Fact-check e-mails before forwarding

Last month, the political wonks were buzzing about the Obama campaign’s decision to launch an e-mail-smear-debunking site. I applaud this idea and think we, as a community, could use this for the all-too-common chain letters and rumors-by-e-mail.

Recently, at the kitchen in my office, there was a print-out of a rumor e-mail about dioxins in plastic water bottles and Tupperware (or similar) containers.

Someone got this e-mail and ran to the kitchen to post it and warn us all. This e-mail made extraordinary claims about “recent research” by the Johns Hopkins Cancer Research Center. Right beside it, held up with another magnet, was a concise, explicit rebuttal from the Johns Hopkins Cancer Research Center. If the person who so helpfully posted the warning e-mail had taken a few seconds to go read more on the Johns Hopkins site, they’d likely have seen this — but that would require too much effort.

I would die happy if I could get just half of the e-mail-forwarders out there to take a 30-second research break. It’s very easy — when you get an e-mail making extraordinary, alarming claims, stop running around like Chicken Little long enough to do the following: open another Web browser window, check the (insert appropriate ominous, powerful sounding institute name here) Web site, and go check the online rumor-debunking sites and see if the e-mail you’re about to forward is actually false.

Patrick Bertiaux


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