chainletterIn the beginning, there were chain letters. You’d receive one in your mailbox, open it up, and there you’d find promises of fame and fortune with a catch. You had to hand-write your own version five times (or use a typewriter… for those readers who are younger than 18, it’s a computer without a screen or plug) and send it on to five friends. They would then do the same and so on and so forth. Some of these letters were get-rich-quick schemes which quickly became illegal as a form of gambling.

Fast forward sixty years later to the advent of email. Suddenly, forwards were filling up people’s inboxes and shysters overseas were promising millions on the condition of access to a bank account. Forwards like that telling of the death of Mikey from the 70s Life cereal or the brutal death of a girl’s roomate were passed around like germs on a shopping cart. No longer were stamps necessary to pass on what must be true!

Now, with the onset of social media, we now have a new way of naively passing on urban legends to hundreds of friends with just one click. Several have been circulating on FaceBook, Twitter and Myspace (for those who still use Myspace.. and are probably still using their pager for communication as well) repeatedly over the years. Each time, there’s a slight modification I’m sure made by one person who was bored and wanted to see how far their story would circulate.

Legend or not Legend. That’s the question.

It’s actually now social media etiquette to verify something posted on the internet before reposting it on your profile. Those who don’t are generally considered gullible, rude or simply naive. Some people simply repost things “just in case it’s really true” or even “just because they thought it was funny”. Even still, for many with hundreds of social media connections, one forward leads to 25 quickly and before too long, someone’s site  is overwhelmed with bogus stories.

Aside from simple logical thinking (which I’ll get into shortly), there are several resources out there that can be utilized to verify if what you’re reading is true or not. Snopes.com is a popular site that has been around for almost 20 years debunking urban legends. Other resources include About.com, Hoax Slayer, Truth or Fiction or even just googling a few of the keywords in the post.

Now, on to that logical thinking statement. Many times, you can tell if a forwarded post from a friend by the simple phrase “Pass it on!”. Nine times out of ten, if you’re told to pass it on and it’s about someone or something you’ve never heard of, it’s probably not true… and so, my suggestion is to not pass it on.

Also, if it simply doesn’t seem right, or make sense, chances are it’s a hoax. For example, recently it was highly circulated that Facebook would start charging for their services. As a matter of fact, whenever the popular social site makes a major change, the legend recirculates faster than a Britney Spears marriage.


This little gem has been circulating repeatedly for eons. How did I immediately know it was fake? Well, I log off my FaceBook each time I access it from a public site, as should anyone. The first thing you see in the login screen is this.

freealwaysAh, yet, if you don’t log in every time you access the social site, then some red flags must come into play. First, if a business (as that’s what FaceBook is folks.. a multi-million dollar business) were to tell its customers that rates were changing or in this instance, that they would start charging, they would not advise people by encouraging them to forward a message from the CEO through their network. They’d most likely either send you a personal email or put it in a banner up top so to make sure that none of the customers are caught off-guard.

Lets take another example. I’ve seen this circulate in two different languages through at least 3 countries. Each time I see it, the origin of the license plate is different (hence my first red flag).

amberPLATESBut, say I’d never seen this before. How did I know it wasn’t real? The first time I saw this forward, I believe the car was from Oregon. Now, I’ve moved around a lot in my thirty-something years, but I’ve never lived in Oregon. In my many adventures around the country, I’ve noticed that MOST (not all) license plates in the United States have a 3-letter 3-number pattern to them. This plate (whose number hasn’t changed with each revision) does not follow that pattern. I took a few of the states that the legend claims to come from and found some examples of plates from those states (and a province). None of them fit the pattern of this forward. This red flag alone, told me this was absolutely not true!

This one I’ve seen as recently as yesterday:

moneybagI’m turning 25 again this month. My birthday will be falling on a Monday this year. I also know that this isn’t the first time my birthday has fallen on a Monday. In fact, I looked it up! My birthday fell on a Monday in 2005, 1994, 1988 and I’m sure a few years before that in my lifetime (and I’m not 823 years old, despite what my daughter tells you!). By that logic, it would be impossible for this pattern of days to only happen once every eight centuries considering October is consistently 31-days long.

kskSnopes.com claims that the Kayla Scott story is undetermined as truth or fiction, however, the red flag that goes up for me in this repost is that it has been circulating well over a year. Ms. Scott’s son is now in preschool and can most likely write his name. Certainly by now, he has recovered and is living life to the fullest… at least I pray he is.


A few days ago, a friend posted this, hailing praises to Southwest for putting customer service first. Actually, it wasn’t a friend. It was my aunt, but we’ll just call her a friend. OK? Shh.

There are a few red flags here, including one I didn’t initially know about! Southwest sells tickets ONLY on Southwest.com. You won’t find Southwest airlines on Expedia, Cheaptickets or Travelocity, actually. The second thing (and similar to what I just stated) that came to my attention was that it wasn’t a link to Southwest.com.. it was to an unfamiliar third party vendor. The third thing that I noticed was the domain. Southwest Airlines is based in the United States. Here in the US, general websites end primarily in: .com or .net. School websites end in .edu or .us. Government sites are given a .gov domain and non-profit organizations try to grab a .org domain.

Different countries have different domains. Canada websites generally end in .ca. Ireland’s websites will end in .ie and so on.

In this instance, .tk is a free website domain that is out there, where you can have your own domain, for free. And that, my friends, is where this “free Southwest ticket” hoax is from. Enter your information into the drawing and the person who has this free website now has all your information. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

And now, we have the newest trend in panic-inflicting forwards

puppyparkThis one I actually had to research. It’s only half true and had not made its way to Snopes yet (Snopes actually added this today!)  The photo is from an actual newspaper article that ran in the Buenos Aires, Argentina newspaper some time back about someone who found nails in cheese in a dogpark. However, this did not happen in California or Massachusetts as this note claims. What happened in Argentina was a one-time incident, though. No other incidents in South America, Europe, Asia or even in the United States have been reported… ever.

Most of the time, when I’m looking through my social media updates, I’m on my Iphone, where copying and pasting a link is cumbersome. If you want to know if what you read is true, ‘Google’ is a great little app or website for looking these things up. Even if you don’t the time or desire to look things up, simply look at the comments before copying and pasting. Chances are, by the time you’re seeing someone’s post, someone else has already called them out on the hoax.

So, easy on the share button. Copying and pasting may sound tempting but there is a quick and easy way to determine if what you’re reading is indeed too good to be true. Your friends might appreciate you for it!


About gespurr

Emily was born in Southwestern Louisiana and has moved over 20 times in her life through nine different states. Most of her life was spent in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where she met her husband and had her only child. Both she and her husband are also only children. She graduated from Stillwater (MN) High School in 1992 and from the University of Wisconsin in 1997 with a BS in Journalism. Three years later, she met her husband, George, and they married in 2002. Their daughter, Kathryn, was born early in 2004. She relocated with her family back to Arkansas in 2005 after being away for 30 years. She currently works as a customer service representative for an insurance company and lives in North Little Rock. When not taking care of her daughter she is either cooking, working, cleaning house, sewing, gardening, knitting, crocheting hiking, traveling or spending time with her husband.

Posted on October 4, 2011, in Current Events, Social and Technology. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I think I may bookmark this post and put it on people’s Facebook pages every time they post one of those stupid urban legends.

    • Ya know what’s funny, is that just after I posted this to my FaceBook profile (you can hear the irony dripping already, can’t you?) a friend of mine actually posted one of these urban legends!! And so, I posted my blog into the comments.

  2. AMEN!! This is from Cathy, btw. Logged in as “supereditor!”

  3. I feel like jumping through the screen when I read a forward.

  4. Emily! Telling people under 18 that typewriters didn’t have cords and that the amount of time from snailmail-only to email was 60 years?
    I’m 45 and even I don’t remember a non-electric typewriter.
    *Runs from the building screaming.”

  5. Very good article, thank you Emily. I get tripped up still with FWds. I’m learning to check them out before passing on. (for the most part, anyway).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: