Why, indeed...?

A number of misleading e-mail messages — and you will be familiar with the type — immediately bring to mind the third person plural interrogative: Why do they do it?

I recall one that read, in part, “NASA confirms (the name of an identifiable higher authority is often invoked, assumedly because it gives the ‘report’ a level of authenticity otherwise lacking) that Earth would experience 6 days of darkness from 16-22 December 2014 due to severe solar storms”. Well, my dear friends, as I assume you noted, it didn’t happen!

An almost identical alarm was propounded two years earlier when Earth was to be blacked out for, I think, three days just prior to Christmas. It was a precursor to the end of the world and, on that occasion, “…foretold in a Mayan calendar”. (As I guess you noticed, that never eventuated, either.)

My grandfather would have defined it a pile of bovinus excretivus.

There seem to be people out there who devote incredible amounts of energy developing e-mails varying from the sublime to the ridiculous. Many, perhaps, are harmless enough but some have the potential to cause great harm.

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So much on the internet is wrong, through ignorance or misunderstanding or failure to check first or, frequently, through an intent to deceive.

I recall some years ago reading about a woman who wrote many pieces of information, ‘facts’ that sounded entirely plausible but were no more than figments of her fertile imagination. Many of these still do the rounds. It is not uncommon for them to crop up on trivia night.

You will be familiar with one: “What was the name of the aircraft in which Buddy Holly died?” The answer she created was “American Pie”. The actual aircraft was a Beech Bonanza on charter from Dwyer Aviation. Dwyer named none of its planes; this one was only ever known by the last three digits of its tail number, its callsign, nine-four-November (94N).

Amongst the worst are the conspiracy theories that abound following a disaster. Take the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. I won’t bother to list every sickening issue here, although there are at least nine conspiracies of which I am aware. Suffice to say the sick minds who promulgate such pap display a total lack of sensitivity for the family and friends of the poor souls on board the doomed flight. Their sense of loss is surely exacerbated every time one of these ridiculous messages is aired.

To extend that a moment: We know conspiracy theories flourish among our trans-Pacific neighbours but, worryingly, two or three of those relating to MH370 appear to have originated here. We look askance at the Yanks for their unlikely stories about the assassination of JFK, for example, but should never forget we, too, had those who suggested Harold Holt was taken by the Chinese. In a submarine. Heaven help us.

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There are so many items of dubious — and downright wrong — origin, I could write page on page about them. (In fact, a site called Snopes does just that.) Instead, I return to my question: Why do they do it? I don’t know the ultimate answer but will propose two.

The first comes from the response given by the woman who created all those spurious answers. When asked why, she gave a variation on the mountaineer theme, “Because I can”. In other words, she has the ability and the means to lie and to confuse, so she does. I’m no psychiatrist but I guess it gives her a warped sense of power over others, never mind the consequences.

The second is a variation on the first: self-aggrandisement. By creating something purposely wrong but potentially believable, is the architect — in his own mind, at least — increasing his own importance, attempting to prove his superiority over his plebeian contemporary? If so, then he must fail dismally, for every fact can be verified by other means. There are enough reputable sites available online and in reference works for the kibosh to be put on any item of false or misleading information.

Whatever the reason, it is likely we will never prevent it happening. What I’d like to see, and I reckon you might agree, is that those who use so much energy enacting such erroneous information should better serve humanity by being helpful.

How much greater their reward…?

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Would you like to relate examples of which you are aware? Have you ever believed an untruth like the ones John writes about?

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