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Unwitting Hoax Spreaders April 26, 2007

Posted by Wilz in Technology.
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Originally appeared on Earthwatcher.org on August 9, 2005.

Today I received this message on Yahoo! Messenger :

Planet Mars will be the brightest in the night sky starting August. It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will cultimate on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles of earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Share this with ur friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it again…^_^

If Mars ever truly comes so close as to become the same size as the moon to the naked eye, I don’t think I’d want to stick around. I’d run – if there was a way to run from this blue ball we live on. But wait – this Yahoo! Messenger message isn’t even the original hoax. The original one goes around in emails, and is much more scientifically accurate than the Yahoo! Messenger version.

This is an excerpt from the original hoax :

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye.

Yes, you gotta MAGNIFY the bloody image of Mars 75 times to make it look the same size as the moon. READ – get a TELESCOPE!!! 25.11 arc-seconds is a small dot in the sky. The moon is approximately 1800 arc-seconds wide. Apparently our friendly Yahoo! Messenger editor when trying to fit the message accidentally revealed his total lack of comprehension for simple English. Which of course made the hoax even worse. And people actually believe it…

Anyways, this Mars coming close to earth event actually happened in 2003, something I remember being quite excited about. The author of the original hoax simply changed the year from 2003 to 2005, and kept all the scientific sounding numbers. The guy who changed 2003 to 2005 may be laughing his ass off right now at the additional Internet spam he created, but the guy who started the Yahoo! Messenger thing accidentally revealed his abject idiocy. Ouch.

For more information visit :
http://www.hoax-slayer.com/mars-earth-close.html, or you can do what I did – search “mars close August” in Google.

Why Do It?

I can accept that most people do not have enough knowledge on astronomy to know that Mars cannot possibly be as big as the Moon in the sky with the distances we’re talking about. I can even accept that they never noticed that this exact same thing was going around in 2003. (It was so popular that my friends Tom, Dick and Harry, who had zip-nada interest in Astronomy was calling me to go up the hill to check out the red planet.) What I can’t accept is, why forward something when you know it might not be true?

What most amazed me about today’s Yahoo! message was the response of the guy who sent it to me when I told him that it was a hoax and sent him the link that proves it. He asked me to reconfirm based on my knowledge of astronomy that it isn’t true. When I asked him why he didn’t just read the link, he said, “… the link is just another URL from another website …” He had the good sense not to trust just any information from any site…

I was like, “WTF” for a brief moment, before moving on to, “…” and after that just, “???”

Why on earth is a totally intelligent person (you’ll just have to take my word that he’s respectable and smart) who have the notion of mistrusting doubtful sources of information, spreading out stuff which he isn’t sure is true or not? Could it because a ‘trustworthy’ friend sent it to him?

Misinformation Galore

More than once I’ve gotten really annoyed with friends who are so blatantly ignorant that they forward some of the most ridiculous crap around. I usually try and inform them that what they just sent me isn’t true, and that they should at least try to correct the misinformation they just sent out. I’ve received all kinds of mixed responses, “Just ignore it if you don’t like it.” or “I’m concerned cause it sounds serious.” or “Why do you care.” Some (many) often get pissed, and tell me to mind my own business. Some feel hurt that I did not appreciate their effort.

If forwarding crap is such a wonderful thing, why not? Why not we all just sit down for tea, and come up with the most ridiculous stories to tell each other. (Oh wait – we already do that.) Why don’t we just keep lying to each other. If you believe ALL the hoaxes you are sent, you may believe that storing the words “ICE” (in case of emergency) as part of your contacts in your phones now will allow people to steal your credit. You’ll believe that Osama have been captured (and really get virus infected in the mean time). You’ll believe that aspartame (an artificial sweeteener you’ll probably know as Equal) causes an impossible amount of diseases/health conditions. You’ll believe that Penny Brown is still missing.

You’ll believe that HIV infected needles wait to prick you at petrol stations in Florida, in Canada, in Singapore, in Australia, and of course, in Malaysia. (Apparently the police chiefs of all the different cities all issued the exact same warnings – WOW.) And of course, CNN have announced the same damn WORST VIRUS EVER every day of every year since the year 2000. Not to mention the hundreds of sick kids you thought you helped save by forwarding a miserable email. Oh – and why haven’t you come up with a plan to save Africa by giving each African an email address? Why not – they can forward Bill Gates’ email and get 1000 dollars!!!

Also, every time you forward emails to a group of people, you unwittingly fill each of their inboxes with tons of spam, and more so every single time you forward them emails. How? You reveal their email addresses – which they told YOU and only YOU, to tons of other people, who may or may not know them. When some of them forward, they forward your email address, and the addresses of all the people you forwarded your mail to, to a whole bunch of new people, who then forward it on…

The Cost of Ignorance

Hoaxes have ruined countless reputations, endangered lives with fake medical information, generated unnecessary widespread fear and spread REAL viruses. Because that’s basically what it is. Lying to each other until we no longer know what’s safe to eat, what email is safe to open, what to store in our handphones, whether a kid is really missing – basically the difference between truth and lies. Don’t we already get enough misinformation from evil malicious sources who often want to sell us something? Do we want misinformation from well-meaning sources too? Do we want to BE one of those sources? Shouldn’t we put more thought into stuff we send to our friends? Especially since some of them might just trust us enough to act on it.

Sometimes I wonder why I get annoyed at these things. I’m definitely not annoyed because someone sent me an email to delete – I use the keyboard faster than practically everyone I know. I’m mad because lies are being perpetuated – to LOTS of people. I’m annoyed because my friends are being lied to. And I’m annoyed because it makes me lose faith and respect in my friends, and I WANT to respect them.

Learn some etiquette. Remember, every time you receive an informative email that begs to be forwarded :

ASSUME THAT IT IS A HOAX UNLESS YOU
CAN CONFIRM THAT IT IS TRUE

Come August 27, thousands of unfortunate idiots around the world would be staring into the sky looking for a HUGE red ball the size of the moon, because they trusted friends. All of them have Internet resources enough to receive emails or instant messages, but do not have brain resources enough to do a few keyword searches on Google to check that information.

And thus, the cycle of idiocy and ignorance perpetuates itself…

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