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Image: Archeological dig
Truthorfiction.com
This photograph of an archaeological dig that purports to show a skull belonging to a race of “giants” dating back to biblical times is, well, fake.
By Herb Weisbaum ConsumerMan
msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/1/2010 6:19:08 PM ET 2010-04-01T22:19:08

On the Internet, every day is April Fool’s Day. Thousands of joke and hoax e-mails are in circulation, and more get added every week. And they’re spreading faster than ever.

“Social media are taking over,” says David Emery at urbanlegends.about.com. “On Facebook and Twitter, you can type in search terms and see the results updating in real time.”

Emery tells me the other day he watched as a fake Amber Alert caught fire on Facebook. For a couple of days, he says, it was being reposted every two or three seconds.

Many of the e-mail rumors making the rounds this past year deal with President Barack Obama or the Obama administration. And most of them are totally false or filled with inaccurate information.

The Web site Snopes.com currently lists more than 80 false mass e-mails dealing with President Obama, such as:

  • The president will legalize marijuana if a million people call a special phone number.
  • Mr. Obama admitted he was a Muslim during an interview with ABC News.
  • He did not attend Columbia University.
  • There’s a photograph that shows a young Barack Obama as a member of the Black Panthers.

Again, all of these are false. But there are also bogus e-mails about George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. One says Palin tried to ban “Canterbury Tales,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “Harry Potter” and many other books from the Wasilla, Alaska, public library when she was mayor there. Snopes.com, which investigates e-mail rumors, says the book-banning incident never happened. A photograph of a smiling Sarah Palin posing in a flag bikini holding a rifle is a fake. So is the photo of her high school report card and SAT scores.

Did Obama relative get special treatment?
A current e-rumor claims Oregon State University basketball coach Craig Robinson (Michelle Obama’s brother) had his job saved by federal stimulus funds. Here’s an example of this e-mail courtesy of truthorfiction.com.

“According to an unnamed source, Oregon State University Athletic Director Bob DeCarolis was considering firing Oregon State's basketball coach, Craig Robinson, after an 8-11 start (2-5 in the Pac10 Conference).

When word of this reached Washington, Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter was dispatched to Corvallis, Oregon, with $17 million in stimulus money for Oregon State University. The source now says that Craig Robinson's job is safe for this year. For the record, Coach Robinson just happens to be Michelle Obama's brother.”

Oregon State University says Robinson’s job was never in jeopardy. After all, he’s the most successful OSU men’s basketball coach in 20 years. And there’s no indication Oregon State got any special treatment from the federal government.

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In a news release, Todd Simmons, the school’s director of news and communications, says OSU constantly receives educational grants. No federal funds, Simmons tells me, went to the university’s athletic department or Robinson’s salary.

A proposed 28th Amendment 
This one, which has been in circulation for about five months now, says members of Congress do not pay into Social Security (they do) and that they have exempted themselves from health care reform law (they have not).

Here’s part of the e-mail courtesy of urbanlegends.about.com:

“I truly don't care if they are Democrat, Republican, Independent or whatever. The self-serving must stop.

This is a good way to do that. It is an idea whose time has come. Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.”

The e-mail ends by urging you to pass this on to a minimum of 20 people. Don’t bother. No such amendment has been “proposed” in Congress or anywhere else, other than this e-mail.

Pictures lie
Some of the most creative e-mail hoaxes include fake pictures. With today’s digital technology, it’s easy to change reality — and hard to believe what you see. It’s wise to be skeptical of all photographic evidence.

The picture of President Obama and his wife using the wrong hand when saluting the flag has been altered. The picture of Hercules — “the world’s biggest dog,” an English Mastiff that supposedly weighs 228 pounds — is bogus.

And yes, the pictures of an archeological dig that purports to show the skeletons of a race of “giants” dating back to biblical times are all fakes. If archaeologists had really made such a discovery, don’t you think you would have seen it on the news?

Golden oldies 
A bogus e-mail is like a vampire — as hard as you try, you just can’t kill the thing. Even the most outlandish ones keep going and going. It’s crazy.

Internet sites that track e-rumors say people are still getting the e-mail that says Bill Gates and AOL have developed some new tracking software and will pay you for forwarding the message you just received. We’ve been warning people about this one since 1997.

“I think one of the reasons they refuse to die is there are always new users of the Internet, people who haven’t seen them before,” says Rich Buhler with TruthorFiction.com. “If they haven’t heard it in the news then they assume that some underground source has given it to them before it hits the headlines, so they’re going to send it to their friends because they think it’s interesting.”

The bottom line: Distrust, then verify
I’m suspect of all mass e-mails. Most of them are bogus and should not be forwarded to your friends and business associates. They’re a waste of time and can needlessly alarm people.

For example, I am constantly asked about an e-mail that has been going around for years telling people the big wireless companies are going to give all cell phone numbers to telemarketers. Not true! In fact, telemarketing calls to cell phones (without your prior permission) are illegal. But the people contacting me don’t know that and are really upset.

Just because an e-mail lands in your inbox (even if it’s from a trusted friend) doesn’t mean it’s true. And you can’t trust your instincts to determine if it’s for real.

“A lot of people think their baloney detector is really good and they can tell when they read something if it’s baloney or not,” Buhler says. “No they can’t! You just don’t know without checking it out.”

In most cases, you can do that in just a few seconds at sites such as snopes.com, truthorfiction.com or urbanlegends.about.com.

ConsumerMan tip
Please don’t believe a message that says something like, “I checked this out on Snopes and they say it’s legit.” Many hoax e-mails now say that to get you to forward the message. Verify the message yourself. Your friends will thank you for that.

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