4 March 2005
I was originally going to write about the emergency alerts that flash on our televison screens and how they pick the most inopportune times to flash them. Last night, for example, it was right at the end of Wheel of Fortune--now, I will admit that I don't really care all that much about the outcome of that show...it's more a "filler show" for me anyway, bridging the gap between Jeopardy and the 8 p.m. shows, but just as the contestant was about to guess the final answer, we got an emergency alert. It was an Amber Alert about a missing girl, who went missing two days ago and the alert said that it would be in effect for the next 10 minutes! Now was it that important that it had to interrupt the end of a show you've been watching for half an hour?
If it were a gripping drama and the great secret were about to be revealed, or the character you've watched dying for the last half hour was speaking the final words, or the Oscar for Best Picture was about to be presented, that would be when the alert would break in. Now, if it's an approaching tornado or heavy storm, I can understand. But to interrupt at a crucial moment for a 10 minute alert for something that happened 2 days before seems unnecesssary.
So that was what I had planned to talk about. But then I received the following Amber Alert from a friend via e-mail:
We have a Wal-Mart Store Manager from Longs, South Carolina who has a 9 year old daughter who has been missing for 2 weeks now. Keep this picture moving on please. With luck on her side she will be found.
I am asking you all, begging you to please forward this email on to anyone and everyone you know, PLEASE. My 9 year old girl, Penny Brown, is missing. She has been missing for now two weeks.. It is still not too late. Please help us. If anyone anywhere knows anything, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
My immediate response was a tug on the heart strings, and a readiness to pass this along in the hope that poor Penny can be found and reunited with her family again.
But as I always, always, always do before passing something like this along, I ran it by a couple of hoax sites. FactCheck.org didn't have anything on it, so I was thinking it was a real Amber Alert, but then I checked Hoaxbusters and there it was. This "alert" has been floating around the internet, apparently, since 2001.
This bothers me on several levels. First of all, it angers me that some sick person would knowingly put out something like this, which tugs at the heartstrings, which good-hearted people, in an attempt to be helpful, will pass along to all of their friends and keep the hoax going.
Secondly it bothers me that even in this late day and age, people are gullible enough to believe everything they receive and pass it along without checking the facts.
Thirdly--and this is the thing that really gets me--is how some people react when you let them know that it's a hoax. I completely understand that there are new people coming onto the web every day and this is what fuels things like this. People who haven't yet learned to be wary of hoaxes. I used to write back to let them know that there was a place where they could check things like this out. I never put people down for passing along a hoax, or at least I tried hard to make sure that it didn't sound like any sort of put-down. I fully understand that mistakes can be made, but if it's someone who is new to the net, I thought they would appreciate being gently informed that there is a place where they can check the validity of such emotional messages before passing them along (and in the process, embarrassing yourself with people who are a bit more internet savy, though I never said that).
Almost invariably I would receive a very angry message in return, justifying their passing along of the message and angry with me for pointing out that the alert was just a hoax. I finally gave up and no longer let people know that the message they are sending to everyone in their e-mail addressbook is a hoax. I just check the facts and let it die in my own mailbox.
But if anybody reading this sends me some alert without first checking the facts at a hoax site, I will be very disappointed in you!!
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Life on the farm. Poor sheep.
Photo by Peggy
for the Lawsuit Song of the Day