(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)
It’s been a busy old week or two on the interwebs, with the royal wedding popping up at every turn to fill in the gaps between the fake “Osama’s dead” and fake “renew your bank password” emails.
And there I was, naively expecting things to get back to normal now that the wedding has been and gone when all of a sudden a bunch of seals gatecrashed a party and the “Osama’s dead” hoax email is no longer a hoax. Oh, and that’s United States Navy Seals of the heroic manly variety, not the cute wee fish-loving beasties with flippers.
Not that I’m not saying US Navy Seals aren’t cute, and I’m sure some of them may well be fond of fish. But I digress.
Of course, the news has been like an early Christmas present for all the conspiracy theorists, and they’ve all dusted off their tin-foil hats and taken up residence on various message boards online. Because of course Osama bin Laden actually died five years ago, the US Government ordered the destruction of the twin towers, man never walked on the moon and Elvis is working as a meter maid in Gore.
The biggest problem with all the cyberjunk being put out there by the hoaxers (from the conspiracy theorists to the idiots showing of their terrible Photoshop skills with obviously faked photos of a supposedly dead bin Laden) is that it’s picked up by the gullible and so begins the journey of the urban myths that sites like Break the Chain and Snopes work so hard to stop.
They pick up these fake bits of misinformation and pass them on to their equally gullible friends, who believe it all over again and carry on passing off this incorrect information as being genuine.
We’ve already seen this with the 9/11 attacks, the Indian Ocean tsunami, and more recently the Japanese tsunami. There are hoaxes hitting inboxes about smaller scale dramas, too, such as the one I’ve been sent several times lately featuring photos of a lavish mansion that supposedly belongs to Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and tut-tuttingly reminds us of the abject poverty in that country.
Sure, the bloke isn’t one of the nicest people in the world and he’s certainly not on my Christmas card list but every time I get this email from someone who has simply forwarded it without looking for any proof that the information is correct (here’s a hint, use Snopes), I can’t help but drop them a little further down the list of “reasonably intelligent people I know”.
Although, I suppose that’s not quite as much of an oops as the BBC and several of the US television networks having trouble separating their Obamas and Osamas and proclaiming the president dead instead of the hairy terrorist.