Over the years I have received dozens and dozens of emails that were “scams”, “hoaxes” or “urban legends” that have been forwarded to me by friends and family seeking to do something good by sharing a message they thought was legitimate (and I’m sure I will continue to receive them). But I have always tried to be careful not to forward anything without proper research. I don’t want to abuse the privilege of emailing people, and also don’t want to spread false information. It’s even more frustrating when I get the same false information from several people in my contact list. So I generally do not forward emails, even the jokes, and even the one’s that say something bad will happen to me if I don’t.
Today I saw a post on FaceBook by one of my friends about an Amber Alert. I haven’t seen such posts on FaceBook before, and thought “this may be real“. As usual, I did a quick search even though I was in a hurry to get my son to his baseball practice. However because of my hurriedness, I didn’t search the terms I usually search, such as “Hoax Amber Alert” or similar. I just put the text of the message into Google. The answers were from others with concern for the “missing child” that had also posted the message in the last day or so on blogs and other social network pages. Since I was in a hurry, I accepted this as “good enough” and posted the message on my status, also thinking hopefully someone in my network may pass it along and help find the missing child.
A few hours later, just after I got back from my son’s baseball practice, another friend gave me a link from Snopes that showed the message is a hoax. It really bothers me that people will use something as important and life saving as Ambert Alerts are, just to play a joke. It isn’t any funnier than pulling the fire alarm in school or shouting “fire” in a theater; both of which come with serious consequences.
Responsibility is learned through good parenting. As parents we should teach our children that doing such trivial things can actually cause great wasted resources. We should be teaching our children that, while email is “free” we do pay for it in our Internet bills. When millions and millions of messages are sent around the world wide web, it can cause “net congestion” which slows the internet down. If millions of people get the same false information and perpetuate it by forwarding it, and those that recieve it do the same and so on…it is a waste of Internet resources. The use of these resources cause ISP to increase bandwidth, add storage and enhance services. When that happens, there is a cost involved and it is passed on to the consumer. So what we think is “free”, really isn’t. There is a reason your Internet rates go up, and it’s not ALL profit motive.
Not only is it a waste of Internet resources, but in some cases our police and other public servants get involved to verify these facts, and hunt down leads. Sometimes they get sent on a wild goose chase because time can be of the essence, especially in the case of an Amber Alert. And if it’s a scam, then time and money has been wasted that could have been spent pursuing a legitimate crime.
I don’t want to tell people to stop forwarding messages, especially when they can be life saving such as an Amber Alert. But before we forward any message like an Amber Alert (even when time is of the essence), we should try to authenticate it’s validity by using sites such as Snopes. It shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes to verify whether the information is real or not. There are many other reputable sites, such as About.com that verify these types of scams and urban legands as well. We should do our research before sending emails, or posting to social networking sites so we don’t contribute to the spreading of false information, and invariably wasting valuable resources.