A recent email informed me that Pepsi was producing a patriotic beverage can with the words “under God” omitted from the Pledge of Allegiance. Another claimed that while her husband was in Europe and Africa, Michelle Obama was using taxpayers’ money to flit around Europe on an extravagant spending spree. Still another warned that anyone using a cell phone while it’s charging is in serious danger of being burned or electrocuted.
The good people who forwarded these emails to me are all persons I know and believe to be essentially honest. They are also, like so many of us, extremely gullible. With all good intentions, they habitually pass on alarming reports, convinced by slick rhetoric, a tone of anger or outrage, or even (as in the case of the cell phone claims) provocative photographs. The trouble is that, intentionally or not, they are often spreading lies.
Such lies are not harmless. Free-floating anxiety is rampant enough in our highly credulous society. The emotions most commonly inspired by false claims and conspiracy theories—fear and anger—can easily derail logical thought and interfere with good decision making. Anonymous Internet slander can be used intentionally to harm the reputations of business competitors or rival political candidates.
I propose that, instead of hitting the Forward button, we all get in the habit of verifying the content of any emails that come our way. This can easily be done by checking current news reports or fact-checking web sites, such as Snopes.com or Factcheck.org. If you can’t verify it, delete it. Let’s stop wasting time and emotional energy on other people’s fantasies and anonymous lies.