On The Duty To Snuff Out Web Hoaxes

nigerian prince“Today’s” web page has a well-considered feature dealing with the common situation of a friend on Facebook or e-mail who is spreading a web hoax, false rumor or bad information. It’s threshold query: do you have an obligation to correct it? The short answer is yes, but with caveats. You can’t spend all your time knocking down web nonsense, and there are some hoaxes that aren’t important enough to devote much time to killing.

A few years ago, a smart and canny lawyer friend circulated an e-mail advising people who were in the throes of a heart attack to intentionally cough, citing a source that had given this as a helpful survival tip. One of those on her distribution list immediately e-mailed her and everyone else alerting them that the advice was completely wrong, and potentially deadly. That timely correction may have saved a life.

It is also prudent and kind to be especially protective of seniors and others you know who may be new to the internet. That damned Nigerian prince and your friend who is stranded in a foreign country and needs money to get home still fool nice, gullible people after all the warnings and articles. It’s a jungle out there, and we all have a duty to warn each other when we see predators lurking.

The Today article, “Friends Spreading Internet Hoaxes?…” is here.

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Pointer: Fark

Source: Today (NBC)

7 thoughts on “On The Duty To Snuff Out Web Hoaxes

  1. HELLO MR. MRASHALL, I AM NIGERIAN PRINCE FROM NIGERIA. I HAVE COME INTO MONEY EQUAL BUT NOT GREATER THAN $ 1. 000. 000. AMERICAN DOLLARS WHEN ED MCMAHON VISITED MY GRASS HUT AND HANDED ME A LARGE NOVELTY AMERICAN CHECK FROM THE HOUSE THAT CLEARS THE PUBLISHERS.

    I AM HERE TO PRESENT AN OFFER FOR YOU OF FIVE PERCENT (5%) OF THIS TOTAL FOR THE TRANSFERRANCE OF THIS MONEY TEMPORARILY IN YOUR ACCOUNT. I TRUST YOU, RANDOM MAN I EMAILED, TO NOT SPEND MY MONEY WHILE I LEAVE IT THERE FOR SEVERAL WEEKS AS I ATTEMPT TO GAIN PASSAGE TO THE AMERICA STATES. I AM HAPPY TO DO THE BUSINESS WITH YOU. PLEASE SEND YOU BANK ACCOUNT NUMBER, NAME, SOCIAL SECURTY NUMBER AND THE CHEAT CODES TO SUPER MARIO, BECAUSE I CAN’T BEAT THAT ONE SCREEN WITH THE TWO HAMMER BROTHERS ON IT.

    THANK YOU GREATLY FOR YOUR TIME. DON’T FORGET TO HOLLA BACK.

    WARMEST REGARDS,

    DR. TRUSTWORTHY INVESTMENT BANKER

    • Please send a private e-mail account, as I would never put my account #s on a public blog. I am certainly eager to help…we ethicist are like that–kind, generous, trusting to a fault.

  2. I must get e-mails like this four times a year… Honestly, who could believe them? Sorry, tho, it is not within my purview (or my time) to protect the morons who buy this crap. A stranger from a foreign country appears out of nowhere and assures you hundreds of thousands of dollars for “helping” him/her move money around to everyone’s benefit? Give me a break. No excuse for the ‘oldsters’ new to the Internet, either.

  3. I fell for the DIY-CPR-by-coughing legend. But my luck probably lies in the fact that when I felt the chest pains, I deliberately held back on coughing vigor, to avoid aggravating other, pre-existing problems.

    (I haven’t been checked lately – last time, all looked good – but I probably wasn’t having a heart attack when I had those chest pains, anyway.)

    Keeping in touch, staying connected – basic, daily “socializing” – I think is the ethical path to dealing effectively with all the mischievous noise where hoaxes lurk. If even a misanthrope like me recognizes that and lives it despite himself, it ought to be even easier for most others, even shut-ins.

  4. I have wondered about how I will come across in pointing out to people who post things like this that they are spreading something false. Is it my job to be the righteous police? I compare this to the situation when someone uses a word incorrectly in written or spoken form, spells something wrong or uses incorrect grammar in a text, tweet or facebook comment.

    Sometimes it is better to let the mistake slide. This is especially so if the conversation is friendly and informal, like most communicating on facebook and texts should be. I have a son who is by nature editorial and I have to point out to him that there is a fine line he crosses when he points out an error someone made when he otherwise has clarity on what they meant. Is it worth the chance that they will feel judged by him? Are you their English teacher? Their boss? As his mother, of course I naturally expected not only clarity in communicating, but correct grammar, enunciation, etc. I felt a bit guilty that he would turn around and use my teaching method on his friends when I could sense he was coming off sounding oh so superior.

    So back to the idea of web hoaxes. Recently a friend (the wife of a retired Army Colonel, a Republican who ran for a Florida Senate seat) posted a rant attributed to Bill Cosby called “I’m 76 and Tired”. I thought it sounded nothing like Bill so I looked it up. He had a disclaimer on his site and Snopes also discredited the piece. It had over one million likes and shares on facebook! Over one million times people are reading a diatribe printed along with his picture. I wondered if that wasn’t cause for slander some how. These things get a life of their own in the viral state, so it might be hard to pin down who initiated it. Then a week later a person I know who recently graduated from college posted Robin Williams’ plan for US foreign affairs. I am going to cut her some slack, as she is young. “Just exactly what credentials does Mr. Williams hold so that we should listen to his plan?” was my first response – which I kept to myself. But after I read through this plan I suspected he didn’t say it and low and behold he didn’t. I let both of these go, as I did not want to be the facebook propriety police. Next time I see the girl’s mother I’ll share it with her, as I do think she need some gentle educating.

    These cases are different than the one you mentioned where an emailed so-called life saving technique could actually prove problematic if used. When people make incorrect assumptions and post about the healthy attributes of agave sweetener for diabetics, for example, I cannot hold my tongue. The manufactures of this product and the sellers use deceptive marketing and although despicable it is legal, as it is not regulated by the FDA. Since evidenced based science has discovered an irrefutable link with ingesting large quantities of fructose and metabolic syndrome including diabetes, I feel obligated to set the record straight – and to provide links to articles in journals that tell the truth about that sweetener. There is controlled ignorance in the population at the hands of our pitiful FDA, ADA and USDA when it comes to the safety and efficacy of fructose.

    But the political rants ascribed to the wrong individuals? Cosby and Williams can fight their own fight. My friends who post the rants obviously agree with them so my finding fault with the whole thing could possibly ignite a political discussion I am not willing to have with them. I’d rather have discourse with someone who is not gullible and has better critical thinking skills if I am going to talk about politics. Just today someone posted about the famous but failed Gatorade commercial you can find by searching for “Amazing ball girl catch, shows the players how it is done!” I won’t post the link as I’ve realized some of my comments that included url’s never posted here. Totally fake. Telling how tens of thousands of people and websites have posted that one.

    So to avoid being the one to point out to someone how gullible they are I keep my mouth shut. It would be different if I were talking face to face with a really good friend or a family member. If it is my children – no mercy, they get gently corrected. I chose not to be “that one” in public to facebook friends and acquaintances, though. If it is a health or life threatening matter that is another story.

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