Is that e-mail fact or fiction?

Charity Cicardo

We hear people say that the Internet is filled with inaccurate information, yet we don’t really listen, which is apparent by the number of hoaxes that are passed along on e-mail each year. I am grouping the Internet and e-mail together as typically the chain e-mails we receive are from information gleaned from the net. The Internet is a huge library and e-mail is its quickest method of delivery. What’s so confounding is that these mythical e-mails typically have made their rounds years ago and then they start back up again as if new material. Even when someone discovers the chain e-mail is a hoax, it simply won’t die. An example: Worker dead at desk for five days. This article, which supposedly ran in the New York Times, describes how George Turklebaum, age 51, had been employed as a proofreader at a New York firm for 30 years when he had a heart attack in the office. Nobody noticed until five days later. Having spent 30 years in the publishing business, I, too, have had to proofread and know what a thankless and monotonous task it is, but I believe someone would notice even if one were slumped over on top of a mountain of proofs. The dead giveaway—no pun intended—would be that the red grease pencil used to mark proofs would probably not be found in the person’s hand. Rather it would be lying on the desk, a sure sign that the person was either sleeping (very probable) or dead (highly unlikely). So, where does one turn to find out whether a chain e-mail is real? All e-mail users should have snopes.com in their favorites. This website debunks all the myths and gives credence to the facts. I used to think everyone knew about this site; however, I still run across acquaintances who have never heard of the site and are astonished to learn that so many of the e-mails they have forwarded are myths and have been around for years. The story about the poor worker who supposedly died at his desk in New York City originally was published in the Birmingham (England) Sunday Mercury in 2000. (Difficult to believe this e-mail has been roaming around for so long.) Over the years other newspapers reported the article that no one can substantiate. Snopes.com stated it best when it wrote that this story is “a prime example of why we stress repeatedly that the appearance of a news story in one or more newspapers is no guarantee of its truthfulness. Extraordinary news requires extraordinary documentation, which is something more than a bevy of newspapers running the same unsourced piece.” Reporters and journalist should know better than to run an article with no sources, but that is the greatest failing of the Internet: Now everyone is a “reporter” and most have no idea what the difference between fact and fiction is. When you receive one of the chain e-mails with "astounding" information—typically they are about politicians or a possible crime spree—check out the information first by going to snopes.com or a similar site. As part of our duties as responsible citizens, we need to take a moment and check out whether information we are receiving and passing on to others is true or false. The Internet and the use of e-mail has raised the bar—there’s now more information, both myths and truths--for everyone to see. Before passing it along, do all of us a favor and check it out first.

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