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The Why's Guy

Urban legend or fact? Investigate before forwarding that next political e-mail

Money in the bank.

That's what the e-mail said.

Follow a few simple steps, send a couple of e-mails to friends and Microsoft would be sending me a boatload of cash faster than my computer could crash.

It seems the company is running a test and needs my help.

I still don't have a cell phone, but the army of Einsteinlike technogeeks Bill Gates has assembled needs me!

Mom will be so proud.

What?

Hold on Mom.

It's not true?

Bill won't be sending me thousands of bucks?

I average about one of these urban legend e-mails a week. The modern-day chain letters come from family, friends, co-workers, people I don't remember or people I've never met.

Messages warn of danger, scams, coverups and ways to make money.

With the presidential campaign heating up, the volume of mass-market lies is on the rise.

The Internet has made our lives easier. It's also an easy way to spread false information. We help by forwarding messages en masse.

It has also made us lazy and gullible.

"It's on the Internet," we say. "It must be true."

Right?

Wrong.

It's easy to use the good of the Internet to filter the bad. There are a wealth of Web sites that research these e-mail claims. A simple search for "urban legend" will find some. Check a few out.

Here are 10 examples from one site, Snopes.com. Two are true. Can you pick them out?

1. Our representatives in Congress receive government pensions and do not have to pay into the Social Security system.

2. Needles infected with the human immunodeficiency virus have been attached to the handles of gas pumps.

3. Buying just a few gallons of gas at a time will help drive down the price of oil.

4. Subway sandwich stores in Germany used paper tray liners that showed an overweight Statue of Liberty holding a hamburger and fries.

5. A photograph shows President George W. Bush in a classroom holding a book upside down.

6. Comedian Robin Williams authored a 10-point plan on how to improve America's foreign policy.

7. You can cook an egg by placing it between two cell phones that are calling each other.

8. A photograph shows a shark jumping from the water to attack a diver climbing into a helicopter.

9. Lee Greenwood, whose song God Bless the U.S.A. has become a patriotic anthem, went to Canada to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.

10. Amazing photographs show striped icebergs.

In most case, believing in these legends won't harm you beyond making you look foolish when you forward them. But when it comes to politics, they could change elections.

So take a few seconds to check out the next one before forwarding it. And if it's false, use the Reply to All button to spread the truth.

And the test? The correct answers are 4 and 10.

Be honest. Who picked No. 5?

• • •

Update: It seems Tampa Bay Rays fans are branching out from hating anything associated with the New York Yankees. But the newest target is a little surprising. After the Chicago Cubs visited the Trop, I received this e-mail from Mark Basch in northeast Florida.

"As a Yankees and Cubs fan, I've attended many Rays-Yankees games over the years and have gotten used to Rays fans' hostility toward the Yankees. I can even understand it to some extent.

"But I can't understand the fans' hostility towards the Cubs when they made their first-ever visit. There is no rivalry between the Rays and the Cubs, so why were there anti-Cubs signs and anti-Cubs chants? The Cubs fans were only rooting for their team, with no anti-Rays signs or chants. Why can't Rays fans enjoy their first good team without having to be so hostile to the opposition?"

Times staff writer Kyle Kreiger rants about the serious and silly with one question in mind: Why? Contact him at kreiger@sptimes.com.

Urban legend or fact? Investigate before forwarding that next political e-mail 06/30/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2008 7:52pm]
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