Web Browser Guide: Scams, Hoaxes, Rumor Mills, and Online Trash – Check the Facts

Filed as Features, Guides on June 7, 2007 5:56 pm

Make money now! Send this email to 10 people in the next 5 days…! Boycott X! Did you know you can die from soap scum? Be terrified. Be warned! Be afraid! Be happy! Spread the good word! Share with your friends! Tell everyone you know! Excuse me, before we get too carried away here, STOP!

If you get email, blog comments or comment spam, or see any of these on the web, including those sent you you from well-meaning friends or relatives, kill them immediately.

While these don’t necessarily deal with how to use your browser specifically, as part of the ongoing Web Browser Guide for Bloggers, hoaxes, scams, and evil are all around us, within and without the web, often entering our life through our web browsers, often making their way into our blogs.

Why is it that we are more gullible on the web than we are in our daily lives?

Bloggers are quickly becoming the new suckers. We read something in our web browsers and immediately think it must be true. Sure, there’s a little bit of doubt, but how would you really know if it is true or not? You look at the blog’s design and layout, the way they sound so authoritative in their blog post, and immediately assume they know what they are talking about. Hey, if the blog features their photograph, what they say must be true. Right?

With bloggers, it doesn’t stop there. We copy key points from their blogs in our web browser and paste it into our blog post and publish it, shouting to the world that this must be true, interesting, and fascinating. And you must visit my blog and read all about it.

Recently, Business Wired reported on an iPhone Hoax which not only spread a false story across the web, it actually impacted Apple’s stock market value with the “news”. Engadget announced a delay in production of the iPhone based upon what is now known to be an email hoax.

According to Business Wired, “This news was enough to send Apple stocks sliding 4.3% in under six minutes, from $107.89 to $103.42, wiping out nearly $4 Billion of Apple’s market cap.” Apple later denied this story and reported that they were on track and this was indeed a hoax. It didn’t stop bloggers from echoing Engadget’s report across the web. Datamining has a great chart which measures the influence this hoax had on the web.

How many of those bloggers reporting on the delay now know this was a hoax and have removed or updated their blog post echoes?

What we read in our web browsers may or may not be true. Truth is not found in looking at the web page design, typography, the about page, or even the history of the blogger. It is found in verifying what you read.

For bloggers and other web users, this is much harder than you think. It involves some work.

Evaluating Blog Content for the Truth

Some things to consider when evaluating blog content for the truth, validating their claim, are:

  • Evaluate the language used: Are the words used in the post full of hype, promises, and too much excitement? Does it use sensational language? Does it say “the best”, “the most”, “most popular”, “unbelievable”, “too good to be true”, “you’ll have to see it to believe it”, and other dramatic words and phrases? Or are the words serious, calm, and stating “facts”.
  • Are sources credited? Are there links in the post referencing the source of the information? Or just claims without sources?
  • Check the sources: Many reference a source in a blog post which may or may not be the source but merely another post that may link to another source, and another source, and so on, but not be the source of the information. Before blogging, check their sources to see if they hold up.
  • Are the sources reliable? Are the linked sources reliable, trustworthy, and “known”, or just links to press releases, rumors, or sources you are unfamiliar with? The source might be reliable or not, but check and make your decision to blog accordingly.
  • Check search engines: Hit the search engines to find out who else is talking about the subject and what they have to say about it. Those with more information than you and the blogger you are reading may have more to say, thus become a better source, or debunking the claim.
  • Ask the right questions: Are the right questions being asked and answered? Or are presumptions and assumptions being made? Look at the material and evaluate whether or not they are honestly answering the questions with facts or fiction. Then you ask the right questions and find the right answers.
  • It just doesn’t sound right: Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t sound right, true, or sounds too good to be true, the odds are that it might not be. Leave the echo chamber on this topic for others and trust your instincts. The longer you blog the better your instincts. And not every story has to be “your story”. Choose wisely.
  • Examine the evidence: Look at the information before you and the information you’ve gathered. Does it all support the truth of the statement or fact? Is there doubt? Questions left unanswered? If the evidence supports the validity, go for it. If not, either get more answers to your questions or let it go.
  • Check the numbers: Check the facts and check the numbers. If the number sounds out of proportion, it could be wrong.
  • Check the hoax detection resources: Check to verify if this is a hoax through one of the hoax reporting and detecting services. I’ve listed some below.
  • When in doubt, don’t.

If you tried to verify the iPhone story, you may have found it reported by and linked to from worthy folks via , which has an earned reputation for bringing the best of the blogging world news and bloggers to the fore. You may have found it on Google, Technorati, and other search engines and directories. You might have checked, like I did, and found that Technorati reported 725 links to the iPhone article, and that’s after the hoax announcement.

Before the announcement, how many linked to the article out of enthusiasm, thinking it was true? Does the number of blogs linking to a story make it true?

Always check your assumptions before publishing the information.

Haven’t We Learned Anything Yet?

You would think that people would learn. MySpace bloggers were invited to share their passwords and usernames with a criminal phishing blog. About 100,000 people participated before MySpace shut them down.

These are all part of the scams, rumor mills, chain letters, fakery, and hoaxes that litter the Internet and email inboxes around the world. Before you click the forward button on your email or copy and paste content from one blog to yours, check out the information to see if it is real first. And stop the spread of online litter.

Do you know the URL for the official White House website? Is it whitehouse.com, whitehouse.org, whitehouse.net, or whitehouse.gov? If you picked the first one, you’d be on a porn site. The others are just as bad. The right one is whitehouse.gov.

Many are caught off guard believing they’ve found the right page just because the URL is a little off, but it looks “right” and then are led into the depths of wrong, inappropriate, or even evil information.

Here are a few examples of the most popular and recent hoaxes going around. Remember, these are lies, made up stories, totally fake, and not real.:

  • Microsoft is buying Mozilla Firefox.
  • Signing up with the “National Do Not Email Registry” will stop spam and unwanted email. [Currently, there is no such registry and never has been]
  • A bill in the US Congress will authorize the U.S. Postal Service to assess a charge of five cents for every e-mail sent.
  • Hotmail is shutting down because too many people are applying for accounts.
  • On September 11, 2000, Daisy the dog saved over 1000 people from the World Trade Center.
  • A photograph found in the wreckage of the World Trade Center shows a tourist standing on observation deck of one of the towers, unknowingly posing for a picture as an American Airlines plane approaches in the background.
  • Bill Gates is giving away money over the Internet.
  • Many changing rooms and public restrooms are using two-way mirrors to peek and spy on you. Using your fingernail, you can test the mirror to tell if it is a real mirror or a two-way mirror to prevent “visual rape”.
  • There is a cat that weighs 90 pounds and a 282-pound English Mastiff dog. Have you seen them?
  • Al Gore’s electrical bill for him house exceeds the average US household. Talk about Global Warming!

You can find more hoaxes many have fallen for from:

When In Doubt, Check It Out

Before you forward email or blog about a news story or topic, check it out. Start with the resources listed below that specifically deal with the rumor mills and hoaxes going around the Internet.

The rumor mill works in cycles, repeating these scams redundantly. We keep seeing the same hoax going around for years warning you to search your computer for a specific file and delete it because it is a virus, when the file is actually part of your operating system. You screw up your computer all by yourself without the help of an email virus.

Be warned and don’t trust even the most helpful of friends and family – check first!

Web Browser Guide Article Series

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  1. Linker Barn: Friday, June 8June 7, 2007 at 11:17 pm
  2. By Ronin AnimeLover posted on June 8, 2007 at 1:48 am
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    Thanks for the useful heads-up! This is seriously one of the issues plaguing bloggers such as ourselves (where we post about latest releases related to our hobby).

    Reply

  3. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on June 8, 2007 at 2:36 am
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    You are welcome. You would think bloggers would be smart enough to know the difference between a scam and a fact, but bloggers are just like the rest of the world, easily swayed if they aren’t on their guard all the time. Glad you were paying attention. ;-)

    Reply

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