and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
October #1

Cyberbabble: Don't believe everything you see on the Internet
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, October 2, 2009

On Monday Chip was aggravated because he planned to take a vacation day to go sailing with a friend, but weather reports from radio, TV, NOAA and other marine forecasters warned about gale-force winds by early afternoon. So they cancelled the sail.

It turned out to be sunny and warm, with a slight breeze a perfect sailing day.

Though I felt bad for him because the season here is so short, I wouldn't waste my allotment of allowed annoyance on ordinary things like the weather. I do, however, relate to his vexation with the e-mail he got from his cousin last week. It warned about the dangers of ingesting aspartame and other sugar substitutes, which were alleged by the forwarded e-mail to cause all kinds of diseases that can be cured if you just stop drinking diet soda!

I have been a student of nutrition since I discovered Gaylord Hauser in 1963, so even though diet soda wasn't popular back then, I can figure out that drinking a six-pack a day is probably not a good thing to do. However, it could be better than substituting a six-pack of high-calorie, sugar-drenched soda for the diet stuff, since there is a proven link between being overweight and diabetes. My nutritionist approves my daily can of zero-calorie Coke.

Chip responded with annoyance to his cousin, who accused him of not caring about the people who have died of these alleged aspartame-caused diseases.

That same day, I also got an e-mail sharing a report from Johns Hopkins recommending that we stop ingesting sugar, meat, milk and, yes, aspartame, instead of getting chemotherapy.

I know from lifelong study that we should limit caloric intake and certain fats and meat; but I also knew immediately that Johns Hopkins would never attack chemotherapy, which has saved so many lives. A quick check at confirmed that Johns Hopkins is not happy about being used to spread offbeat diet theories.

Commentator Andy Rooney also was upset about political thoughts attributed to him and circulated by e-mail.

When I received the offending e-mail, I thought that the verbal style seemed too angry to be his. I checked with Snopes and read that Mr. Rooney was considering a lawsuit over the theft of his name.

However, a political diatribe attributed to Lee Iacocca was real. Of a couple attributed to Bill Cosby, one was real, one invented.

I get a lot of these e-mails, and can almost always tell when something is "off." Before I share it with relatives and friends, I check with Snopes, which validates accurate stories and exposes fabrications. I then usually send a link to that expose, to the person who sent me the e-mail.

Lately some of those correspondents have been fighting back by sending me another e-mail that purportedly "exposes" Snopes as a tool of the liberal establishment. Funny, in years of using it, I've never found a liberal bias.

I'm always asking myself, "Do I really need the Internet?" Then I have to remind myself of its many virtues.

Then today I got caught myself.

A friend sent me a file labeled "Elk video (Benezette, PA)" that showed a bull elk attacking trucks and cars that slowed to look at him and his elk harem. I grew up in Elk County, a few miles from Benezette, and spent much of my childhood looking for the elk that someone finally told me had vanished from Pennsylvania a century ago.

They were brought back after I left home; and when I visited my mother, I became one of the visitors who went looking for them along country roads. Chip and I finally found the herd about 10 years ago; we also saw a lone bull elk in a churchyard.

So I related to "Elk video (Benezette PA)" and sent it to family and friends who no longer live in Elk County.

Got a return e-mail from my cousin, Rick, who noted the phrase "wildlife safety video" at the opening, and had learned that it was actually taken by a park ranger at Mammoth and is used as a tourist training video. Not my hometown elk at all!

He sent me a link to the whole safety video collection, which included tourists also approaching a bison, with their children in tow; then being charged by the wild animal. Yes, kids, that's why they're called "wild animals."

The moral of this story? Some people are idiots. But there's a broad range, from those of us who pass around inaccurate, but harmless, information; to those who try to seat a child on a bison for a photo. Others pass along rumors that can mislead sick people, or harm someone's reputation, or threaten an entire industry.

Because of those who try to deceive, we should all check with before forwarding e-mail. Snopes wouldn't have helped with the elk video, and it can't check the weather forecast for Chip; but it does inject an ounce of common sense into cyberspace.

Once exposed to common sense, more people may use it to choose their elected representatives and even their president, instead of just believing everything they're told.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.