Friday, September 30, 2011

The Truth Fairy

While reviewing the seemingly endless stream of posts on Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook and the other services I follow, I was reminded of a great resource everyone should use, a lot.

As more and more people rely upon information they find on the internet or receive in emails, we need a quick way to fact check. It is very important to validate information, particularly if it is coming from a less than totally authoritative source.

You have probably received emails from friends and co-workers with startling information, warnings of a virus that will eat your hard drive or get rich quick via email schemes. Beyond the now infamous Nigerian scam, there are many false promises of money for forwarding email and equally untrue warnings of impending doom if you even use your computer on a certain date. These hoaxes often contain details, screen shots, error messages and even instructions to be followed. They look, sound and feel like the real deal.

A healthy dose of skepticism is highly advised. Should you receive one of these messages your first instinct should be to visit www.SNOPES.com. This site is an excellent way to quickly and reliably determine if there is any truth at all to what you are being told. Snopes has been collecting and reporting on internet hoaxes for many years and has an extensive library covering almost every conceivable category. Browse the site and I guarantee you will see many items that look familiar.

Search on Snopes for the the subject line or a key phrase from your suspect message and it will immediately confirm or expose the truth.

No one is quite sure why people create and send these hoax messages around. Other than the obvious attempt to dupe you out of your money, a chain letter scam and false virus warnings really serve no purpose. Perhaps these messages start out as a prank. Then your friends, neighbors and relatives, believing it to be true, genuinely want to alert you to the opportunity or danger. The authors are relying upon the good intentions of people, knowing they are likely to share. Like the old shampoo commercial, each person sends it to everyone they know and it multiplies exponentially.

The Truth Fairy
So, the next time you get one of these gems in your inbox, don't get excited, scared or annoyed. Don't forward it to everyone you know. Check it out with Snopes. Once you know it is a hoax, do yourself and everyone else a favor and don't pass it on. Instead, politely pass a link to this column back to the person who sent it to you in the first place.

Maybe next time they too will check the facts before spreading the hoax.

Captain Joe

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