Every now and then I’m asked to investigate dubious submissions to the newsletter at work, not quite often enough as far as I’m concerned as the odd doozy still gets through (when will people learn to just do exactly as I say?). Still, if I’m lucky then I get to inform people before the junk takes up residence in their brains rather than after. The following is an adaption of something I wrote in place of a scare mongering chain letter type email that one employee was attempting to get published.

In this age of hand held computers, mobile phones and internet ready Fridges the ease with information can be disseminated throughout the world is something that is a very powerful tool for both good and ill. The same technology that can warm your heart by telling you about the birth of a family member on the other side of the world complete with photos within minutes can also be used to spread fear and scam you out of your hard earned money. I recently was asked to check out a perfect example, the story of a woman being the target of an horrific gang initiation heroically saved at the last minute by a quick thinking service station attendant. This is might as well have been calculated to cause anxiety and hysteria, it appeals to our emotions and hijacks our reason in order to ensure propagation. That the story portrayed in the email is false almost goes without saying (well it does really but I just wanted to say it anyway) and thanks to well meaning folks it has been circulating in various incarnations for years.

While I realise that it is genuine concern that motivates people to forward these emails, these emails have a powerful effect on people, this is exactly why the stories should be investigated so that the fakes are not continually perpetuated. There are so much better ways to use the fantastic technology we have for communication than to propagate fear and paranoia. I certainly don’t blame anyone for wanting to protect their loved ones. Unfortunately all emails that contain such items that whomever sent it has not witnessed personally should be considered suspect and investigated before passing on. To this end here are a couple of websites that specialise in cataloging and debunking these hoaxes.

www.snopes.com (My personal favourite)
www.hoax-slayer.com

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