Debunking Internet myths

"It’s that time again! As many of you know, each year the Internet must be shut down for 24 hours in order to allow us to clean it. During that 24-hour period, five powerful Internet search engines situated around the world will search the Internet and delete any data that they find."

Were it not for the fact that "searching the Internet" doesn’t work particularly well if it is "shut down", this e-mail hoax might actually be conceivable. In fact, much of the e-mail that gets forwarded is nothing but bunk designed to get itself passed on.

A typical e-mail hoax is composed of three parts: a hook to get you interested, a threat or promise to motivate you and a request, usually that you pass it on.

One of the most common hoaxes of this type is about the boy or girl dying of cancer, AIDS, leukemia or other disease-of-the-week (the hook) who can somehow magically be helped (the promise) by spreading an e-mail to X number of people (the request). Variations of this e-mail purport to save rainforests, raise money for charity, promise free clothing or other goods (GAP products or computers) or promise not to discontinue service or increase rates (ICQ and AIM) if the message is passed on and or signed.

There’s also the chain-letter variety which claims that your love life will suffer as a result of not forwarding the message to X of your closest friends in the next five seconds.

Before passing any of these messages on, consider the claim that they make: that the original senders can determine who you are forwarding the e-mail to, that is, they can track your e-mail activities. Except under very special circumstances, this level of tracking is not possible, and forwarding such messages is a waste of time and resources. Any "e-mail tax" (commonly referred to as Bill 602P in both Canada and the U.S.) would similarly require the government to track every e-mail you send which would be lame and inefficient.

Also important to ignore are certain pseudo-informational or precautionary e-mails, typically regarding some computer or human virus. These appear to come from some kind of authority but do not give genuine contact information for the originator. If anyone reputable found that bananas cause flesh-eating disease, rat-urine is lethal or deodorant and shampoo cause cancer, the information might be important enough to be published in an actual newspaper or make the news. As the result of getting an e-mail, your computer will never, ever turn into green slime, become telekinetic, infect you with a human virus, emit death rays it otherwise cannot or get new capabilities such as the ability to write CDs or receive Major League Baseball transmissions without expressed or implied written or oral consent.

Remember, your luck will not change and the message won’t reveal the secret picture of the Minister dressed as a cow, even if you do close your eyes and say "I love Ralph Nader" three times fast before reading the end of the message and sending it to 30 people–although your health may suffer from retaliatory beatings from those 30 friends.

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