR department warning against reusing and freezing water bottles because of dioxins.  This is SO OLD!  I sent her the Snopes report and the rebuttal from Johns Hopkins.  From Human Resources!  Unbelievable.

3. Get rich quick

How many times have you received this email?
...When you forward this e-mail to friends, Microsoft can and will track it (If you are a Microsoft Windows user) For a two weeks time period. For every person that you forward this e-mail to, Microsoft will pay you $245.00...
I sent this reply out to all the recipients:
Sorry to break it to you, but there is no free lunch here!
[Quoted from Snopes] The Bottom Line:   No matter which incarnation of this silliness is received, the principle is the same: there's still no such thing as an e-mail tracking program that will keep a tally of how many times a message is forwarded and then report the results back to a central tabulator. And there's still no free lunch — big companies aren't going to hand out fabulous vacations, $1000 bills, free trendy clothes, new computers, cases of candies, wads of cash, or new cars just because someone with a functioning Internet connection does them the favor of forwarding an e-mail. Though at first blush, participating in such pie-in-the-sky wishfulness appears perfectly harmless, such participation only serves to clog up already overtaxed resources. Oh yes, it does one other thing — it gives the idjits who cooked up these frauds a great big laugh at your expense.
At least afterwards, I did receive a few thank you's along the lines of:  "Thank you.  It saved me some time." and "Thank you for educating the senders of the 'forward to....' e-mails!!!  I can't believe how many people fall for it!"  I can't either, it was forwarded by tons of "Worth a try!"

4. Credit card scams

Within one month of joining my current company, I got an email from the Corporate Director of Security warning employees of a Visa card scam.  This email was sent to the entire corporation with over 50,000 employees.  I politely replied with this:
I had recently been involved with credit card fraud, so I took careful notice of your email.  My case was not caused by the scenario you described.  I did however checked the scam you described and found it to be partly urban legend.  Here are some sites with information on that:
Although it is feasibly possible to carry out that scam, it appears that it is probably more chain mail than reality.  Just wanted to pass that along.
He sent me a nice reply, saying, "Thanks for the sites.  The sites I checked did not have anything on the scam."  Yes, of course they didn't because you didn't do any fact checking.  Nevertheless, the amount of fake scam emails from corporate went down since then.

Post note:  In the three years since that first exchange, Snopes has updated the information and the scam has now become true!  Apparently scam artist read about this and decided, that it was a great way to obtain information.  Nice going, urban legend becomes reality.

5. Great stories that end up being fake

I read about this holocaust survivor love story between a boy in a concentration camp and a girl that snuck him food over the fence.  They met by chance 12 years later and married.  It was beautiful and moving and for a moment restored hope in humanity.  Until now, where it is a total disgrace since it was completely fabricated. It is so sad that people need to make this kind of $hit up for attention.  It was a beautiful story that is now forever tainted in my mind, especially since I fell for it.  If it's too good to be true, it probably is!

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