Thursday, February 7, 2008

Beware of Internet Urban Legends

Those Emails Are Probably Not Legitimate
By Judy Hedding,

You have probably heard the phrase 'urban legend' but you might not have really known what an urban legend is.
According to David Emery, the About Guide to Urban Legends and Folklore1,

Urban legends are popular narratives alleged to be true, transmitted from person to person by oral
or written communication (including fax and email). Said stories always involve some combination of outlandish,
humiliating, humorous, terrifying, or supernatural events – events which always happened to someone else.
For credibility, the teller of an urban legend relies on good storytelling and the citing of
an "authoritative" word-of-mouth source (typically "a friend of a friend") rather than verifiable facts.
And sometimes, but not always, there's a moral to the story, e.g.: "behave yourself, or bad things will happen."

If you receive email, chances are that you have received one involving one of these hoaxes.
I know that I have received every single one of these:

* Bill Gates is not giving you $1000, and Disney is not giving you a free vacation.
* There is no baby food company issuing class action checks.
* Big companies don't do business via chain letters and there are no computer programs
that track how many times an email is forwarded, let alone by whom.
* Proctor and Gamble is not part of a satanic cult or scheme, and its logo is not satanic.
* The Gap is not giving away free clothes. There is no need to pass it on "just in case it's true."
* There is no kidney theft ring in New Orleans. Or Chicago.
Or anywhere else in the world. No one is waking up in a bathtub full of ice,
even if a friend of a friend swears it happened to their cousin.
David Emery reports, "The National Kidney Foundation has repeatedly issued requests for actual victims
of organ thieves to come forward and tell their stories." None have. Zero. Zip. Nada. Not even your friend's cousin.
* Neiman Marcus doesn't really sell a $200 cookie recipe. And even if they do, we all have it.
And even if you don't, you can it here2. Then, if you make the recipe, and decide the cookies are that awesome,
feel free to pass the recipe on.
* There is no gang initiation plot to murder any motorist who flashes headlights at another car driving at night without lights.
* Craig Shergold in England is not dying of cancer and would like everyone to stop sending him their business cards.
He is no longer a little boy either.
* The "Make a Wish" foundation is a real organization doing fine work, but they have had to establish
a special toll free hot line in response to the large number of Internet hoaxes using their good name and reputation.
It is distracting them from the important work they do. Also, the American Cancer Society does not give 3 cents
for each person you forward e-mail to. How would they even know?
* Women really are suffering in Afghanistan, but forwarding an e-mail won't help their cause in the least.
If you want to help, contact your local Legislative Representative, or get in touch with Amnesty International or the Red Cross.
* KFC did not change their name from Kentucky Fried Chicken because they use genetically engineered
chickens instead of real ones. KFC really does use real chickens with feathers and beaks and feet.
Why did they change their name? Now that we are more health conscious, KFC determined that the word 'Fried' denoted
something less than appealing. With the help of a focus group, they picked the name KFC. It's short,
doesn't offend dieters and it's easy to remember.
* There is no bill pending before Congress that will allow long distance companies to charge you for using the Internet.

So what's the harm in passing along all these emails to your friends, relatives, co-workers and acquaintances?
They are, at best, annoying and a nuisance. They are, at worst, illegal. David Emery provides this analysis:

Basically, these amount to rumor mongering by chain letter. Such messages typically include a plethora of
capitalized words and exclamations points, little or no substantiating evidence, and, in the majority of cases,
downright false information. The true intent behind them is to provoke fear rather than to inform.
People who forward them may do so with naive good intentions, but it's hard to credit the anonymous
authors of email scare messages with any but cynical or self-serving motives.

Here's the bottom line: if you receive an email that requests that you pass it along to everyone you know,
or 10 people you care about, or anyone, don't do it. If you receive an offer that seems too good to be true,
it probably is just that, so don't respond. Don't even send an email back. No one will read it, or worse,
you'll end up on another email list. If you want to investigate some claim being made, the best
place to check it out is at David Emery's web site on Urban Legends and Folklore.
If you can't find it there, post the inquiry to the forum at his site.

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