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You read it on the Internet?

A few weeks ago, I got an email from someone I knew, forwarded a number of times before. It offered some plain talk about treating cancer. It was attributed to John Hopkins (sic) hospital, and said that cancer feeds on artificial sweeteners and that if these and some other foods were avoided, the cancer would starve and toxic chemotherapy could be avoided.

Johns Hopkins Medical had nothing to do with this ersatz advice, and even has a web page debunking it. But I ask, why would someone forward medical advice on the Internet just because they had read something in an email? You can die taking advice like that.

A couple weeks later another multiply-forwarded email arrived. It said that burns can be treated by throwing flour on them, and it will even prevent scarring. The story comes with anecdote of a soldier who was literally on fire being saved by having flour thrown on him. This is all nonsense. Flour doesn’t help and it can even catch fire! Every reputable source from the National Library of Medicine to the Mayo Clinic affirms what I hope your mother told you, put a common kitchen burn under cool running water to arrest further damage and ease the pain.

I hope that most people (apparently some of my friends excepted) have enough sense not to believe something just because it is on some web site or was forwarded in an email from someone they know.

Birtherism for a lot of people is no different from the crackpot medical advice in the preceding examples. Avoiding aspartame will not cure cancer, flour will not prevent a burn from scarring and no expert has found Obama’s birth certificate a forgery. What is important is the credibility of the source, not that it is written somewhere.

I hope you don’t believe something just because you read it on the Internet.

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35 Responses to You read it on the Internet?

  1. avatar
    ScottRS March 13, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    There’s even a Facebook page – “Checking Snopes.com Before Forwarding Dumb E-mails.” Of course, a lot of the folks who send me such things aren’t on Facebook.

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/checking-snopescom-before-forwarding-dumb-e-mails/174829724279

  2. avatar
    The Magic M March 13, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    The thing I don’t get is who makes this stuff up and why.

    I mean, I can understand if some shady salesman wants to sell “five foods to avoid to lose weight” or “weird spice that protects you from AIDS”, but *free* false advice is simply… crazy.

    I might concoct an explanation for the aspartame “tip”, maybe someone’s so opposed to some artificial food ingredients that they feel the need to demonize them at all costs (a subset of “the ends justify the means”), but that flour stuff, whytheheck…

  3. avatar
    Mitch March 13, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Since most people who forward crap emails aren’t knowledgeable enough to remove other people’s emails from all the “forwards”, or “blind copy” the recipients, these emails provide lots and lots of valid email addresses for spammers.

    What I usually do is find the debunking information and “reply all” with the truth along with a “it took me less than a minute to find the truth.” After doing this a couple times, the sender usually drops me from their list.

  4. avatar
    Rickey March 13, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    I once received an e-mail from a guy I knew in the Navy who forwarded an e-mail about Jane Fonda which contained some true information but was embellished with a lot of lies. One of the more egregious lie was that an American P.O.W. in North Vietnam slipped her a note to his wife and she turned it over to his captors. That never happened. Anyway, I sent a “reply all” e-mail with a link to the debunking Snopes article and the guy became irate. That was the last I heard from him.

    On the other hand, some people are appreciative when I point out that what they sent me has been debunked, but it’s like trying to prevent a flood by putting your finger in a dike.

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 13, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Same here. Having moved fairly recently, I’m just now going through the cycle of getting added to people’s lists and maybe being removed.

    Mitch: What I usually do is find the debunking information and “reply all” with the truth along with a “it took me less than a minute to find the truth.” After doing this a couple times, the sender usually drops me from their list.

  6. avatar
    Sactosintolerant March 13, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Baker I could understand… but a soldier???

  7. avatar
    john March 13, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    “I hope you don’t believe something just because you read it on the Internet.”

    You can say that again. Believe or not, there have been several court cases where judges had dismissed the case essentially saying they “read it on the internet” and don’t believe there is any merit to the case.

  8. avatar
    john March 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    2 Judges who dismissed birther cases who said they “Read it on the Internet” are Judge Robertson and Judge McGee (Linda Jordan Judge)

  9. avatar
    The Magic M March 13, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    “A soldier being saved” activates the patriotism unit in your head which tends to “shut down / override” some of the sanity units. 😉

    It’s like the “for each item sold, we’ll give $5 to children suffering from pneumonia” sales method.

  10. avatar
    valleyguy March 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    The caption next to Lincoln’s picture reminds me of a very strange exchange I had with an elderly birther. This person claimed he had SEEN President Obama on television saying that injured war veterans should pay for their own healthcare because no one asked them to join the military in the first place. Months earlier he had forwarded me the e-mail going around that reported the John Semmens satire piece about this same issue as actual news. I seem to recall that the e-mail also included a picture of Obama with nose in the air, eyes squinted and waving a finger. It’s as if my friend seeing this picture actually imagined the president saying the very fiction expressed in the e-mail.

  11. avatar
    Kiwiwriter March 13, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    Rickey: I once received an e-mail from a guy I knew in the Navy who forwarded an e-mail about Jane Fonda which contained some true information but was embellished with a lot of lies. One of the more egregious lie was that an American P.O.W. in North Vietnam slipped her a note to his wife and she turned it over to his captors. That never happened. Anyway, I sent a “reply all” e-mail with a link to the debunking Snopes article and the guy became irate. That was the last I heard from him. On the other hand, some people are appreciative when I point out that what they sent me has been debunked, but it’s like trying to prevent a flood by putting your finger in a dike.

    I’ve had that e-mail about Jane Fonda and the PoWs sent to me as well, by rabid fire-eaters. While I’m not a big fan of Ms. Fonda for her Vietnam War-era behavior, I don’t believe in accusing people of crimes they did NOT commit, nor to I like to spread lies about them.

  12. avatar
    MattR March 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Mitch: After doing this a couple times, the sender usually drops me from their list.

    It is sad how common that reaction is. One would hope that the sender would learn to check the validity of these things before they forward it along, but instead they either remove the debunker from their mailing list or they figure out how to blind copy so nobody else sees the debunking.

    I can kinda understand that mentality if we are talking about political emails where truth is often secondary to scoring points. But I just don’t understand it when it comes to health/lifestyle emails like the ones Doc C highlighted where the incorrect information can actually be damaging

  13. avatar
    AROD March 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    It is the same thing on AM republican hate radio – it cracks me up when the host has a story clearly taken from one of “those” websites and proceeds to rant. Even beter when they tell you the story came from WND or the Blaze. The good news is that only those in the bubble actually listen and believe.

  14. avatar
    MattR March 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    john:
    “I hope you don’t believe something just because you read it on the Internet.”

    You can say that again.Believe or not, there have been several court cases where judges had dismissed the case essentially saying they “read it on the internet” and don’t believe there is any merit to the case.

    I am not the least bit surprised that you can’t differentiate between the ideas that “you don’t believe something JUST BECAUSE you read it on the internet” and “anything you read on the Internet cannot be believed or trusted”. I do not believe the debunking link Doc C posted just because it was on the internet. Nor do I ignore it simply because it is something I read on the internet. Instead I look at the history and credibility of the source as well as other sources that confirm (ETA: or contradict) the information and give it the appropriate level credence based on that.

  15. avatar
    sfjeff March 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    What scares me is that I get this kind of crap from people who I know are intelligent and I always think- why do they send this stuff to me so that I have to refer them to Snopes?

    Luckily they finally figured out that if they send me that kind of crap I will point out how stupid it is and they stopped sending it to me. Are they still sending it to other people? Probably.

  16. avatar
    Daniel March 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    john:
    “I hope you don’t believe something just because you read it on the Internet.”

    You can say that again.Believe or not, there have been several court cases where judges had dismissed the case essentially saying they “read it on the internet” and don’t believe there is any merit to the case.

    John!!! Over there by the door! A clue!! Get it!!!

  17. avatar
    1% Silver Nitrate March 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    john: 2 Judges who dismissed birther cases who said they “Read it on the Internet” are Judge Robertson and Judge McGee (Linda Jordan Judge)

    Actual citations please, complete with damning quotes.

  18. avatar
    john March 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    Judge Robertson: “Even in its relatively short life the case has excited the
    blogosphere and the conspiracy theorists. The right thing to do
    is to bring it to an early end.” “The issue of the President’s citizenship was raised,
    vetted, blogged, texted, twittered, and otherwise massaged by
    America’s vigilant citizenry during Mr. Obama’s two-year-campaign
    for the presidency, but this plaintiff wants it resolved by a
    court.”

    Judge McPhee: “I do so here to make a point that just as all the so-called evidence offered by the plantiff has been in the blogsphere…..”

  19. avatar
    donna March 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    1% Silver Nitrate: Actual citations please, complete with damning quotes.

    that would require independent research from credible and/or original sources –

    this is an actual quote from someone on the right: Aren’t the Blaze, worldnetdaily, washingtontimes, Rush and Breitbart orginal sources too?

  20. avatar
    Jim March 13, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    sfjeff:

    Luckily they finally figured out that if they send me that kind of crap I will point out how stupid it is and they stopped sending it to me. Are they still sending it to other people? Probably.

    I used to have the same problem with my boss, he would send stuff or repeat things he heard on right wingnut radio. After debunking so many of these fabrications, I must admit I’ve had success! He no longer listens to Rush, he doesn’t believe everything he hears on FOX, and he’s quit believing all the BS sent to him by his buddies. There is hope for the country!!! 😀

  21. avatar
    Jim March 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    john:
    2 Judges who dismissed birther cases who said they “Read it on the Internet” are Judge Robertson and Judge McGee (Linda Jordan Judge)

    John, you might want to reread the opinions, what they said was “evidence is not something you read on the internet.” Which is basically where most of the so-called evidence birthers have presented is from.

  22. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 13, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    While these judges noted the controversy on the Internet, both cases were dismissed based on the law, and not based on any evidence, Internet or otherwise.

    john: Judge Robertson: “Even in its relatively short life the case has excited the
    blogosphere and the conspiracy theorists. The right thing to do
    is to bring it to an early end.” “The issue of the President’s citizenship was raised,
    vetted, blogged, texted, twittered, and otherwise massaged by
    America’s vigilant citizenry during Mr. Obama’s two-year-campaign
    for the presidency, but this plaintiff wants it resolved by a
    court.”

    Judge McPhee: “I do so here to make a point that just as all the so-called evidence offered by the plantiff has been in the blogsphere…..”

  23. avatar
    john March 13, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    True, but such comments indicate extreme bias and predujice that makes an law finding lacking in credibility.

  24. avatar
    Sactosintolerant March 13, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    john:
    True, but such comments indicate extreme bias and predujice that makes an law finding lacking in credibility.

    I don’t think “extreme” and “bias” mean what you think they mean.

  25. avatar
    G March 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Wow… congrats on your success at getting through to your boss!

    Like others, I’ve been chastising those who send me stupid chain-emails of bogus info, even since chain emails have been going around…often with links to places like snopes or some other corrective info link to try to educate them on their error.

    Sadly, I assume most of these folks don’t stop sending this garbage and I’ve probably only succeeded in getting removed from their annoying spam-email list at best. (Although that in itself is a blessing, if you ask me.)

    But I remain perplexed as to who would create a lot of these original fake stories in the first place and for what purpose…as to why otherwise seemingly functional people that I know would be so gullible or foolish to pay attention to them and continue to forward them on….especially after years and years of previous BAD bogus chain email examples…

    …So I’m glad that *some* people seem capable of learning…but it saddens me that so, so many others never seem to “get it”…

    Jim: I used to have the same problem with my boss, he would send stuff or repeat things he heard on right wingnut radio.After debunking so many of these fabrications, I must admit I’ve had success!He no longer listens to Rush, he doesn’t believe everything he hears on FOX, and he’s quit believing all the BS sent to him by his buddies.There is hope for the country!!!

  26. avatar
    Sef March 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    Flour??? No, no, no. Tie a hunk of fatback to the wound.

  27. avatar
    Northland10 March 13, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    john:
    True, but such comments indicate extreme bias and predujice that makes an law finding lacking in credibility.

    Lacking credibility? Which ruling was reversed on appeal? When did the GOP start hearings on eligibility. For that matter, when did Arpaio submit his findings to a prosecutor?

    Your side failed on every attempt and you call the judges’ rulings lacking in credibility?

  28. avatar
    Horus March 13, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    It’s like that email about Bill Gates sending money to anyone who forwarded the email.
    The way I get friends to stop doing that is embarrass them, do a reply all and provide links to pages debunking that email.
    Works ever time.

  29. avatar
    roald March 13, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    Jim: I used to have the same problem with my boss, he would send stuff or repeat things he heard on right wingnut radio. After debunking so many of these fabrications, I must admit I’ve had success! He no longer listens to Rush, he doesn’t believe everything he hears on FOX, and he’s quit believing all the BS sent to him by his buddies. There is hope for the country!!!

    I have a cousin who sent me liberal-biased junk messages. I pointed out why they were wrong and gave her a link to Snopes articles backing me up. The one I remember is the boycott-gas-stations-day one that was supposed to protest high gas prices.

    Here is where I diverge from your story. After the second correction, she told me that she decided to check before forwarding and I have not seen another.

  30. avatar
    AlCum March 13, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    john:
    Judge Robertson:“Even in its relatively short life the case has excited the
    blogosphere and the conspiracy theorists. The right thing to do
    is to bring it to an early end.”“The issue of the President’s citizenship was raised,
    vetted, blogged, texted, twittered, and otherwise massaged by
    America’s vigilant citizenry during Mr. Obama’s two-year-campaign
    for the presidency, but this plaintiff wants it resolved by a
    court.”

    Judge McPhee:“I do so here to make a point that just as all the so-called evidence offered by the plantiff has been in the blogsphere…..”

    John, do you realize that your cites do not support your claim, and actually the second one points out that it is the birther plaintiffs who get their “evidence” off the “blogosphere?” There is not one word in your quotations that supports your claim that judges dismissed cases based on “what they read on the internet.”

  31. avatar
    AlCum March 13, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    john:
    True, but such comments indicate extreme bias and predujice that makes an law finding lacking in credibility.

    They do no such thing.

  32. avatar
    justlw March 14, 2013 at 1:02 am #

    One from earlier this week: if you suffer a heart attack and no one else is around, you can cough your way to self-administered CPR!

  33. avatar
    The Magic M March 14, 2013 at 5:16 am #

    AlCum: There is not one word in your quotations that supports your claim that judges dismissed cases based on “what they read on the internet.”

    john is just reiterating another birfer meme (which are already too many to count). Another favourite was the claim that some judge rejected a birfer case based on “precedent from a Hollywood movie” just because the judge dared to compare the birfer case to a fictional case.

    As for “bias” – there was a German judge who used to write his orders in rhyme, or local dialect. Higher courts affirmed his orders every single time. 😉

    And no, john, a judge telling you your claims are frivolous and without merit is not “bias”, it’s, in your birfer lingo, “calling a spade a spade”.

  34. avatar
    Kiwiwriter March 14, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    roald: I have a cousin who sent me liberal-biased junk messages. I pointed out why they were wrong and gave her a link to Snopes articles backing me up. The one I remember is the boycott-gas-stations-day one that was supposed to protest high gas prices.Here is where I diverge from your story. After the second correction, she told me that she decided to check before forwarding and I have not seen another.

    On the other hand, I have sent Snopes debunkings to folks who fire at me angry denunciations, based on stuff from WorldNetDaily, that Snopes.com is run by extreme leftists, George Soros, and other liberal ne’er-do-wells. Snopes and RealityCheck.com have debunked these postings, of course, and I fire those back…and get nothing in response.

    And on and on and on it goes…where it stops, nobody knows. Don’t ask about results or such, unless you want to get in dutch.

  35. avatar
    ASK Esq March 14, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    The difference between these emails and birther beliefs is that the people who believe the nonsense in these chain emails usually do so not because it validates what they want to be true, but it sounds like it might be possibly true, and they don’t bother to check it out. Birthers, however, accept every birther claim on the internet not because they sound potentially true or because the truth would take effort to find. they accept them simply because they want them to be true. On the one hand, you have laziness or basic foolishness, on the other, you have willful stupidity.