Baby in the Bag: Please forward to save her!!!
This title came from a spoof of one of the sick child hoaxes I received a few years ago. **
I found it odd that Gurak's piece focused somewhat on hoaxes about non-existent viruses, when phishing for information is just as prevalent with spoofing and viruses as are hoaxes, which are pretty harmless compared to potentially losing your hard drive and compromising the information of others. We did have a spoof of a greeting card with an attachment in our office, which compromised our system for a time.
We had a pretty good IT director, who gave us friendly advice about looking for secure websites and the padlock (though I did not know about 'chrome' or where to look for them!) and to be on guard for spoofing and spamming. One piece of advice that I have found very helpful is to shop with just one e-mail address, like a free yahoo account, or to use that account when stores ask to put you on their mailing list. So yes, I now have three e-mail accounts, but each has a purpose; business, friends, and shopping. I wonder how I would do in the same study used in "Why Phishing Works" (Dhmaija, Tygar, Hearst). One of the reasons pop up warnings are often ineffective is the constant urge to push forward with what you are doing in the Internet. Users are so used to scanning and paying only cursory attention, and phishers know just how to design for that. I was kind of shocked to learn that they were able to link to actual sites and certificates. Scary.
My mother has a friend who must forward her EVERY piece of spam or rumor she has ever received, and my mother, for a time forwarded to me. One was about poisoned lipstick, and I checked it out on Snopes.com, finding it to be a pretty pervasive urban legend. I gave the information to my mom, and the chain mail trickled in from then on, rather than coming in waves. I am always amazed that two really intelligent women, who were fully capable of writing long letters to each other for many years, could confuse this knee-jerk forwarding for real communication. I prefer real words actually written by the people I care about. But that 'forward' button must be hard to resist.
I also found Gurak's statement "much of the hype is designed to create alarm" no more true than in the aftermath of 9/11. My friend's in box was flooded with wild rumors from an ex-coworker. The terrorists were going to bomb the Mall of America next. The next attack would be on Halloween, according to a hairdresser who knew the ex-girlfriend of a terrorist. I honestly don't think these e-mails were created to spread alarm--after all there was plenty to go around then--but as a way to kind of re-solve the problem. If we could prevent something from happening, then maybe we weren't so unaware after all.
I also want to say, to play devil's advocate, that what is interesting about gossip is that sometimes it IS true. Matt Drudge may spread a lot of ugliness, but he did for better or worse for our country, break a true story (Monica Lewinsky). The tabloids, not the New York Times, broke the Gary Hart/Donna Rice liaison in the late 1980s. Like Powerball numbers, sometimes the rumblings of the rumormill are correct. It is that intermittent reward, like Skinner's birds, that keeps us coming back.
The other, Wikipedia side of the coin is that Internet users expose a lot of incorrect assumptions and untruths as well. I believe it was an Internet connection that took the rug out from under Dan Rather's story about President Bush's military service. The particular document Rather and his staff used in the story was not a substantial piece of evidence after all, and if I remember correctly,was in fact a rather clever forgery. Somehow in the fallout over that scrap of paper, the story of Bush's military service was lost. Funny how that happens.
While I don't think it is unethical not to want to be poor, I do think scamming people to gain wealth is not moral relativism--it is just crime. The lure the 419 scammers use is gaining $50,000 to $100,000 so obviously victims would not be tempted if they were rich already. Robin Hood, it ain't. I think that the bigger question is, given what else may be happening in the country driving people to such desperation, how important it is to prosecute these crimes?
I don't think encouraging Wikipedia tweaking as Colbert did is vandalism, since the encouragement was part of a personae or performance. Also, the users doing the editing are the true twits in the picture whether they took Colbert at his word or out of mischief. I sympathize with the Wikipedia editors, though I think their application needs some work. I wish I did not see so many passages with the note 'needs substantiation.' Maybe if there is no good source the statement should not be included. Even if changes are in the works, they may have a hard time shedding their reputation. Witness this recent Onion spoof.
Individuals who change Wikipedia entries on their own information need to be called to account, however. The Internet is not a place to bloat or augment or in Coleman's case 'soften' facts, contested though they may be.