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KFC disclaimer from the University of New Hampshire

UNC disclaimer of NPR/PBS petition

CDC on necrotizing fasciitis bananas

Arnot Ogden Medical Center: Paget's Disease

Snopes.com: Hanoi'd with Jane

CDC: Klingerman virus
USPS: Klingerman virus

Washington Post: Canola Baloney
Canola Council: Truth and Myths

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

FBI Missing Persons Investigations
FBI Parental Kidnappings

FDIC: Credit privacy info

IRS: 2001 Tax Credit

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About the "Hoax du Jour"

The "Hoax du Jour" is a recurring column providing updated information and commentary on the Internet community. It is a feature of Korova Multimedia's "e-v-mail" page.

What is a "hoax du jour?" With the advent of widespread use of the Internet as a medium for sharing information, the phenomenon of sharing misinformation has exploded. Conventional urban folklore and propaganda have blossomed on the Internet. Intentionally misleading information is broadcast on a professional and personal level.

On the Web, misinformation wants to be free. It also likes to be free of authenticity and corroboration, when such grounding deflates the credibility of the content.

The result? Naive users of the Internet are subjected to a daily barrage of data that are erroneous, slanderous, and sometimes even destructive. This page is dedicated to discussing intentional misinformation, or 'Net hoaxes.

Disclaimer The opinions expressed here are entirely my own, and do not reflect policy or intentions of any persons, groups or companies referred to or linked from this site. I, my guest writers, or Korova Multimedia are not responsible for content or sites linked to from the "Hoax du Jour" column.

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July 25, 2001     

The past months, nay, year of my life has been bustling and disorienting. The "new, Internet economy" has turned out to be a pipe dream, and thousands of hapless professionals have been left holding the check. No wonder, then, that nothing that the Internet misinformation mill has brought surprises me.

eToys.com has tanked (yeah!), The Hunger Site is no more (sigh) , the e-commerce market has generally bombed (boo!), and hoaxes, viruses and online scams have been alive and very un-well (darn).

In this column, I'll address some of the more notable of online misinformation in summary notes.

NPR/NEA petition (1995, 1998)

This one's so old, been around since 1995. Still makes appearances, along with the "Women in Afghanistan" petition and other calls to overreaction. Online petitions are relatively useless, as the signatures can be faked. The earliest version of this petition (1995) was initiated by two students at the University of Northern Colorado to protest congressional budget cuts to public television. Later it was anonymously edited to "Save Sesame Street!," though the show was never in danger of being cancelled. In 1998 it reappeared with broadcaster Nina Totenberg's name attached. Neither PBS nor UNC invited this petition, and they'd both like you to DELETE the petition without forwarding it any more.

Instant messages going away, or being charged for (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000,....)

MSN will now charge for their Messenger service. America Online (AOL) is going to charge for IMs. AOL will do away with IMs entirely. Balderdash, all of it! These perennial favorite hoaxes have been circulating for years, usually accompanied by the idiotic claim that simply forwarding the message (via e-mail, via IM, via ICQ) will effect to some kind of preventative protest.

When a message asks you to forward an e-mail to get a surprise, or to enable some petition tracking process, don't believe it. It won't work any more than it did in 1997, 1998, or 1999 when these "forward this e-mail for money" hoaxes previously appeared. (The initial "Save IMs!" hoax requested everyone flood Steve Case's e-mail address, as I recall. How far we've come...?)

The "Toxic Tampons" forwardable (1998, 2000)

Years after the hubbub in the news subsided, the chain e-mail continues to trickle around the net. Funny, after I published my account, other news reports began to appear, furthering dwelling on the suspicious connection between Terra Femme's executives Willi Nolan and Roni Bregman and the word of mouth campaign on the Internet against conventional products. During one of my spontaneous visits to the Terra Femme site, I found a version of the e-mail with instructions to send it to out. It wasn't there the next time visited.

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) (1999)

The rumor goes, Kentucky Fried Chicken changed their name to KFC because they no longer serve "chicken" (untrue) and instead serve "genetically engineered organisms" (also untrue). Not only would it be economically impractical for KFC to do this, but also illegal. They changed the name when they began offering many non-fried chicken products. Besides, many people I've known across America were already referring to the company as "KFC" colloquially. It was a smart move. (I think Federal Express, erm, FedEx acted on the same principle.)

Death-dealing bananas (1999)

One of many health-danger hoaxes about deadly, disease bearing bananas from Costa Rica. The facts are misleading, references to a "Manheim Research Institute" and "Center for Disease Control" are incorrect. Bananas are good eatin'.

"Hanoi Jane" (1999)

In 1999, an especially outraged e-mail denouncing the wartime behavior of Jane Fonda made the inbox of most e-mail users on the Internet. The ugly reality is that Ms. Fonda's behavior during her visit to North Vietnam in July, 1972 (allegedly arranged by hubbie Tom Hayden) was "thoughtless," by her own account in later years. When POWs later returned and told of their horrid treatment, she released a statement calling them hypocrites and liars. Still, freedom of speech is not a double-standard, and Fonda exercised her rights. She did so again when she publicly apologized (though some say it was a self-serving gesture). What's done was done.

Jane Fonda poses on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun

Many former POWs feel that Fonda earned a place in "history's trash bin" on the merit of her own despicable actions; e-mail hoaxes weren't necessary to further polarize the issue. The as-yet anonymous author of the 1999 e-mail cited events that are patently untrue. The "Hanoi Jane" e-mail diatribe is as embarrassing and appalling as the original events, because it contrives falsehoods to over-dramatize the point. Fonda has apologized on the record; where's the author of this e-mail forwardable to answer for the untruths? ... Barbara Mikkelson has an excellent essay on the matter as part of her Urban Legends References Pages; please read there for more detail.

Paget's Disease of the nipple (1999)

Anonymous health scares carried via the grapevine of e-mail chain letters are rarely valid. This one has some validity to it, but neglects to point out ... that this "disease du jour" is quite rare. Is it worth getting frantic over, and forwarding the e-mail to everyone you know? Certainly not. If you're concerned, talk to your doctor.

The Hunger Site, The Breast Cancer Site (1999, 2001)

Wouldn't you like to be able to feed the hungry for FREE?

Now you can!

The Hunger Site will allow you to feed a hungry person every day at no cost to yourself.

Anyone can do it. Just visit the website. You can feed one hungry person everyday just by going to the website and clicking a button. The food is paid for by corporate sponsors. This is an easy way to do a really good deed. So everyone can feed a hungry person today. Please visit today and pass the word....I did.


HungerSite.com logoAccording to several similar chain e-mails in 1999, charity site The Hunger Site offered users a way to generate charitable contributions from sponsors by clicking on their web site. Kind of like you sponsor a runner in a charity marathon race, pledging 10¢ for each mile. Here, corporate sponsors would pledge some money for each visitor who clicked the site. Programmer John Breen started the non-profit site as a way to generate donations to United Nations' World Food Program.

I didn't like the idea, for the same reason that I hate the central idea behind all the Jessica Mydek hoaxes. What if NOBODY forwards the e-mail? "Sorry kid, no cup of rice for you today. Not enough Internet users clicked our web site...." Despite my cynicism, The Hunger Site was pretty darn successful, attracting as many as two million visitors a month, and winning a People's Voice Award at the 2000 Webby Awards.

BreastCancerSite.com logoBreen's idea was better than that of the company in Seattle that he sold the site to in February, 2000. The new parent company, shopping portal GreaterGood.com, arranged donations based on purchases made on their site and those of their partners. GreaterGood launched The Breast Cancer Site, The Rain Forest Site, and several others upon the same notion. A chain e-mail for the Breast Cancer Site in 2001 claimed that one click is all it took to give a needy woman a free mammogram, but this was inaccurate; it took about 45,000 clicks for each exam. As before, you could click as many times as you liked, but only once per day. And oh, by the way, the GreaterGood sites were not non-profit. GreaterGood.com sold ad space on the site, and donated about 75% of the ad revenue to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

The party couldn't last forever, though. After GreaterGood.com acquired TheHungerSite.com, traffic to the site dropped. Alas, the whole dream came to an ugly end in July, 2001, when GreaterGood.com ran out of funding, and hadn't found a way to pay their own bills. For the past week, all of the charity web sites featured a simple page stating they're "undergoing routine maintenance" and will be back soon. Uh-huh.

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