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Mon, Dec 18, 2017 10:35 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue

Fact or Fiction
With the Web comes the age of misinformation
by Jerry Pennington

It’s almost as bad as spam.

We’ve all gotten those e-mails, sent by a friend or co-worker passing along important information that we should forward on to all of our other friends or co-workers.

Perhaps it’s a about a virus, or a world event, or getting something for free, and most of the time we mindlessly click on that forward button without stopping to ask a most important question — is this for real.

I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve gotten about Pepsi and their plan to issue a patriotic can that contains the Pledge of Allegiance without the words “under God.” Normally reasonable people are passing along to the masses this message that they should boycott Pepsi products.

This rumor, like many others, is completely false.

Apparently, the folks at Pepsi were affected by the scam, as they posted a “false rumor alert” on their Web site exposing the hoax for what it is.

“We wanted to clarify an erroneous report that has been circulating around cyberspace for the past several months,” the Pepsi site (www.pepsico.com) says. “Pepsi has not created any packaging containing an edited version of America's Pledge of Allegiance. A patriotic package used last year by Dr. Pepper (which is not a part of PepsiCo) was inappropriately linked to this rumor.”

The Dr. Pepper cans the site refers to were issued shortly after 9/11, and simply contained the phrase “one nation ... indivisible.”

The latest hoax to make widespread circulation involves a warning that $32,000 worth of United Parcel Service uniforms have been purchased on eBay over the past few months, and that this has been linked to a terrorist threat to anyone receiving a package from the familiar boys in brown.

A United Parcel Service spokesman quoted in a recent edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal said, “Call it urban legend or call it hoax, there's nothing to it.”

A Web site that is part of About.com dealing with urban legends also followed up on the apparently fictional report.

“When queried about rumored large purchases of UPS uniforms on the auction site, eBay spokesman Chris Donnelly answered: "We are aware of the rumor, but as far as we can tell it's just that — a rumor,” according to the About.com site.

The site also posts a short article about a rise in skepticism in the information age that quotes Connie Chesner, who tracks Internet rumors and advises companies on them.

“We have entered this skeptical age, and the longer people use the Internet and e-mail, the more aware they become,” Chesner says in the report. “Rumors and stories have hints of credibility but more people are starting to ask for the hard evidence and documentation. When a campy sounding story like a body in a hotel room appears, it may seem to be true but before people believe it, they want the evidence.”

The Urban Legends and Folklore site keeps a listing of the Top 25 most popular topics, and lays out the evidence that either supports or refutes what is floating around the Web these days.

Some of the other recent hoaxes from the site include:

• Cash from Bill Gates: An new version of an old hoax is circulating that by forwarding an e-mail, Microsoft will track it and send everyone in the forwarding list cash. This is, of course, a complete fabrication.

• Baby Ink: A Web site about a tattoo parlor that caters to babies and children is completely bogus. According to About.com, the hoax originated as an April Fool’s joke by a San Diego radio station.

• McFake: A “free salad” e-mail offer from McDonald’s that is circulating via e-mail is completely false. A recorded message from the McDonald’s customer service hotline says the following:

“We regret to let you know that this coupon has not been distributed or authorized by McDonald's Corporation. Unfortunately, the coupon has been circulating via e-mail and it’s important to know this is not a valid offer. We deeply regret any inconvenience this may have caused you.”

As the information age continues to progress, it is becoming easier to reach more and more people at the stroke of a few computer keys.

Thanks to technology, chain letters and hoaxes are easier to spread today than ever before.

So, next time you get that message asking you to pass this along to all your friends, stop and think before hitting that forward button.

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