Don’t believe everything you read on the ‘net!!

16 Mar

Yeah, I know that sounds like an obvious statement and most intelligent people are going to take things they read on the ‘net and in email with a grain of salt.

But, that’s just not the case. People blindly forward emails without even doing a simple Google search or stopping by Snopes to verify whether or not the information is true. While you may not think that a simple act of forwarding an email without checking it out may be harmless, I have an example that proves otherwise.

My friend Tim Wood is a professor at a university in Missouri. In December, he began to get emails from random people praising him for a political essay he wrote. But, the problem is my friend didn’t write a political essay. After a little research, he discovered a conspiracy theorist’s essay that was attributed to “Tim Wood” that in essence compared President Barrack Obama to Hitler.

My friend Tim, however, saw nothing other than the name that connected him specifically to this essay, and figured it was no big deal. He knows there are several Tim Woods out there. But, recently, he was made aware of the fact that an email version of this essay is now being forwarded around the web, and this email now contains a specific reference to my friend, as it lists his university’s address, email, and telephone number!

He contacted me for help, and I did some digging, and I believe I found the source of how this thing got attributed to him specifically. There’s a website for something called the “American Independent Party”. Someone there re-posted the original essay, and I guess he/she decided to pretend to be an investigative journalist and tried to figure out who the Tim Wood that wrote the article was. I’m guessing the person Googled his name, and found my friend. Since the essay mentions that the writer is a professor of history and my friend is a professor of history and poli sci, the person at the AIP website made the rash assumption that my friend was the essay writer.

She/He never bothered to call my friend to verify this. No, he/she just re-posted the article and then at the bottom wrote “I wonder if this is the Tim Wood who wrote this” and listed my friend’s full contact information. That’s when my friend started to get the emails.

After a month or so, people started copying this essay from the AIP website and pasting in emails, which began to be forwarded around the web. Somewhere along the way, the line “I wonder if this is…” was lost and everyone began to take at face value that the contact information listed with the essay was fact.

So, now my friend has spent a lot of his time and energy fighting something that in no way did he bring on himself. This is the kind of thing that could ruin a professor’s career! Reputation is something that is invaluable for those in academia, and all those people who forwarded the email or reposted the essay on other websites with the contact information, and especially the idiot at the AIP site that posted my friend’s contact information, could have ruined an innocent man’s livelihood!

Luckily, this thing hasn’t gone viral yet, and the original article that was attributed to my friend has been removed. But, the email forwards are still happening.

This kind of blind faith in content found on the ‘net is downright dangerous. As the old adage says, “a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth has gets its boots on.”

So, I am appealing to anyone and everyone that might happen upon this blog post. Please, please, please take a few seconds to reflect on whether or not the information you are about to post or forward is true and verifiable. Going to Snopes or doing a Google search to verify the content only takes a few minutes. If you cannot verify the information, then do not post or forward it.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 16, 2009 in Rant


One response to “Don’t believe everything you read on the ‘net!!

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