Identifying Internet Hoaxes
You open up an email from a trusted friend and find a sad tale
of a young cancer stricken boy who's dying wish is to receive
a thousand well-wishing emails from all around the world. You
wipe away a tear, send a heart-felt message to the listed address
and pass the mail along to everyone in your address book.
What you don't realize is that the little boy actually died in
1975, the email address was for an innocent housewife, and you
just participated in a massive denial of service attack that
has crashed a major ISP and launched a federal investigation.
Scenarios similar to the one above have happened hundreds, if not thousands,
of times since before the Internet went public. Whether they are
maliciously crafted attacks or innocent mistakes, these hoaxes can
cripple entire networks and wreak havoc on the lives of innocent
bystanders. This page is meant to help you identify hoaxes and
avoid becoming part of the problem. At the same time, you should
be able to identify legitimate calls for action, which do happen
from time to time and can be important elements in our democratic process.
- When to Be Suspcicious
- Any message which asks you to send copies to other people is a chain letter
and should make you immediately suspicious. Propogating chain letters violates
the user agreements of most ISPs and could result in the cancelation of your account.
(See my page on Email Etiquette for other email do's and
don'ts.) You should also be alerted by any message which asks you to sign
a petition, send a letter, or take any other action. Remember that you are responsible
for anything you send or pass along, so take a moment to ask a few questions.
- Check the Source
- If you received the message from a friend, ask them how much they really
know about the issue. If the message refers to a web page about the issue,
read it carefully. If the message contains an email address for the person
originating the message DO NOT send them email. That may be the address
of an innocent person who has no idea what is going on.
- Follow References
- Does the message refer to legitimate news sources such as CNN,
or Associated Press? Be suspcicious if such sources are cited
without a URL or other information telling you how to quickly find
the report. If such a reference does exist, follow it to the
original source. Make sure that the website you go to really is
the official site for that source.
- Look at Web Pages
- Go to the web pages of any agencies or organizations mentioned in the
message. See if they mention the issue or if you can find it in their
search engines. Look to see if they have a section on hoaxes and if
the message you are researching is listed.
- Do a Web Search
- Do a general keyword search at your favorite portal site to see
if you can find web pages about the issue in question.
- Check Dates
- If the message is vague about when an event happened or uses relative
dates (a month ago, two weeks from now), it may be refering to a legitimate
event that happened years ago. Make sure the matter is still current.
A legitimate petition or call to action will be dated, refer to supporting
web sites, and cite verifiable references to independent reporting agencies.
Any message which you cannot quickly and thoroughly verify to be true and
current is almost certainly a hoax. When in doubt, delete it and move on
with your life.
For more information about Internet hoaxes, check out
Seth B. Noble -
Identifying Internet Hoaxes -
sbnoble DataExpedition.com -