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« Skeptics' Circle #7 The RantsScribbled Above the Urinal »

Busting Internet Bullshit
2005.04.29 (Fri) 01:44

Attention all Two Percent Company readers: please take a look at the following official virus warning which we recieved this morning:

This information arrived this morning, from Yahoo and McAfee. Please send it to everybody you know who accesses the Internet.

Hackers are sending out a very cute screensaver of the Budweiser Frogs. If you download it, your computer will send threats to people in your address book! Your hard drive will crash and someone from the Internet will steal your credit cards! DO NOT DOWNLOAD IT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! It just went into circulation this morning. Please distribute this message to all of your coworkers.

This is a new, very malicious virus and not many people know about it. This information was announced yesterday morning from Norton. Please share it with everyone that might access the Internet.

Once again, Pass this along To EVERYONE in your address book so that this may be stopped. Norton has said that this is a very dangerous virus and that there is NO remedy for it at this time.

That sounds bad! As the e-mail states, please forward this on to everyone in your address book immediately, or sooner! Also, you may want to hang a sign displaying this message on your house or apartment, and perhaps get a bumper sticker printed up as well. In addition, we have heard that this virus creates something called "DLL" files on your hard drive. To be safe, please check your computer for "DLL" files, and if you find any delete them all without hesitation! When you forward this e-mail to everyone in your address book, be sure to include at least 50 people, 10 of whom use Yahoo mail, 10 from Hotmail, 10 from a country other than yours, and at least 30 employees of Microsoft. While this won't stop the virus, it will trigger a pop-up window in which you'll find Bill Gates' personal bank account number, and a gift certificate for $25 off at Applebee's. It will also cause the Red Cross, the Blue Cross, and the Green Cross to donate $.07 per email to a terminally ill child whose last wish was to get really rich via a bogus e-mail pyramid scheme.

Yeah. We've all received them — those ubiquitous e-mail forwards making claims that, at face value, seem incredible, heartbreaking, fortuitous, or just plain weird. And because of our reputations among our friends as skeptics, we tend to get even more than average, many asking us to confirm or deny the authenticiy of the claim in question. So, whether it's a message about how we can get free money or gift certificates, a letter about a poor sick child, or a political message meant to incite righteous anger, we investigate.

Take the following example, sent to Tom of the Two Percent Company by his co-worker whom we'll call Rob:

Hey Tom, when you get a minute...let me know if you think this is true or not...Thanks, Rob.

=========================
2008 Election Issue !!

GET A BILL STARTED TO PLACE ALL POLITICIANS ON SOC. SEC.
This must be an issue in "2008." Please! Keep it going.

SOCIAL SECURITY:

(This is worth reading. It is short and to the point.)

Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions during election years.

Our Senators and Congresswomen do not pay into Social Security and, of course, they do not collect from it.

<snip>

When they retire, they continue to draw the same pay until they die. Except it may increase from time to time for cost of living adjustments. For example, former Senator Byrd and Congressman White and their wives may expect to draw $7,800,000.00 (that's Seven Million, Eight-Hundred Thousand Dollars), with their wives drawing $275,000.00 during the last years of their lives.

This is calculated on an average life span for each of those two Dignitaries. Younger Dignitaries who retire at an early age, will receive much more during the rest of their lives. Their cost for this excellent plan is $0.00. NADA....ZILCH....

<snip>

If enough people receive this, maybe a seed of awareness will be planted and maybe good changes will evolve.

How many people can YOU send this to?

Keep this going clear up thru the 2008 election!! We need to be heard

What an outrage! These damned politicians don't pay into Social Security, and they reap huge benefits at our expense! Something had to be done! Immediately, Tom sprang into action. His action lasted all of thirty seconds, most of which was used waiting for the Snopes page to load up. Within five minutes of receipt of the above e-mail, Tom was able to send off the following reply:

It is not true.
[Senate.gov link]

A good place to check up on internet rumors is Snopes. Here is the Snopes write up on this rumor, which includes the same email you received, as well as a point by point refutation:
[Snopes link]

From the Snopes page on this particular urban legend, we see, in summary:

Claim: Members of Congress receive lavish pensions but are not required to contribute to the Social Security fund.

Status: False.
...

Origins: This piece has been circulating on the Internet since April 2000. So much of it is outdated, inaccurate, or misleading, it's difficult to know where to begin.

There's a lot more there as well, including links to government sites which lay out the retirement plans for civil servants, point-by-point debunking of the e-mail's claims, and even sample texts of several similar e-mails, one of which is an exact duplicate of the one sent by Rob, except that the election year has been changed from 2004 to 2008.

To us, the news that this little gem was a hoax was hardly surprising. In our experience, we would say that, conservatively, 90% of the e-mail forwards that we've ever been sent are complete and utter bullshit.

How many of these have you heard? That if you forward an e-mail to a certain number of people, a cool video will pop-up on your screen? That George W. Bush has the lowest IQ of any president according to a study by the Lovenstein Institute? Or that the black and white image below is from a 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine forecasting the possibility of "home computers" in 50 years? (It's not...the color version is the original image.)

The world of tomorrow!

To us (and probably to many of you) these examples are so overused that they no longer sound even remotely believable — they have passed into the realm of internet mythology. But incredibly, many are still going strong today. Heck, just last month, we heard a local radio station talking about that wacky 1954 Popular Mechanics picture of the computer with the wheel. Seriously!

And how 'bout those virus hoaxes? Check out the Random Virus Hoax Generator. Do any of the randomly generated e-mail texts seem familiar? It's possible that you've received one of these as a forward — we know that we have. We also used it for our opening "warning" above. How many of these little beauties have you received? Amazing, isn't it?

Luckily, there is no shortage of tools available these days to help bust this internet bullshit. Any time you receive an e-mail forward, we recommend that your first stop is Snopes. From the Snopes FAQ, we see how they operate:

Q: How do I know the information you've presented is accurate?

A: We don't expect anyone to accept us as the ultimate authority on any topic, which is why our site's name indicates that it contains reference pages. Unlike the plethora of anonymous individuals who create and send the unsigned, unsourced e-mail messages that are forwarded all over the Internet, we show our work. The research materials we've used in the preparation of any particular page are listed in the bibliography displayed at the bottom of that page so that readers who wish to verify the validity of our information may check those sources for themselves.

Now that's an approach that we can get behind! You can go through the main Snopes page for general hoaxes, or through the Inboxer Rebellion page for a fast-track to those silly e-mails. Additionally, Snopes lists their Top 25 Urban Legends for easy reference.

If you have a slightly more in-depth question that arises from an e-mail forward, and Snopes can't answer it, then head over to the Straight Dope, Cecil Adams' site. Cecil fields questions on just about any and every topic that you can imagine, which tends to include a large number of urban legends. The site operates by a simple motto that we fully empathize with:

Fighting Ignorance Since 1973
(It's taking longer than we thought)

For those pesky virus warning e-mails, we used to go to Jay Jennings' Virus Hoax, but lately that site seems to be having problems (and could possibly be abandoned). Barring the re-emergence of that formerly top notch site, both McAfee and Symantec maintain lists of virus hoaxes, as well as a site called Sophos. Sophos was also kind enough to provide a feed that can be included in any web site, listing the top virus hoaxes on the market at any given time. We've installed that feed in our Score for your convenience.

In order to facilitate the debunking of these e-mailed annoyances, we have added a Bullshit Busters section on our main Rants page. This list includes links to Snopes and the Straight Dope, as well as both McAfee and Symantec for virus hoaxes. In addition, we have included a few other busters of different types of bullshit — the James Randi Educational Foundation and the Skeptic's Dictionary, both of which are aimed at debunking bullshit of the non-e-mailed variety, and QuackWatch, a family of sites which focus on exposing the truth behind medical quackery.

We're pretty sure that most of our readers are aware of some or all of these resources, but we figured that it couldn't hurt to put them all in one place. If we missed any good bullshit busters, please let us know. And keep fighting the ignorance!


— • —
[  Filed under: % Bullshit  % Computers & the Internet  ]

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