There is a saying that a lie can run around the world before the truth can get its boots on and this saying is almost literally true thanks to the wide spread of the Internet. Social media can see rumours, myths and scams proliferate all over the world in a shockingly short time. Below find some of the die-hard Internet myths that never seem to fade!
10. Raw Onions on your Feet to Suck out Toxins
This is a pernicious myth that circulates slowly but steadily, appearing on newsfeeds and tweets on a semi-regular basis! The myth says that if you place raw slices of onion on your feet, holding them in place with socks and leave them overnight, the onions will draw out all the poisons and toxins from your body. The myth is probably drawn from an old superstition that onions could ‘capture’ harmful germs and toxins. Many people used to keep a cut onion in the room of a sick person to help them recover, and it was believed that onions should not be left in the fridge after being cut open as they will absorb all the nasty bacteria in the fridge and make you ill should you then use it in your food. Interestingly, there is an equal and opposite belief from the same period; namely that cut onions will make you ill and any onion should be consumed in its entirety the day it is first chopped open! While slapping slices of raw onion on your feet will not do you any harm (as long as you are not trying to use it to cure serious, life-threatening conditions) the only true health benefit will likely come from germ-laden friends and family members avoiding you because of the pungent, tear-inducing smell emanating from your feet!
9. Facebook is Deleting this Christian/ Army/ Insert Designation Here Post Because It Offends X
Since 9/11 and the July 7th bombings, as well as the supposedly religion-inspired murder of Sgt Lee Rigby, there has been a backlash against political correctness along with an upsurge in hate crimes and ill-will to people of different religions. Hate groups looking to stir up civil unrest have played up these rare incidents by posting stories of normal citizens being told to remove jewellery, ornaments and even patriotic flags from public view as it could offend people. Facebook, as the most popular social media network is often the breeding ground for such people, who claim ‘Facebook is removing this post/ photo/ story because it may offend X, Y or Z’ – these are often not true, and Facebook has clear policies about what may or may not be posted on the site, only removing truly gross, offensive or criminal posts. (A good example occurred at Christmastime, when it was reported that Facebook asked someone to take down a picture of a Christmas tree as being offensive to all non-Christians… there was no truth in this at all!) While there have been the very occasional incident of such things out in the wider world, they are generally reported in the news with immense incredulity and given pride of place in the line-up, because they are extremely rare and therefore newsworthy. Often, the true stories are based on misunderstanding, rather than hatred or discrimination, but scandal-mongers love to play them up or even twist these incidents to make them appear much worse.
8. Al Gore Invented the Internet
This is a very common misconception and is the result of a poorly worded sentence, seized upon and played up by a gleeful and mischievous media. What Al Gore actually said was in response to a question posed by an interviewer, along the lines of ‘What have you done, that sets you apart from your opposition?’ Gore’s reply was ‘During my service in United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet.’ A moment’s study shows that this could mean anything from him green-lighting plans for an Internet-like system to his active support and work on gaining approval for that system to be implemented. Nowhere is the implication that he, Al Gore, thought up the Internet, invented or created it or had, in fact, any hands-on contact with the fledgling Internet at all!
7. Flight MH370 Found, Taken by Aliens, Hijacked
photo: Laurent ERRERA / flickr
The tragedy of flight MH370 is still fairly fresh and raw, but is a bona fide modern mystery, one that just about no-one could believe could happen in our high-tech, security-conscious and surveillance ready world! The flight took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport on the 8th of March for a fairly standard fourteen hour flight. Shortly after 1am (at 1.07 precisely) the planes computers went silent and an expected 1.37am check in did not occur, and the radio communications stopped at 1.19 with the words, from either the pilot or the co-pilot, ‘Good night, Malaysian Three Seven Zero.’ There has been no further contact with the plane since that time, although military radar did report ‘seeing’ the plane change course at 2.15am. The world was galvanised, not so much by the news that the plane had gone down, but by the somewhat stunned admission that no-one knew where the plane was, whether it had gone down, been hijacked or exploded in flight. Within hours of the news, theories abounded about alien abduction, terrorist attacks (complete with pictures of two alleged terrorists who turned out to be innocent passengers so badly photo shopped that that they ended up with the exact same bottom halves!) and many other similar weird and wonderful stories and ideas, that seemed to care little about the devastated friends and relatives of the people lost with the plane. The truth is, we do not know what happened to the flight and this state of affairs will probably continue until the plane is found… if it ever is.
6. The Truth about Your IP Address
Conspiracy movies have the computer geek hero scuttling from hideaway to safe haven, while the bad guys sit miles away, and track him (or her) via their laptop’s IP address before sending in a missile to take him out. While this is untrue, you can actually be tracked by your smart-phone, and via GPS on any Wi-Fi ready laptops or tablets, so there is a kind of truth to this tale. The inaccuracy is in attributing the success in tracking the device to the IP address. An IP address is a loose geographical location, and as such, is a fixed point; not tied to any one individual! So, while the faceless and powerful authorities may indeed be able to track hackers (and innocent citizens who ‘accidentally’ stumble across hugely important secrets, of course) it will never be for the IP address, unless they stay in one place, simply waiting for the door to be kicked in!
5. Bill Gates Will Give You $5,000.00 if You Like and Share This Post
This one is an oldie, having been around in some form since the late 1990s. It was probably inspired by the announcement, at the time, of Bill Gates’ immense wealth putting him firmly at the top of the list of the world’s richest people. The first incarnation was a chain e-mail, in which you were promised a small fortune for simply forwarding an e-mail to all your contacts: a way, the email explained, of ensuring that Microsoft remained the preferred email service. You were promised about $200 – 250 for each contact that responded, up to tens of thousands. As soon as Facebook came along, with its easy-use layout and the ability to quickly post and share photos, a picture of Bill Gates himself, holding a sign promising a pay-out to anyone who ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ the photograph, often with the tagline ‘It’s time I gave something back’. There is absolutely no truth to either of these tales and at best you would be wasting your time, at worst you could be installing malware or spyware on your computer! And as a sidebar, Bill Gates has already given plenty of money ‘back’ with the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation being set up thanks to his efforts (along with his wife, of course) and he has further pledged to give away half of his fortune over the course of his life (this agreement is known as the Gates-Buffet Giving Pledge).
4. The DHS Has Installed Key-logger Software into Dell Laptop Keyboards!
In 2000, a blogger wrote a fascinating piece on the emergence of key-logger software. He aimed it at the surveillance market, and highlighted how easy it was to install a small, secretive piece of hardware underneath the keyboard, where it could record up to 500,000 key strokes onto a memory card. This memory card could then, in theory, remotely download all the information to another computer a short distance away. This insightful and innocent article floated around the Internet for a few years, until it fell into the hands of the hoaxer who shamelessly pinched the photographs and much of the information from the original blog, reworking it into a first-person tale of a DHS-Dell conspiracy to gather information from every single one of Dell’s customers! The writer claimed to have opened up their brand-new laptop to make a small repair (surely unnecessary with a brand-new machine which would have been under guarantee?) and discovered a plastic shrink-wrapped device under the mother-board. Slitting open the plastic he discovered a memory card, hiding silently and capturing all his information. He then claimed that he had called Dell Customer Services only to be told that the device was there for assisting customers should they lose their personal information. The writer further went on to strongly imply that this key logger had been installed at the behest of the Department of Homeland Security so that ‘they’ could track everyone’s computer use! The original blogger discovered that his work had been used in this manner shortly after the hoax went viral and added an update, ridiculing the hoaxer’s work and reiterating that the photographs and much of the information had been lifted from his article!
3. Make $$$ Every Day
This title covers a multitude of similar scams, all promising to sell you the secret of making an absolute fortune for little work or effort and only a modest outlay of anything up to $100.00 (suitably converted into your chosen currency, of course!) (Now, while there are some genuine job opportunities hidden amongst the huge array of scams and cons, in general if it looks too good to be true it probably is! Even the genuine work opportunities that do pay as promised will not be as great as they advertised! Envelope stuffing may be simple work, but you need to stuff thousands just to earn a dollar. Assembly work is another seemingly easy, but actually hideously low-paid job, but these are, at least, jobs of a kind.) Be wary of those wonderful opportunities that offer incredible amounts of pay for one week’s worth, especially if the advert adds ‘in only one or two hours a week!’ In most of these cases, should you be unwise enough to send off the requested funds, you will receive a pack telling you to run your own advert and get people to send you money in exchange for the same tip!
2. Child Predators are Everywhere on the Internet
Young parents often panic at the thought of their children having unfettered access to the Internet and stringently monitor all contact that their junior school children have, even on child friendly sites (it would be interesting to see how much chat takes place between two parents, both pretending to be their own child!) While there are certainly instances of predatory paedophiles meeting in chat-rooms on secure websites to discuss their exploits, buy and sell sickening pictures and videos of abuse and even exchange advice on how to get away with their crimes, it is older children that are in more danger from predators on the Internet. Young teenagers are often targeted by people looking for consensual encounters, where the child voluntarily goes to meet them, being entirely aware that they are going off to meet an older person for sexual purposes. While this is still a crime (statutory rape) and a clear abuse of children by adults, it is distinct from the perceived ‘classic’ stranger-danger type of paedophilia. So, if your children have made it safely into teenager-hood and you are happy to let them keep their computers in their bedrooms and for them to go out and meet up with their friends, perhaps it is time to revise your thinking! Teach your youngsters about high risk behaviours, and explain that there is nothing glamorous or grown-up about sneaking off to meet their new and exciting online lover…
The Internet is full of giveaways, all purporting to be from some of the leading manufacturers in the world (Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft are just three that have been targeted in these nuisance scams) The post, usually on Facebook, Twitter or another social network, tells you to ‘forward this tweet or like and share this post and you can win a smart-phone, iPad, expensive software or even cash. Often they ask you to fill in some information, such as name and address (so that they can send the item, of course!) and an email address. The truth is that these are marketing companies, looking to gather names and addresses to sell to those even more annoying cold callers… Some of them are social network managers, looking to gain ‘likes’ for the pages they manage, leaving the post until it has generated a pre-determined number of likes or shares, and then changing the content of the post or selling it on to someone else, thereby generating apparently good ‘click-through’ ratings. The next time you are tempted by one of these offers, just think to yourself: these companies are huge and already have an outlet for all their products, even those that have been opened, or have slight damage to the boxes (common ‘reasons’ for the giveaway!) – as the saying goes, ‘If it’s too good be true…’