Rumor Has It

9 11 2009

I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets emails of questionable content and authenticity.  Every day at least one phishing scam makes it past my junk mail filters, not to mention the plethora of emails with questionable attachments from senders I don’t know.  And then there’s the forwarded emails from people I do know, mostly benign, cheery things, but now and then with some unabashedly inflammatory content.

Now, I don’t want to open up the wrong can of worms here.  I’m not writing this entry because of one particular instance or one particular person.  And I don’t mean to complain about my friends and family sharing things with me about which they feel passionately.  On the contrary, power to you for doing so!  Instead, what I want to address is the fact that a goodly proportion of media circulating through our inboxes is of questionable authenticity, if not an outright fabrication.

truthBy this point I hope it’s becoming obvious that when I speak of fabricated, inflammatory emails I’m referring mainly to the hateful, politically motivated messages that have been circulating through inboxes pretty much since email came into existence.  I urge everyone within the reach of this blog to think critically about the material you choose to pass on to those you care about.  I know you’ve already thought about it enough to care that those close to you know about it.  The only other thing you need to do is make sure that what you pass on is true!

To this end, I will now redirect you to the popular rumor verification website Snopes.com.  The rumors they deal with range from the trivial to the very important.  You can learn about today’s popular urban legends or rumors about Coca-Cola or you can discover for certain that the Sony-Ericsson giveaway in your inbox really is too good to be true.  Take a look at Snopes’s Top 25 Urban Legends at the moment.  There’s some fun stuff to look at and some useful items about virus-containg emails, but I think it’s most important function by far is that it can shed some light on many of the unkind political rumors that do nothing but sow disunity among the American people and the people of the world.

For example, today I received an email from a family friend that was sent with genuine concern.  The email contained pictures of angry Muslim protestors in London carrying some very threatening signs.  The text of the email explained that these pictures were not shown in the US because they’re afraid to offend people.  The email used these images to justify war against the muslim world.  Simple enough, right?  Please follow this link to the Snopes treatment of that email.

The real story, according to Snopes, is that the protestors in the email were reacting to the insulting political cartoons published in a Dutch newspaper in 2006.  They had a right to be upset but went overboard in their protest.  Their threatening behavior was condemned (and rightly so) by English authorities and by most other Western Muslims.  Nor do I condone the actions of these protestors.  But the email I received today is designed to create anger towards a group of people without attempting to make any distinction between them and the larger group of people they claim to represent and without attempting to explain what got them so angry in the first place.  It is immature and irresponsible.

Whatever you say, whatever you share with your loved ones, do it with courage, do it with good intention, knowing that you have the right to feel passionately about things in the world and that you have the right to speak freely as your conscience dictates.  Nevertheless, the onus remains on you to ensure that you’re disseminating truth.  Make the extra effort to learn if something is true or not before you spread it around.  The truth can often do plenty of damage on its own, but it’s redeeming quality is that it is the truth.  There is no need to add to the damage with lies.  Whatever case you happen to be making, if the truth is insufficient to get your point across, perhaps it is time to reconsider your position.

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2 responses

10 11 2009
Lisa

Whenever Uncle Fred receives an email that is not necessarily ‘correct’ he politely sends an email to the sender and everyone that was copied, refers to snope and will copy what they have to say about it.

17 12 2009
Lester Leavitt

My only note is, when a person conveniently “forgets” to verify the truthfulness of an email forward (or in many cases wants to believe that it is true because it serves their purpose,) and I call them on it, they get all offended that I embarrassed them by forwarding the truth to everybody in the “To:” box.

A 30 second check with Snopes would have spared that embarrassment, and I’m sorry, but everybody on that “To:” list needed to know the truth as well. I don’t think I have changed anybody by doing this, but the big difference is that I am no longer on the distribution list for the hate-mail forwards. That suits me just fine too.

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