18 June 2010

This post has been confirmed by Snopes!

Ah, email. What a necessary evil you are.

I got an email from my mom today. It was one of those chain letters with some ridiculous claim – in this case, it was the claim that car air conditioners emitted toxic levels of a carcinogen called Benzene. The way to get around this horrible exposure, the email suggested, was to always roll down your windows and air out the car for a few minutes before you turn on the A/C. If course, this email doesn't actually cite any sources, but it does say "confirmed by Snopes.com!". Funny thing is that when you actually go to Snopes.com, you find that Snopes does not actually confirm the story at all.

This reminds me of a similarly stupid one that said you should check gas pump handles for needles that could give you AIDS. Since when are chain emails a reliable source of information? Take the whole cars-and-benzene thing. You'd think that if this were a serious public health hazard, someone from some reputable journalistic outfit would have caught on. The NY Times. Newsweek. Dateline. CNN. Scientific American. Wired. Even... dare I say... Fox News. Someone. But all you have to go on are these emails that, of course, don't actually source anything. And the one reference they give to back up the story doesn't actually back up the story. I've yet to see a single chain email, many of which claim to be verified by Snopes, to actually be verified by Snopes. And while Snopes is a fun, fascinating and generally well-researched website, it's not gospel either. Most of the ridiculous crap in chain emails is the kind of stuff that ought to be verified by multiple reputable independent sources.

So no, I don't check gas pump handles for needles, and I'm not going to roll my windows down every time I get in the car.

1 comment:

  1. You know why chain letters claim to be verified by Snopes? It's another one of their tricks for fooling forwarders. The last thing these hoaxters actually want is for anyone to really go ahead and check out the Snopes link and they are banking on the laziness and assumptions of the forwarders "Oh, there's a Snopes link, then ohmigosh it really is true! Gotta pass it on, NOW!" *spamspamspam* There are even virus warning hoaxes that use this tactic, and the Snopes link they include, actually debunks the hoax itself. But chain-addicts just don't think. They are more than happy to let chain letters take hold and control their brain function, they do anything a chain letter tells them, but are far more reluctant to listen to anything their real friends say or request.

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