The immediacy of the internet can also have its negatives. Things like internet rumours, disinformation, urban myths, bad ideas and outright lies have all had their day on the world wide web…
Here, I shall delve into the mirk and dimmed waterways of internet rumours, urban myths and bad blogging. Taking you on an incredulous journey of discovery, perfectly demonstrating that the herd mentality and group thinking are both alive and well on the Net.
Red Arrows banned from London Olympics 2012?
Not so. And the reason I list this as an example of the power of Social Media going awry is because I was sucked into the rumour mill and ground within the gears, along with half a million other Britons.
The rumour was a particularly powerful one, culminating in a petition with over 500,000 signatures, before the British government were effectively forced to issue a statement to the contrary:
“The petition claimed that ‘The Department of Culture, Media and Sport have deemed the RAF Red Arrows as Unsuitable for the 2012 Olympics because they are too British,’ but the response to the petition, posted ahead of the closing date, makes clear that the Red Arrows have not been banned from the opening ceremony for 2012 and that no decision on the ceremony has actually been made.”
For me, the reason I was immediately drawn into this rumour was because it preyed upon very real fears that run quite deep here in Britain. Because of a ruthlessly misguided select group of regrettably very influential, ill-informed and outrageously stupid politically correct people, much of our national identity is being eroded in an attempt, one would imagine, to placate and sooth various racial and cultural minorities, who — more often than not — couldn’t give a shit either way.
Adding their own typically British tongue-in-cheek slant on things, The Register had their own take on the Red Arrow non-ban:
“Rather agreeably, for those among you who think this is a cover-up and that the government will replace the Red Arrows with a rainbow squadron of mixed races and faiths flying carbon-neutral paper aircraft, the petition is still open.”
Steve Jobs dead?
Prior to this rumour, photographs had been circulating of Steve Jobs looking rather undernourished. Certainly to my mind, I was given pause for thought. The man’s a veggie, for a start! And that’s all that really separates a regular rumour from a really rocking rumour — an element of truth, even if it’s only the slightest whiff, like the feint smell of boiled potatoes.
Then there’s also the not inconsiderable weight brought to the rumour when a blogger on CNN goes and tells everyone Steve Jobs had a massive heart attack, which also prompted a quick and somewhat arse-covering announcement:
Aside from the silly-funny factor — which lasted all of one minute, all told — there’s also an exceptionally serious side, one with potentially disastrous financial implications for Apple. Or, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, huge financial gains for someone else.
As a rule, share holders can be a jumpy lot, and holding tech’ stocks in these curious times isn’t exactly bullet proof fiscal attire. So imagine a rumour that claims Apple’s luminary founder and prodigal son has had a massive coronary heart failure and then just guess what that could lead to, given enough time.
Well the thing is, Apple’s stock took a nose dive right on the back of the rumour, recovering shortly afterwards. This kind of thing is often taken so seriously that the SEC (Security and Exchange Commission) are often called upon to investigate, just in case the rumour was financially motivated.
And even if it wasn’t, those with the money and the influence have themselves a handy how-to guide to using Social Media to make a killing on the stock market — in an almost literal sense.
Microsoft are anti-Semitic?
Arguably one of the more worthy candidates for rumours going awry is Microsoft, although a less bitter-tasting subject matter would have been more palatable.
As we all now know, Windows 3.1 was complete garbage, but hidden within the reams and reams of digital detritus, a Jew-hating heart doth beat. Or did it?
“ADL [Anti-Defamation League] has dismissed speculation about the Wingdings characters since 1992, when someone initiated a myth that Microsoft Windows 3.1 software contained anti-Semitic messages, including one set of symbols that purportedly spelled out ‘death to Jews.’”
If this vile and truly odorous rumour wasn’t bad enough, the whole thing took an even nastier turn nine years later:
“Microsoft has been in contact with ADL to debunk another rumor circulating on the Internet that claims a certain character set within Wingdings refers directly to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.”
I remember the latter more clearly. I even remember having to explain to a friend that there was simply no truth in the matter, and that Microsoft had not conspired with George’s Bush senior and junior respectively, Halliburton, and a cabal of vengeful Arabs to destroy the Jewish race as we know it.
The anatomy of a rumour
Here we see yet another component of the immovable, rampant rumour; one that has transmogrified into an urban myth. Cast in the thin shadow of half truths, measured to fit, urban myths become formidable fictional foes of fact.
Such things as urban myths are exceptionally persistent animals. Often deeply entrenched, wedged somewhere in the soft, beer-drunk folds of teenage and young adult logic, festooned with unmentionable, questionable verifications, such as “a friend of a guy who dated my brothers ex girlfriend told me, and why would he lie? His dad was a state trooper!”, or similarly contrived instances.
Take heed, dear reader, the internet is a worrisome place, where lies, rumours and bitter rivalries travel at the speed of light. Belief will always be the poorer cousin of fact and the best friend of rumours…