Friday, April 28, 2006

Computer hoaxes, rumors and urban legends

What they are and what you can do about them

HoaxesWe aren't strangers to urban legends. The crazed stalker of couples in lovers' lane. The baby alligator brought back as a souvenir from Florida that, when flushed down the toilet, lived and hunted in the sewers. Some legends live on from one generation to the next. (Do we even have lovers' lanes anymore, and aren't alligators a protected or endangered species?)

Real or hoax? You be the judge

Remember Mikey, the Life cereal kid who wouldn't eat anything? Well, you may also remember the rumor (totally unfounded) about twenty years ago that he died while eating Pop Rocks (the effervescent candy) when he drank a can of soda and his stomach exploded. (I wrote my senior thesis on that and other business rumors.) Rumors, especially those that sound believable, have abounded for centuries. It isn't any different in cyberspace. In fact, they move faster online than they ever could offline.

Someone went to a movie and sat down on a hypodermic needle that had been left on the seat. She then contracted AIDS. Someone else was drugged by a beautiful woman and woke up in a bathtub filled with ice to find a kidney missing. (Apparently it had been removed and sold to someone who needed a kidney transplant.)

But most good hoaxes and rumors have three main ingredients- they could happen, they touch something we know about or think is true (people can get HIV from an exposed infected needle, and people are desperate for transplant organs), and they feed on fear (getting HIV/AIDS, being drugged by strangers, dangers of having sex with strangers, etc.).

The difference between a rumor and a hoax is that while hoaxes are planned fakes, rumors may be believed and innocently passed on. But since once a hoax is passed on by people who believe it, it becomes a rumor.

Computer virus rumors are common cyberhoaxes

E-mail hoax messages warning about some new virus hazard arrive in our mailbox daily. While some are true, many are not. A lot of people are fooled, though.

What Can You Do About It?

Luckily, there are several great resources you can refer to when you get your next e-mail announcing Armageddon, especially e-mails announcing the latest viruses. These sites will help you decide what to pay careful attention to and which to just ignore.

Before you forward any e-mail proclaiming the latest virus, check it out. It's good Netiquette and a good way to preserve your credibility. And if you know someone who's rumormongering in cyberspace, tell them, too. (Otherwise, ignore anything they send you, or tell them to remove you from their rumor mailing list).

Follow this link to find out more about chain e-mail and virus hoaxes and what to do about them >>

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