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Monday, May 11, 2009

Something for Nothing...Don't Be Fooled

ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more "Want a free computer? Just forward this e-mail to 8 people." Not only did someone send me that e-mail , but I received it three times within the span of a few weeks. The latest something-for-nothing e-mail guaranteed a gift card to Applebee's for simply forwarding the message. Shouldn't I forward it to my entire address book just in case it's for real? Well...no. It's a hoax. Two things tell me that:
  1. Common sense. (Come on. Why in the world would anybody be giving away free computers or free food for just forwarding an e-mail?) By the way, there is no mechanism currently in existence that would allow a company to track how many times someone had forwarded a message anyway.
  2. A quick little copy and paste into Google routine. It takes all of five seconds, and armed with this simple technique, you can figure out which e-mails are on the up-and-up and which are hoaxes.

Here is all you need to do:
  1. Highlight a hunk of text from the e-mail and use the Copy command (Control-C).
  2. Go to Google.
  3. Click in the search line and use the paste command (Control-V).
  4. Hit enter.
  5. Sit back and watch the fireworks. You are going to get hits that tell you instantly whether or not you have hooked a hoax.

Aren't Hoaxes Just Simple, Harmless Fun?
If you call wasting your own work time, contributing the problem of junk e-mail in everyone's in-box, and clogging up your employer's server simple, harmless fun, I guess you have a good point.


Teaching Students to Distinguish Fact From Fiction

Why do I go to the trouble to determine the truth in an e-mail before I pass it on? The reason is simple: I am a teacher. Truth matters.

Our world has become one in which good information is only a few key strokes away. Unfortunately, the same holds true for bad information. If teaching young people how to distinguish fact from fiction was important for generations gone by, it becomes an absolute necessity today.

How can we teach our students to question what they read? (To give credit where credit is due, many of them do a much better job of this than we as adults.) I wish I had the complete answer. At least, as a start, I do feel this: Truth will only be important to them if first it is important to me.

Being Part of the Solution
Whenever I get one of these suspect e-mails, the drill I follow is:
  1. Under no circumstances add to the problem by forwarding the thing.
  2. Use the "copy-Google-paste" routine I described earlier.
  3. Copy the URL of one of the sites that explains the hoax.
  4. Go back to the e-mail and hit "Reply."
  5. Paste the URL into the message.
  6. Just above the link, I generally include the message, "Run for your life! It's a hoax!"
  7. Hit "Send."
For all to many people, e-mail is already out of control. The problem of junk is an ever-growing problem. The power to be part of the solution is an option open to each of us.

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