Hardly a day goes by without at least one email arriving in each of my inboxes which deathlessly, breathlessly informs me of an item of absolutely critical import that:
a) I must not delete, and
b) Simply must forward along to everyone on my mailing list, lest "they" take over the world as we know it.
Examples? Well, within the last 10 days, I have been vouchsafed the following "facts":
- That President Obama plans on honoring "Hanoi Jane" Fonda as one of the '100 Women of the Century.' This email, after exhaustively revisiting the "facts" of Ms. Fonda's ill-conceived 1968 trip to North Vietnam -- for which she has both publicly and profusely apologized over the past 4 decades -- concludes, in capital letters, "IF YOU NEVER FORWARDED ANYTHING IN YOUR LIFE, FORWARD THIS SO THAT EVERYONE WILL KNOW!!!!! A TRAITOR IS ABOUT TO BE HONORED. KEEP THIS MOVING ACROSS AMERICA.
- That this very week, the University of Kentucky "removed the Holocaust from its curriculum because it 'offended' the Muslim population, which claims it never occurred. . . . This email is intended to reach 40 million people worldwide. Please don't just delete it. It will only take you a minute to pass it on!"
- That on pages 1000-1008 of "H.R. 3200 [Healthcare Bill]," one will discover that Obama and the Democrats have sneaked through a provision which "requires that patients be implanted with microchips," to be part of a "National Medical Device Registry."
- That President Obama's recent trip to India cost taxpayers $200 million a day; moreover, that the administration used more than 40 airplanes, and took over "Five hundred seventy rooms at the Taj Mahal," and that
- Cell phone users must register their numbers with a national "Do Not Call" directory by a given deadline to prevent their cell phone numbers from being released to telemarketers.
First and foremost, all five of these "facts" are absolutely false. Without getting into tremendous detail, it is worth noting that:
- The Jane Fonda story has been circulating around the Internet since 2009. The email in question goes into close detail about how Ms. Fonda "humiliated various American POWs and actually handed over their Social Security numbers to their North Vietnamese captors." Recent interviews with POWs named in the email reveals that nothing of the sort occurred. In matter of fact, the "100 Women of the Century" was a project of the Ladies Home Journal and a TV special hosted by Barbara Walters that aired April 30, 1999. Jane Fonda was one of the 100.
- The original version of the "University of Kentucky to remove Holocaust from its school curriculum" has been hanging around the Internet since at least 2007. Moreover, in the original email, "UK" meant "United Kingdom," not "University of Kentucky." As early as November 2007, the University of Kentucky issued a press release strongly denouncing the rumor. Moreover, nothing of the sort occurred in the United Kingdom. The BBC quoted an official of the Department of Education and Skills (DES) who maintained that "Teaching of the Holocaust is already compulsory in schools at Key State 3 (ages 11-14) and it will remain so . . ."
- The "implanted microchip" canard references "Section 2521, page 1000 . . . of HR 3200." In matter of fact, HR 3200 was an earlier House version of health care reform legislation that was never passed by Congress. The bill which Congress did enact, HR 3590, in no way mandated that anyone be implanted with any type of microchip device, for any reason. What the bill does call for is the creation of a registry which allows the Department of Health and Human Services to collect data about medical devices "used in or on a patient" -- including devices which patients consent to have implanted in them during surgery, such as pacemakers.
- Although no one knows precisely how much the president's trip to India and the G-20 Summit in Japan cost, $200 million a day is preposterous. This story goes back to an unsubstantiated rumor published by one Indian news agency quoting an "anonymous source." Moreover, the Obama party did not take over "Five hundred seventy rooms" at the Taj Mahal." The Taj Mahal is a museum, not a hotel. The Obama party did stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel, which though undeniably 5-star, is decidedly not the museum.
- The cell-phone op-out registry is a demonstrable falsity which has been circulating for more than 7 years. It apparently grew out of a misunderstanding about the proposed creation of a wireless directory assistance service -- a service which has never seen the light of day.
It is often said that once something makes it on to the Internet, it remains there in perpetuity. How fascinating. How frightening! Especially in light of how many people tend to believe much of what appears on their computer screens. Why would so many people perpetrate -- and perpetuate -- so many obvious misstatements, exaggerations and downright lies? Indeed, what is there about the human psyche that leads many otherwise bright, creative, technically-savvy people to create worms, viruses and other malevolencies with which to wreak cyber havoc? Those chapters in the gigantic text of abnormal psychology, I fear, have yet to be written.
Historically, ethics, legalism and human psychology have always lagged behind technology. Daimler, Benz, Ford et al produced horseless carriages years before municipalities found the need for speed laws or drivers even considered the need for automotive etiquette. Lumière and Edison were screening "flickers" and "moving pictures" years before anyone thought about the necessity of copyrighting their material.
We've all heard the expression, "Any country that can land a man on the moon can end . . ." And whether that which can be accomplished is the end of hunger, war, discrimination or inequality, the first part of the equation is purely technical or scientific; the second mostly ethical with a dollop of politics. Today, we are faced with a relatively new world of technology -- cyberspace -- that is far, far out in front of ethics and etiquette.
Many of the lies, fabrications and exaggerations on the Internet, have a political basis; the ability to do damage to one's enemies (or prop up one's allies) via virtual assault. Others likely stem from the fact that there are many people who cannot resist placing stumbling blocks in front of those who are -- metaphorically speaking -- blind, deaf, halt or lame. Then too, I guess some folks just get their kicks out of scaring the living daylights out of the unsuspecting.
Until the time comes when cyber bullies and Internet prevaricators fade into oblivion, I would recommend that everyone keep two live links handy on their toolbars: "Snopes" and "Factcheck.Org." These two sites, better than most (and there are certainly others) research the relative truth or falsity of all those fantastic emails that keep appearing in our inboxes.
Remember, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets a chance to put its pants on . . ." (Sir Winston Churchill)
©2010 Kurt F. Stone