More than just the name of the new X-Files movie, I Want To Believe is what people must think when they receive a forwarded email and decide to then send it to everyone in their address book too. I'm not sure what makes that unsolicited and unverified information so irresistible to some folks but the chain is hard to break.
Some of the more famous, and durable, email hoaxes include "Bill Gates wants to pay you to try a new email program," "Telemarketers will soon be given your cell phone number if you don't put it on a Do Not Call list," and "Boycott gas stations on a certain date to send a message to Big Oil."
Politicians are often victims of mass email smears, either through carelessness or malice. Some recent examples of widely circulated stories that are false include "George W. Bush has the lowest IQ of any president" and "John McCain does not qualify to run for president because he was born in Panama."
But Senator Barack Obama is the undisputed recent champion of misinformation victims. See how many of these untrue stories you recognize from the past year:
"Barack Hussein Obama" is a Muslim."
"Barack Hussein Obama is a radical Muslim"
"Barack Obama will not recite the Pledge of Allegiance."
"Barack Obama was sworn into office on the Quran"
"Barack Obama has been endorsed for president by the Ku Klux Klan."
"The bulk of donations to Barack Obama's campaign come from foreign financiers."
And my very favorite, "The Book of Revelations describes the Anti-Christ as someone with characteristics matching those of Barack Obama." That one includes a Biblical warning about Muslims that was written some 400 years before Islam was even founded!
New to in-boxes this week is an email originating from a Captain Jeffrey S. Porter, soldier in Afghanistan describing how the Senator "blew off" the troops during a brief visit to Bagram. It described how he ignored soldiers that "were lined up to shake his hand" in order to instead "take his publicity pictures playing basketball."
U.S. Army spokespeople have declared the email "factually false," citing among other things that Mr. Obama "took time to shake hands, speak to troops, and pose for photographs" while in Bagram. Additionally, he did not visit the recreation tent mentioned in the original email for basketball, photos or any other reason. The solider may have been confused since the Senator did spend some time in the gym, playing and talking with dozens of American servicemen in Kuwait earlier in the week.
Capt. Porter has since released a statement that includes, "After checking my sources, information that was put out in my email was wrong."
Much like a print newspaper's correction on page D27 of a front page mistake I am certain only a tiny fraction of people who received the original false description of Mr. Obama's visit to Bagram will ever read the factual follow-up. Something to keep in mind before any of us hit Send on something that might be too good to be true.
For those who don't have them bookmarked, there are two terrific websites worth visiting to check the veracity of forwarded material of any kind. You can find more details on all of the examples mentioned above as well as hundreds more.