Thursday, October 08, 2009

Don't forward junk e-mail, check the facts!

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Moncton Times & Transcript
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Editorial page

If you spend any time at all on a computer, you'll know that the amount of junk e-mail is incredible -- from the downright lewd and crude to the unbelievable and outlandish. If you're like me, you've probably seen just about everything there is to see.

I have a bit of a mean streak in me whenever I receive an 'urgent' e-mail from a friend who's forwarding me a sad story about a tragic incident, a photo that is astonishing (translation: fake), a plea from some poor sod who's down on his luck, or a child who's suffering from some gut-wrenching disease so rare that doctors only see it once in their entire careers. You see, whenever I suspect that one of these e-mails is a fraud, I take the sender to task and send them a link proving that it's not true. Not only do I send it them, I copy everyone on their list.

My point isn't to embarrass the person -- well perhaps it is to a point because they wasted my time without checking their facts first -- but more to encourage them to check these things out before forwarding them to everyone on their list. The vast majority of the time -- unless it's about something very local or currently in the news -- it's a complete fraud, or at least terribly outdated.

In the past week, I've received three e-mails from well-meaning friends trying to find a new home for two dogs named Cookie and Coco. Apparently, their owner is being transferred overseas in the very near future and wants to find a home for them right away. They are inseparable and cry when not around one another. A photo of two cute dogs accompanies the e-mail, adding to the heartache.

Since I have a special place in my heart for animals, my usual red flags didn't pop up and I did something that I normally never do: I didn't search for references to the story online. I went ahead and started sending it out, assuming that the originator was someone local who was looking for a new home for their beloved pets. Had I done a search, however, I would have quickly discovered that the story was only somewhat true.

According to Snopes.com, a website dedicated to stopping urban legends in their tracks, Cookie and Coco are indeed real dogs and were at one time in need of a new home, but that's where the 'truth' ends. In fact, the dogs were on the other side of the continent in California, and the request was terribly out of date.

Although the latest version of the plea had the owners moving overseas, the original (and true) version was that the dogs' owners simply had to move to another residence and couldn't take them with them.

The first (and legitimate) e-mail was issued in January, 2009, with the 'overseas' aspect being added in July. In fact, the dogs did find a new home months ago and the former owners are still in touch with the new owners. Everyone is happy and healthy -- that is, except for the people (including me) who got caught up in sending around the now-bogus plea for a new home.

Lord knows, there are enough homeless animals everywhere without having to waste our time on wild goose chases like this.

I just wish my instincts would have not been clouded by the emotion of the e-mail. The same goes for sick children. With so many hoaxes going on, it's a wonder how any legitimate request ever gets taken seriously.

Snopes.com is a very interesting site. In fact, you could literally spend hours there going over various myths that have become ingrained in our popular culture. There's even an entire section devoted to folklore surrounding Coca-Cola, or 'Coke.' Ever heard that a tooth would dissolve if left in a glass of Coke overnight? How about the story that the modern image of Santa Claus was created by Coca-Cola? Or that the drink became carbonated by accident? Or that Mikey -- the kid in the Life cereal commercials -- died after ingesting a mixture of Coke and Pop Rocks candy? All false.

Holidays are also fodder for many urban legends, like how eating turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas puts you to sleep. Again, false. It's more like eating the massive amount of food along with the turkey that does that trick. And speaking of Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year in the U.S. is not the day after Thanksgiving, it's actually the last Saturday before Christmas.

And another thing, Caesar salad didn't get its name because it was Julius Caesar's favourite appetizer. It was actually named for its creator, Caesar Cardini, a restaurateur who invented the dish in Mexico in 1924. That's a long way away from ancient Rome.

Celebrities are not immune to the large number of false stories out there about them, either. Many of them have become so prevalent in society that they've become accepted as fact, like how Cass Elliot ('Mama Cass') of the famed 1960s folk singing group The Mamas and the Papas died after choking in bed on a ham sandwich. In fact, she did die in bed with a ham sandwich nearby, but the cause of death was heart failure, not asphyxiation or choking. The sandwich was untouched. Speaking of food, gum that you swallow does not stay in your stomach forever.

And no, forwarding an e-mail from Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates to your friends will not result in money being donated to a charity or a cheque being sent to you.

Reading this column every week, however, does prevent tooth decay. At least that's what the ghost of Michael Jackson told me last week on YouTube.

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