WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Institute for the Investigation of Irregular Internet Phenomena announced today that many Internet users are becoming infected by a new virus that causes them to believe without question every groundless story, legend, and dire warning that shows up in their inbox or on their browser. The Gullibility Virus, as it is called, apparently makes people believe and forward copies of silly hoaxes relating to cookie recipes, email viruses, taxes on modems, and get-rich-quick schemes.
"These are not just readers of tabloids or people who buy lottery tickets based on fortune cookie numbers," a spokesman said. "Most are otherwise normal people, who would laugh at the same stories if told to them by a stranger on a street corner. However, once these same people become infected with the Gullibility Virus, they believe anything they read on the Internet."
"My immunity to tall tales and bizarre claims is all gone", reported one weeping victim. "I believe every warning message and sick child story my friends forward to me, even though most of the messages are anonymous."
Another victim, now in remission, added, "When I first heard about Good Times, I just accepted it without question. After all, there were dozens of other recipients on the mail header, so I thought the virus must be true."
It was a long time, the victim said, before she could stand up at a Hoaxes Anonymous meeting and state, "My name is Jane, and I've been hoaxed." Now, however, she is spreading the word. "Challenge and check whatever you read," she says.
Internet users are urged to examine themselves for symptoms of the virus, which include the following:
- The willingness to believe improbable stories without thinking.
- The urge to forward multiple copies of such stories to others.
- A lack of desire to take three minutes to check to see if a storyis true.
T. C. is an example of someone recently infected. He told one reporter, "I read on the Net that the major ingredient in almost all shampoos makes your hair fall out, so I've stopped using shampoo." When told about the Gullibility Virus, T. C. said he would stop reading email, so that he would not become infected.
Anyone with symptoms like these is urged to seek help immediately. Experts recommend that at the first feelings of gullibility, Internet users rush to their favorite search engine and look up the item tempting them to thoughtless credence. Most hoaxes, legends, and tall tales have been widely discussed and exposed by the Internet community.
Courses in critical thinking are also widely available at http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~agsmith/evaln/evaln.htm, and there is online help from many sources, including:
Department of Energy Computer Incident Advisory Capability at http://HoaxBusters.ciac.org/
Symantec Anti Virus Research Center at http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/index.html
McAfee Associates Virus Hoax List at http://www.mcafee.com/support/hoax.html
Dr. Solomons Hoax Page at http://www.drsolomons.com/vircen/hoax.html
The Urban Legends Web Site at http://www.urbanlegends.com
Urban Legends Reference Pages at http://www.snopes.com
Datafellows Hoax Warnings at http://www.Europe.Datafellows.com/news/hoax.htm
Those people who are still symptom free can help innoculate themselves against the Gullibility Virus by reading some good material on evaluating sources, such as:
Evaluating Internet Research Sources at http://www.sccu.edu/faculty/R_Harris/evalu8it.htm
Evaluation of Information Sources at http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~agsmith/evaln/evaln.htm
Bibliography on Evaluating Internet Resources at http://refserver.lib.vt.edu/libinst/critTHINK.HTM
It is possible to design responsible alerts for people to circulate on the Internet. Here is a how-to that draws positive conclusions from long experience with the evils of badly designed alerts:
Designing Effective Action Alerts for the Internet at http://weber.ucsd.edu/~pagre/alerts.html
Lastly, as a public service, Internet users can help stamp out the Gullibility Virus by sending copies of this message to anyone who forwards them a hoax.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * This message is so important, we're sending it anonymously (or at least you will not be able to trace it)! Forward it to all your friends right away! Don't think about it! This is not a chain letter! This story is true! Don't check it out! This story is so timely, there is no date on it! This story is so important, we're using lots of exclamation points!! Lots!!!! For every message you forward to some unsuspecting person, the Home for the Hopelessly Gullible will donate ten cents to itself. (If you wonder how the Home will know you are forwarding these messages all over creation, you're obviously thinking too much.)
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