El Gato has come to the conclusion that David Emerys Web site, urbanlegends.about.com, which investigates and debunks all of the junky e-mail messages that circulate, should be subsidized by the federal government if it ever runs out of cash. Years ago, when e-mail chains contained faux information, such as the fable that Bill Gates and Walt Disney Jr. were offering free trips to Disneyland to the first 1,000 people who helped test Gates new e-mail tracking system, the Kitty thought that the site was a fun way to debunk the silliness that filled his mailbox.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Spencer realized just how dangerous and damaging such e-mail could really be and noted that the same folks who usually forwarded e-mail about kidney harvesting were now inadvertently perpetuating misinformation and fear about future terrorist attacks.
Certainly, the restaurants, shops and nightclubs in Boston felt the economic sting from the well-meaning, but inaccurate, e-mail messages containing “friend of a friend” warnings that terrorists would strike the city on Sept. 22, 2001. And how many retailers suffered when a similar e-mail warned people across the nation to stay clear of malls last Halloween?
Recently, El Gato has used Emerys site to debunk e-mail messages containing everything from requests to boycott Pepsi, because it was planning to keep “under God” out of an upcoming promotion involving the Pledge of Allegiance, to one detailing how Sen. Al Gore scoffed at testimony that Osama bin Laden was the most dangerous man alive during the 1983 Iran-Contra hearings. Not only are both stories fabrications, but they also are old mutations of past e-mail hoaxes that have been in circulation for quite a while.
People still tend to believe what they read, whether in print or online, and having misinformation forwarded by a friend almost lends it some additional veil of credibility. Could Pepsi lose a sale or Gore a vote because of such misinformation circulating and sticking in folks minds? Who knows? The Katts advice: Forward only jokes and rude JPEGs.
(Editors Note: This story has been modified since its original posting.)
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