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Email Hoaxes & Urban Legends

One great thing about email is that it is incredibly easy to replicate the same information to several people at once. Sending out a really great joke to everyone you know is hugely popular.

But there are a large number of people out there with incredible and varied senses of humor that will attempt to pull your leg for a good laugh. Or for that matter, inspire outrage just for laughs. Admittedly, a majority of virtual information stakes its reputation on being a dependable source. If it's a news site, or a university, or a commercial enterprise, you can be fairly assured that their web content is as reliable as you would find in any other reporting format. So, how to tell if something is a joke?

This quote is taken from:

  1. Note whether the text was actually written by the person who sent it to you. If not, be skeptical.
  2. Look for the telltale phrase, 'Forward this to everyone you know.'
  3. Look for statements like 'This is not a hoax' or 'This is not an urban legend.' They usually mean the opposite of what they say.
  4. Look for overly emphatic language, the frequent use of UPPERCASE LETTERS and multiple exclamation points!!!!!!!
  5. If the message seems geared more to persuade than to inform, be suspicious. Hoaxers are out to push emotional buttons.
  6. If the message purports to give you extremely important information that you've never heard of before or seen elsewhere in legitimate venues, be suspicious.
  7. Read carefully and think critically about what the message says, looking for logical inconsistencies, violations of common sense and obviously false claims.
  8. Look for subtle or not-so-subtle jokes, indications that the author is pulling your leg. (A great example is the Bonsai Kitten web site protest petition email)
  9. Check for references to outside sources. Hoaxes will not typically name any, nor link to Websites with corroborating information.
  10. Check to see if the message has been debunked by Websites that cover Internet hoaxes

Two very excellent sites to check up on recent net hoaxes and urban legends are listed below. You can certainly find more, but these two sites are well informed and extensive: Urban Legends

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Material last updated March 2009

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