12 September 2005

Question Everything

Especially if it comes to you in email. Skepticism is thoroughly scientific, despite Fox Mulder's questioning the wrong things. ;)

  • Have you seen gorgeous pictures of hurricane Katrina approaching a town in Mississippi? Did you notice that the ground's all farmland? And that the "eye" area is much too small for the typical "clear, calm, and sunny"? If so, you've got the key points that Snopes.com identified in this mistaken identity hoax.

  • Did you know that in September of 2005 Mars is going to approach so close that it'll be bigger than the Moon? Did you notice that the same email went out in 2003? Did you stop and think that if Mars were actually close enough to the Earth that it were as big as the Moon, that its gravity would probably be stronger than the Moon's and we'd have killer tides worse than the December 2004 tsunami or August 2005 hurricane Katrina? Did you read the explanation that it's a recycled email with a typo in the original?

  • Fwd: Fw: virus alert - WORST VIRUS EVER ---CNN ANNOUNCED -- PLEASE SEND THIS TO EVERYONE ON YOUR CONTACT LIST !! Aw man, there's more of these than I can list... Read my post on it for a summary of how to know if it's a real virus or a hoax, and how to best prevent yourself from getting virii all around.

Here's what I do when I get a forwarded email that seems a bit sneaky.

  1. Go to Google and look up keywords in the email. Examples for the three above might be "Katrina hurricane photos", "Mars moon telescope", and "virus alert 'card for you' ".

  2. Google will give you many hits; look for sites that you personally believe to be reliable. I trust CNN, BBC, the NY Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post for news; Sophos, Symantec, MacAfee, Norton for virus; Snopes for general urban legends.

  3. Read or skim at least two or three of your "trustworthy" hits. If they agree with each other, then I will consider them all true.

  4. Compose a well-reasoned reply/rebuttal to the individual explaining why the forwarded email is faulty. I am sure to include the references I used so they can independently verify it. Suggest they follow a similar line of attack next time they receive an email like that one.

  5. If the person CC'd others, I also CC them on my reply, and ask that they put me on BCC (blind carbon-copy) for mass emails when applicable, so that spammers don't find my email address in the future, and so that when one of the others does receive a virus they don't have me in their address book. (If they don't know enough to avoid hoaxes, they probably don't know enough to avoid real viruses.)

  6. Send. Delete original. Rant. Repeat as necessary.

Have you been taken in by an email hoax? Or is there one you didn't understand the explanation of? Let me know!


Matt Jones said...

7. Use common sense. ;)

Heh, I particularily liked the Mars one. I was amazed at how many people really thought this one was true.


doris said...

I am so with you in identifying and dealing with these things but am despondent after repeatedly asking people not to include me on these open cc lists and find they still do it.

zandperl said...

I knew this year's Mars one was a hoax as soon as I heard rumors of it, since Mar's orbit is not synchronous with ours so we wouldn't expect the event to happen at the same time of year. And there's no way I'd forget that date as it was a Revenge of Murphy's Law event involving fresh tar, blocked roads, running out of gas, and THEN changing a flat at 1am. Remind me to put the story on my main blog someday if it's not already there, which I don't think it is.

Have you tried emailing back to the whole open list with a description of why that email is stupid? It's embarassed a few guilty parties into taking me off their lists.