Saturday, April 12, 2008

It's Up to YOU to Stop The Ignorance!

How do you respond when a well meaning friend sends you an email that states that Hillary Clinton is a devil worshipper, compares comments by Barack Obama's former pastor to Hitler's speeches, states that John McCain wants to bomb the entire Middle East or, blames everything wrong with the US government on Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick? If you're like me you read the first line or so and click the delete key.

However, a year or so ago, I decided that it was time to stop the ignorance. No, I did not think that I alone would stop the proliferation of viral emails but I did, and do, hope that I could at least point out the insanity to my friends and family. So last year I actually took to the time to read one of those silly political messages, research it and write a reply. I also posted the response in one of my blogs. See: Myths Used To Justify the Iraq War by Comparing it to Other Wars.

i had hoped that most Americans were really tired of the insanity created by the 2000 and 2004 political campaigns that. However, after recently receiving some of the stupidest political viral emails that I've ever read from people who I know are very sincere it is once again time to speak out.

Friends, It's Up to YOU to Stop The Ignorance!

So if you too feel that you need to gently and politely ask a friend or family member to stop sending you stupid eRumors here's a little something that you may want to pass on.

Rich Buhler of provides the following explanation of the origin of eRumors:


Many false stories are simply corrupted versions of true stories. For example, one of the most enduring rumors of the last 20 years is that the famous American atheist, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, is trying to get religious programming banned from radio and television. Each version of the rumor includes what is said to be the number of the petition that she has brought to the Federal Communications Commission, RM-2493. The story is untrue and Madalyn Murray O'Hair has never made such a request to the FCC. Case number RM-2493 does exist, however, and involved a complaint filed by two gentlemen who felt that a church should not have been granted a radio license reserved for educational use. The FCC turned down their challenge and ruled in favor of the church, but somewhere along the way, Madalyn Murray O'Hair's name got attached and the FCC has received tens of millions of letters and phone calls.


Many false stories have been intentionally written and distributed by what I call "truth terrorists." They enjoy fabricating something, then sending it as far and wide as possible.

For some, the motive is to cause harm to a specific person or group by spreading misinformation.

For others, there is an emotional pay-off from creating something they think may trigger some kind of reaction and mushroom into something big.


Some false tales have been created by people who have a sincere desire to emphasize something they think is true, but which they can't document. So they make up a story they think sounds appropriate. Or they change or add some details to a story that has been passed along to them in order to give it a little more "sizzle. I personally think this is a factor in a large number of false tales.

One common urban legend, for example, is about a store clerk in Hawaii who contracted a serious virus by coming into contact with soft-drink cans with dried rat urine on them. The story is not true and the virus could not be contracted that way, but somebody who has an obsession with cleanliness or who feels creepy about rodents would find it satisfactory to create or repeat the story as a way of saying, "So there!" to people who don't seem to have the same intensity.


There are a few eRumors that are passed around that the writer never intended be taken seriously as a real account. This is especially true of some of the inspirational stories. Many fictional writings are valuable because of the point they make, not because they are true. Some folks, however, put them on the Internet and preface them by saying, "This is a true story," or "I heard Paul Harvey say this on the radio."


Urban legends are false stories that have either been circulating long enough or have been spread widely enough to have become classics. "

In March Lori Robertson wrote a great article for which specifically the special brand of political eRumors:

" We've noticed that the more times something is forwarded, the more likely it is to be false. We suggested this perverse theory when we threw cold water on the claim that the United Kingdom, or the University of Kentucky, had stopped teaching about the Holocaust. E-mails about Obama, for instance, have been particularly popular – they now rank as No. 3 on’s list of the 25 Hottest Urban Legends and one rumor holds the No. 1 spot in Emery's top 25. But only one of the e-mails these sites have examined is true – and actually only a certain version of it passes the truth test.

This is the one claiming that Obama didn’t put his hand over his heart while the Star Spangled Banner played. That specific allegation is correct, as documented in a photo of presidential candidates at an Iowa steak fry. But it’s false, as some versions of the e-mail said, that he "will NOT recite the Pledge of Allegiance nor will he show any reverence for our flag." We debunked this and other legends about Obama early this year after receiving a rush of questions about them. Again, for the record, he is not a Muslim, his middle name is not Mohammed, and he placed his hand on a Bible when he was sworn into the Senate. And he puts his hand over his heart when he says the Pledge of Allegiance. We even have pictures to prove it.

Still, two months after we wrote that story, we continue to get messages from readers asking about his patriotism, his religion, his church and whether he’ll take the presidential oath with the Quran.

Often, the message itself includes major red flags that should alert readers that the author is not to be trusted. Here are just a few of what we’ll call Key Characteristics of Bogusness:

  • The author is anonymous. Practically all e-mails we see fall into this category, and anytime an author is unnamed, the public should be skeptical. If the story were true, why would the author not put his or her name on it?

  • The author is supposedly a famous person. Of course, e-mails that are attributed to legitimate people turn out to be false as well. Those popular messages about a Jay Leno essay and Andy Rooney’s political views are both baloney. And we found that some oft-quoted words attributed to Abraham Lincoln were not his words at all.

  • There’s a reference to a legitimate source that completely contradicts the information in the e-mail. Some e-mails will implore readers to check out the claims, even providing a link to a respected source. We're not sure why some people don't click on the link, but we implore you to do so. Go ahead, take the challenge. See if the information you find actually backs up the e-mail. We've examined three such e-mails in which the back-up material clearly debunks the e-mail itself. One message provided a link to the Tax Foundation, but anyone who followed it would have found an article saying the e-mail's figures were all wrong. Another boasted that had verified the e-mail, but Snopes actually said it was false.

  • The message is riddled with spelling errors. Ask yourself, why should you trust an author who is not only anonymous but partially illiterate?

  • The author just loves using exclamation points. If the author had a truthful point to make, he or she wouldn’t need to put two, three, even five exclamation points after every other sentence. In fact, we're developing another theory here: The more exclamation points used in an e-mail, the less true it actually is. (Ditto for excessive use of capital letters.)

  • The message argues that it is NOT false. This tip comes from Emery, who advises skepticism for any message that says, "This is NOT a hoax!"

  • There’s math involved. Check it. One message that falsely claimed more soldiers died during Bill Clinton’s term than during George W. Bush’s urged, "You do the Math!" We did. It’s wrong.
We hope that by writing about some of these messages we can enlighten a few readers and arm some of them with ammunition against their e-mail-forwarding friends. But clearly our battle against the viral e-mail monster has just begun. Months after debunking a popular piece of rubbish about Nancy Pelosi’s plan to tax your retirement savings and give the revenue to illegal immigrants, we’re still getting questions about whether it could possibly be true. Let me repeat: It’s not."
Hopefully, the tips provided by Rich Buhler and Lori Robertson, will convince your wayward friends and family to stop clicking on the "forward" icon and instead start hitting the "delete key" a little more often. If this doesn't work you may have to go the extra mile and research one of their viral emails and send it back to the person who sent it along with everyone else that they included in the "to" line.

I'll save my thoughts on sharing a million email addresses in a forwarded message for another post.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.