The internet is a new technology to many people. A lot of them do not understand how easy it is for false information to be packaged convincingly. When encouraged to do so, they will spread such stories far and wide only to find out later they were untrue. In the past they have been known as Urban Legends. There are a couple of key phrases that usually mark such a story. One would be “This is not a Hoax!” and the other would be, "send this to everyone you know" (or words to that effect.)

Contrary to what some people may tell you…

There is another class of internet creature which came from the world of Postal mail. The Chain letter. You will not have bad luck if you fail to forward a Chain letter on to at least 9 of your friends. Many people’s reactions, when they first learn they’ve been fooled is anger. “Why would somebody do this?” Hoaxing is an ancient form of entertainment. It’s probably been going on even before the origin of language itself. What’s different now is that due to the internet, a given hoax can spread at the speed of light to literally millions of people.

Can People be Hurt by circulating Hoaxes?

You bet they can. Many people probably still believe that 4,000 Israelis called in sick from their jobs at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, a completely fictitious story that circulated widely on news wires for many days before the truth emerged. One company had their stock drop 60% as a result of a hoax. How to confirm or deny whether something is a hoax:
  1. I selected a unique part of the text, in other words, some text unlikely to be found in any other document, a person’s name or a peculiar and copied it to the clipboard.
  2. Went to the Hoaxbuster’s site, which is one of my “Favorites”: (or)
  3. Asked for a “Search” and pasted in the contents of the clipboard into the search field, hit enter
  4. In many cases, this will give you the answer. Other times it won’t. It may be due to your choice of text, choose a different part of the message and search for that. Or go to other Hoax websites and search on those. If you don’t find it at all, this doesn’t prove it’s not a hoax, only that it’s not a known hoax. Run the search for the same text on Google or Yahoo to see if it leads you to the original article.

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All of which brings me to the following conclusion: If there's one thing I've learned from the Internet, it's that people are gullible enough to fall for just about anything

Sources: Last updated 6.06.04

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