On Hoaxes and their Effect
I’ve recently received an email hoax about this tripped out machine that spews ping pong balls at strings, drums, etc. It is a really cool video with nice music and really impressive to watch. But it is sold to the viewer as a real machine which took a long time to develop and is soon to be donated to the Smithsonian.
What I really dislike is the fact that someone added a story to a clip from someone’s movie and decided to send it forth in the vast expanse that is the Internet with no apparent reason other than collecting a bunch of e-mail addresses to spam to. The way I see it, your friends will most likely forward you a copy of this video saying how cool it is (and again, it is impressive). No damage done.
Where’s the harm? I’ll provide an example. During the summer I was invited to an evangelical church in Miami. The pastor read from an e-mail he had received concerning Einstein and an atheist professor in college. While the story is thought provoking and inspiring, it credits Einstein with something he did not say. What is wrong here is the fact that when you add Einstein to the story you imply credibility (as with crediting the University of Iowa with the development of the machine we previously discussed). Moreover, a pastor reading at church means most people will accept it as a given, snowballing the tale further as soon as they get a chance to.
This is the problem with email hoaxes. Besides the fact they are used for spam and other purposes, they spread ignorance through the general goodwill of people who ignore the real chronicle behind them. The spreading of these ruses is harming two groups, those whose work is accredited to someone else (or has words put in their mouths) and those who believe it nonsensically for whatever reason. I recommend that whenever you receive something like this, please at least devote 30 seconds to look it up and see whether you can believe it or dismiss it.
One final note, please, if you receive any email stating that AOL/Microsoft or any other company or foundation will donate funds for the number of times a message is forwarded, don’t believe it. Bad people are preying on good hearts. Here are tips on what to do in those cases.
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