Saturday, September 27, 2008

Check Your Snopes

(News-Herald, September 25) The invention of e-mail is one of the great advances in recent human history. There is, however, one major flaw in the design. The guy who invented email should have a parade, but the guy who invented the “forward” button should be spanked soundly and repeatedly.

Some folks use these judiciously; I have two friends who keep me regularly supplied with the finest in internet humor. It is the people who feel the urge to forward things that are “interesting” or “informative” who give the world a big bandwidth headache.

But the internet has also given us, a website that provides scholarly study and background checks for the flotsam and jetsam of the internet. The folks at snopes use actual research to determine whether the many threads in the tapestry of urban myths are true, false, or undetermined.

Snopes has a handy search feature, so you can log on and immediately determine that no, there is no group petitioning Congress to outlaw breast feeding.

If you like to browse through the many strange items that people have chosen to perpetuate, snopes offers categories from politics through science. There’s also a listing of the top twenty-five myths that people are checking up on.

The current top twenty-five subjects include political figures (no, Barack Obama was not sworn into office on the Quran and no, there is no real list of books that Sarah Palin tried to ban). For people with a real interest in political smoke and mirrors clarified, I recommend

If we skip the politics, there are plenty of other fun subjects.

No, there are no verified reports of people being dosed by business cards soaked in date rape drugs.

No, your cell phone number is not about to be given to telemarketers.

No, Jay Leno did not write the positive attitude essay that “hits the nail on the head.”

No, the video clip about the Australian official and the tanker disaster (the front fell off” is not real.

And, no, neither Bill Gates, Microsoft, nor AOL are giving cash to people who help test their email forwarding system.

But (yikes) it IS true that the Chinese were discovered to be making hair bands with recycled condoms.

Certain categories can be tough to sort out. Promises that forwarding an email will bring rewards are almost always fake, but when it comes to prayer requests, Amanda Bundy and Brayden Hembree are fake, but Katie Fitch and Kevin Downs are real.

Even forwards that are meant to brighten and uplift someone’s day are not entirely trustworthy.

Charles Shultz did not write a quiz to show the importance of having people care about you. Mel Gibson was not the basis for the movie “The Man without a Face.” Maya Angelou did not write the poem “I Am A Christian.” There is no waiter named Stevie with Down Syndrome who received a large donation from a truck driver customer. The email about aging isn’t really by George Carlin, and Kurt Vonnegut did not deliver “wear sunscreen” as a commencement address.

Snopes is also a place to learn interesting tidbits of useful information. For example. Kentucky Fried Chicken did not change their name to KFC in order to deflect attention away from the friedness of their chicken. Actually, the Commonwealth of Kentucky trademarked their name, so that anyone who wanted to use “Kentucky” owed the state some money. Not only did this spawn KFC, but the Kentucky Derby became The Run for the Roses, and feed stores started selling Shenandoah Bluegrass.

We’re a little more sophisticated than we used to be about the internet (I think people have mostly stopped corresponding from the guy in Africa with the millions of dollars he wants to sneak out of the country), but it seems as if we could do better. After all, when you’re getting ready to forward that e-mail, the whole world of information is literally at your fingertips.

If isn’t enough, I can also recommend and the ever-educational Mythbusters as places to encounter actual facts. The internet is great for helping Stupid spread quickly, but it can also be a powerful medium for real information as well. Remember to use it before you hit “forward.”

1 comment:

Andi said...

I just happened upon your site and I think this post is brilliant! I am the receipient of a whole bunch of Stupid forwarded by well-meaning friends. I've given up hope that certain people can be educated and have started filtering their emails directly to my junkmail folder.

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