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Column: Lies, damned lies and chain emails

Chain emails are an interesting phenomenon, as are election years.

March 6, 2012

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

Many conservatives are being fooled into thinking Barack “Mohammad” Hussein Obama is a radical, covert Muslim who was sworn in to the Senate and White House on the Quran.

Chain emails are an interesting thing, as are election years. Combined they create a curious mix of gullible conservatives and grotesque falsehoods perpetuating a sense of fear the GOP surrogates hopes will translate into votes.

Sadly for the authors of these emails, none of the above accusations about Obama are true. Yet every one comes from a real chain email passed around the Internet.

This isn’t anything new. Chain emails have been circulated by credulous conservatives for some time now. For obvious reasons they become increasingly popular during election years —- so popular that several fact-checking sites have dedicated sections specifically for debunking the nonsense. Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, Politifact.com and even About.com’s "Urban Legend" section have seen huge traffic for their work over these emails. According to FactCheck.org, none are more popular than the political ones.

Although younger generations might not be as email-savvy as older generations are, meaning they haven’t been roped into a forward list, everyone has experienced the essence of a chain email.

Text messages used to urge us to, “FWD this to 10 ppl in 10 min and...” blah, blah, something will happen. That adapted into, “Re-post this status or Facebook will charge you for use,” or “Facebook is going to shut down.” These were essentially the adolescent versions of chain emails. It was only a short amount of time until we graduated to the big leagues.

It could be that more users in the older generations have migrated to Facebook or that it’s an election year inevitability, but status updates have become the new chain email.

Pictures have appeared on Facebook of Obama with his hand over the wrong side of his chest during the pledge. These pictures come from a chain email Snopes.com debunked back in 2009 as a shrewd photo-shop job.

More recently, posts about gas prices have flooded Facebook feeds. A picture of a gas pump with a post-it note reading, “Do you remember that on Inauguration Day (Jan 20th) 2009, the national average for a gallon of gasoline was about $1.78? How's that "hope and change" working out for you?”

An article written by Forbes does an excellent non-partisan breakdown of how ridiculous it is to blame gas prices on the president. The article mentions the fact that the Keystone pipeline would have taken years to build and at maximum would have decreased prices by 4 cents per gallon. It explains how Obama has no control over gas prices and how Wall Street speculators bump the price up more than anyone.

Most recently, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Richard Cebull forwarded an anti-Obama email using his official court email. The email joked about how Obama is lucky that he doesn’t bark, implying his mom had sex with a dog.

The fact checkers say there are several signs that point out whether the emails or posts are true or false, including: misspellings, overly scary openings and excessive punctuation. Facebook posts are harder to tell but they seem to follow the same rules. According to Factcheck.org, of the thousands of posts reviewed, about 90 percent are false.

The emails and posts aren’t limited to gullible conservatives, but FactCheck.org notes that there is a decidedly anti-democratic tilt to them, to put it mildly. Very few false anti-Republican rumors go around, but one could argue that Democrats haven’t needed crazy fear-mongering rumors when everyone can watch the Republican debates live each week.

It’s amazing, and seriously perplexing, that in an age with nearly unlimited information, easily accessible to almost every citizen, that such chain emails and posts still exist. If someone is checking their email or Facebook, they are on the Internet already. All they have to do is head on over to the Google machine and punch in “Is Obama the anti-Christ?”

Sadly, rumors continue to flow through the Internet, and at quite high speeds, according to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Worse than that is that there are people out there who end up believing whatever gobbledygook ends up on their screen and are scared into voting for the old white guy on the ticket.

This whole phenomenon is summed up best by the witty people at Cracked.com, who wrote, “In the meantime, remember the old adage we just made up: Those who fall for chain emails have no business accessing the Internet without adult supervision.”

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