Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Are you flooded with hoax emails?

Flooded with hoax emails?

Dr P Vyasamoorthy

Many senior citizens are getting bitten by the Internet bug and Email / Googling fever. Each day they discover that the amount fascinating information they can fetch and read is unfathomable. When they join any Discussion group they come across a number of messages from their equally eager friends trying to share news, views, stories, photos, videos and what not. During this process they fall a prey into believing that whatever they receive via email is true. Many stories are unbelievable and contain a bit of sensational news – often some warning about health risk, financial loss or Virus attack. Gullible persons pass them on believing they are doing a good turn to their friends. Let us learn how to find out whether such stories spread over email are true and correct or whether they are only hoax, rumors and baseless urban legends containing falsehood?


If you get an email that is a "a forward of a forward of a forward…." Then immediately suspect that the message may be untrue. Especially if the last few lines plead and urge that you pass it on to everyone in this world. Secondly, the details contained are half truths and vague, often not easily verifiable. Thirdly, most of them raise a scare about your health (Don't use Perlpet bottles), money (ATMs being wired to cheat you), possessions etc. If you belong to a discussion group you can also identify and know persons who are new to Internet and are gullible. Messages FROM such persons may be twice screened before taking any action.


There are a good number of Websites that help you verify the truth about urban legends. I would recommend just four:







I have put snopes.com on the top of the list as that site has been rated highest and most reliable by many surveys and studies. If you get to know that a particular piece of email is false or true through Snopes, then please do not copy the entire page from Snopes and forward it to your friends. This is against the website's copyright rules. Just copy the URL of the concerned Snopes.com page and circulate it. Snopes has gained so much popularity that nowadays false messages containing rumours have line that says: 'I have checked with snopes.com and found it to be true' – see for instance the mail on "Do not dial 90#". In a Yahoo Group that I moderate for senior citizens there are about a hundred messages on Snopes.com which indicates how much we rely on this site for verification.


If you are net savvy, but have not concentrated on this aspect, you may try to Google on the subject content of the suspected mail. If you find that all the results that you get are only from (gullible) bloggers and not in any authentic source (say, newspapers, journals, academic institutions etc) then you can easily surmise that the information is false. For example that silly item on "Two moons on 27th August" has come every August and has not appeared in any Astronomy journal!  


Above sources are not of much use while checking stories of Indian origin.  Sometimes you need to employ other techniques when sources like the above fail. There was a story about the involvement of Winston Churchill and the discovery of Penicillin which could ascertained as false by checking at the official site for WC. Going to specific websites could throw some light.


All said and done never believe all the stories floating around via email messages. Take them with a ton of salt. Most are false. If at all you are tempted to forward any such hoax mail, then check before you do so. Otherwise you are sinning against your friends. You are encouraging spammers. And only mis-information gets disseminated. That is bad for all of us.





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