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Virus Hoaxes or, What Ever Happened to Fact-Checking?

Jim Wynne

Staff member
Admin
#1
Almost everyone with an email account has received an ominous message warning of a virus alleged to be circulating. The messages are almost always hoaxes, and it doesn't take long to learn how to spot them. Nonetheless, many well-meaning people take them to heart and forward them to everyone in their address book, and the series of tubes (and our inboxes) are soon clogged with garbage.

Last night I was watching the local news out of the NBC-owned Chicago TV station when I heard an ominous warning. It seems that there's a virus going around that takes the form of an email with a Powerpoint attachment called "Life is beautiful.pps." According to the reporter, the file, when opened, would cause you to "...lose everything in your PC and the person who sent it to you will gain access to your name, email and password." The reporter went on to say that once the file was opened, a message would appear on the screen saying, "It's too late now, your life is no longer beautiful."

"Life is beautiful" rang a bell, so off to Snopes I went (I was using my laptop at the time). In a matter of seconds I had the answer--it was indeed a hoax and one that's been circulating since at least 2002.

It's interesting that the language used in the news report was lifted directly from the bogus email message, and no one bothered to take the ten seconds necessary to verify the story.

My father was in radio, and spent many years compiling and writing news stories, so I know that in every significant news organization there's a process of fact-checking that's supposed to happen before stories like this one are unleashed on an unwitting public, and for obvious good reason. The conservative pundit George Will wrote a column recently that resulted in quite a kerfluffle over the concept--it seems that in a climate-change-denial piece he cited "evidence" that didn't really exist, a fact that should have been confirmed before the column went to press.

In the virus hoax incident, there was a time when a whole string of people would have been summarily fired for making the whole organization look stupid and irresponsible, (believe me, I've seen people fired for far less) but it seems like the news media are more concerned with "hooks" and sensationalism than with whether there's any veracity in what they're reporting.
 

BradM

Staff member
Admin
#2
Jim, not sure if you caught it, but E-Hollywood (I believe that is the name) had a 30 minute show on the coverage of the Natasha Richardson media coverage. While they were obviously tooting their own horn about the coverage (and of course, overlooking their mistakes in the past) it was interesting to see all the reports, retractions, new reports, apologies, etc. about all the coverage across the different networks. If that is the level of fact-verification that is commonplace in news coverage, that is a sad state of affairs.

It's funny how quickly things can get spread around, without ever having anything verified. It would be tempting to blame the Internet/global e-mail situation, but it was going on long before that. Consider the Devil worshipping/ Proctor and Gamble nonsense that has been spread for years and years, over fences, in coffee shops, and beauty salons.

1. Before repeating something, find out the veracity of the claim. I have had so many friends just livid when I replied (just to them) that their story/long held belief was nonsense (like the Proctor and Gamble thing). Not livid at me per se, but that they "fell" for it; or that the belief they long held true was simply incorrect.

The difference between me and them, was I chose to check the facts before sending it on. If it is something you got in an e-mail, chances are the people you are about to send it to has already seen it.:tg: We need to remember that the posts we make, the e-mails that we send, become a reflection to others, of who we are. Make that a good reflection.

2. Pride yourself as a person who is reliable. Check your information before sending it on. If you make a mistake, be ready to right the wrong. It's so easy to take something that appeals to the way you feel about things, believe it, and send it to others who feel the same way as you.

3. Be a good e-mail friend. Don't send me something with "check this out" in the subject line. I don't care who it's from, I'll delete. If you are sending something that I may be suspicious of, send me a message beforehand and such. Also, try to check things out before sending it, where 10 people downstream then does not have to check.

Jim's post is a good one. We all need to think about how we transact information in our lives; especially with the electronic age we currently live in.
 

howste

Thaumaturge
Super Moderator
#3
I used to get an inbox full of email from friends and family with good intentions trying to warn me of this or that. I would check them out at snopes.com or another reliable source, then 99% of the time I would send a reply (copied to all addressees) thanking them for their concern and linking them to information showing it was a hoax. After a while, the volume was greatly reduced, either because they were checking things out on their own, or because they were embarrassed.

I did get one this week that said in the body that "they'd checked it out on snopes" and so it was verified. I, of course, checked it out on snopes myself and found out it was a hoax anyway. :rolleyes:

I think, in general, too many people believe anything they read. That's true anywhere on the Internet including the Cove Forums. :eek: I take everything I read with a grain of salt. I don't doubt that various news outlets deliberately skew information the way they want, but the fact that they don't even check facts on this kind of "news" is rediculous.
 
#4
"check it out on Snopes"

Does this mean a person or group formulating a good hoax first has to get it verified by Snopes (by hook or crook?)

I remember a number of years back (1967) when a lot of folks bought into a hoax about smoking banana peels

Jim's comment about his dad being in radio news also called to mind the famous quote (maybe apocryphal) attributed at one time to an editor at the Chicago-based City News Bureau to wit:
"If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out!"
 

howste

Thaumaturge
Super Moderator
#5
"check it out on Snopes"

Does this mean a person or group formulating a good hoax first has to get it verified by Snopes (by hook or crook?)
Yes. There's no possible way around it. And because you read my reply on the Internet, you know it must be true.
 
J

JaneB

#6
I used to get an inbox full of email from friends and family with good intentions trying to warn me of this or that.
Yeah, me too, even from business colleagues who should know better, I fugured. Got rather tired of it. Doesn't happen so often now, which is good. (followed much the same path as you did).

I think, in general, too many people believe anything they read. That's true anywhere on the Internet including the Cove Forums. :eek: I take everything I read with a grain of salt.
Me too. And of course because it's on the net as well it must be true. ;)
 
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