Like a virus

No, not my bronchitis, which I would really like to tell to take a hike.

Of all the “form” letters we get at the Voices page, perhaps the most ubiquitous are email forwards. While we’ll sometimes print jokes that have been forwarded, these political chain letters are another category altogether.

Sometimes they’re in actual emails, or sometimes someone has actually taken the time to type or handwrite them, and often they carry a heading equating to “Urgent! Get the word out because the mainstream media won’t!”

We've come a long way since Orson Welles' War of the Worlds saga. But we're still just as gullible. AP Images.

We’ve come a long way since Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds saga. But we’re still just as gullible. AP Images.

But they all usually have one big thing in common: More often than not, the majority of claims they contain are false.

Yeah, I know.

But even if it’s on the Internet, it’s not necessarily true, French model boyfriends aside.

Just the other day, we received one at the paper that I’d seen several times, but I was still compelled to fact-check it (I’m a bit obsessive that way). The missive was a list of gunmen in several mass shootings, claiming that all were registered Democrats.

Besides the resident-alien Virginia Tech gunman (Seung-Hui Cho) who was ineligible to vote and lived in a state that does not register voters by party, and the Fort Hood gunman (Nidal Hasan) who lived in two states that don’t have partisan registration, the list also included some under the age of 18, and some who were registered as independent or not registered to vote at all.

While there were likely some actual Democrats on the list, logic tells us that some of those listed were likely Republicans. The pathology of a mass murderer is not exclusively left-wing or right-wing, religious or nonreligious, and anyone who claims such a black and white view is not living in reality.

Joseph Fury considers his options inside Church's Chicken after a wait of about two hours. Waiting to take his order is employee Alyssa Webb. Image from Toledo Blade.

Joseph Fury considers his options inside Church’s Chicken after a wait of about two hours. Waiting to take his order is employee Alyssa Webb.
Image from Toledo Blade.

Just about everybody is capable of murder; you might want to remember that the next time you try to cut in line at a packed fast-food restaurant at noon.

We’ve probably all been guilty of forwarding something to friends, family and co-workers that tickled our funnybones or raised our ire. (I tend to stick to funny and/or cute; it’s just safer that way. And who can be angry looking at an otter doing jazz hands????)

jazzhands

However, Net etiquette frowns on sending something to someone who might not be like-minded, especially if the information’s veracity is in question. Sorry to burst your bubble there, but sending an ultraconservative screed about Barack Obama’s views on same-sex marriage to your gay niece is not the way to keep peace in the family.

Classic Grover Cleveland political cartoon by New York illustrator Frank Beard from The Judge magazine.

Classic Grover Cleveland political cartoon by New York illustrator Frank Beard from The Judge magazine.

The Washington Post noted in late 2011: “Grass-roots whisper campaigns such as these predate the invention of the ‘send’ button, of course. No one needed a Facebook page or an email account to spread the word about Thomas Jefferson’s secret love child or Grover Cleveland’s out-of-wedlock offspring.”

With political forwards, in most cases it’s usually safe to assume that most of the claims are not true. So, no, the United Nations treaty to regulate the international import and export of weapons won’t supersede the Second Amendment and would have no effect on private gun ownership in the U.S. And no, George W. Bush did not say that the French have no word for entrepreneur. And yes, I reeeeally wanted that one to be true (Dang it!).

In that 2011 story, the Post found that Snopes turned up 46 viral emails about Bush in his eight years in office; by contrast, in just a few years, Barack Obama had been the subject of 100. Of the Bush emails, 20 were found to be true, and mostly positive. Only 10 of the Obama emails were found to be true, and all were negative.

Image from quickmeme.com.

Image from quickmeme.com.

At the time of the Post piece, PolitiFact had deemed 79 emails false since 2007. As of this Tuesday morning, it had checked 147 such viral emails, only 19 of which were determined to be at least half true (about 13 percent); only six of those 19 were deemed wholly true. PolitiFact deemed 128 of the 147 email forwards at least mostly false (87 percent).

Of all the emails checked, 84, a whopping 57 percent, were deemed “Pants on fire.”

That’s an awful lot of charred khakis. It’s like a sauna in here.

Multiple fact-checkers report that the overwhelming majority of political viral emails are written from a conservative point of view. David Emery, who tracks urban legends on About.com, told the Post in 2011 that probably more than 80 percent of the emails he’d tracked were conservative, adding, “The use of forwarded e-mail to spread [false information] around is overwhelmingly a right-wing phenomenon.”

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich.

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich.

Why? The Post reported that former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer believes it has to do with a traditional mistrust conservatives hold for mainstream media, which Bill Adair of PolitiFact said has historically acted as a filter (and yes, fact-checker, especially in the past few decades).

With the explosion of technology, though, the filter has become overwhelmed, reported Adair: “The Internet is a megaphone that spreads conspiracies quickly before there’s anyone to correct the facts. There’s no one between your crazy uncle and his address book.” And boy, is his address book big.

So what does that mean? When you get an email forward, check its claims out before forwarding one that’s false. And even if it’s true, don’t send it to me.

Hold your horses ... I'm looking for the chocolate!

Hold your horses … I’m looking for the chocolate!

Unless it’s funny or includes cute animals. I can always use a laugh.

And chocolate.

Advertisements