What You Don't Know
It is amazing what you do not know. You probably do not know that zombies from outer space are eating [insert male politician's name here
] brain. You probably didn't realize that [insert name of female political figure here
] is actually performing voodoo animal sacrifices at midnight in the basement of her home. Aliens are among us because Area 54 houses alien spacecraft. Folger's and Maxwell House conspired to created sunrise in order to sell coffee. And the end of the world is set for December 21, 2012 (be sure to bring a date).
What's the point of all this silliness? Just this: not everything you receive in an email, nor everything you see on a website, nor everything that appears on television news is necessarily true. Parts of it may be true, but that's not the way to bet. Just like we tell people that if it seems too good to be true it probably is not, so too is it that if it seems too bad to be true, it likely isn't.
There is an email being circulated, one of many I'm sure, that claims that Barack Obama wanted to substitute the song I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing for the national anthem. Written in that breathless "you're not going to believe this" style, the email weaves fact (Mr. Obama was asked about the flag) with fiction (that he suggested adopting the song above as the national anthem). A quick trip to www.snopes.com solved the mystery. The email is a hoax, but those forwarding it are often convinced it is absolutely the gospel truth.
Ever since the *** used propaganda to great effect in marshaling Germany toward war in 1938, those who study communications have seen that mixing a few gallons of bald lies with a few drops of easily verified truth is an effective way to convince large bodies of people to act in a certain way. One of the most fundamental motivators is fear. If you can make a group of people scared of some other group, you can use that fear to control them. This is how Hitler used propaganda in the thirties, and the same tactics are at work today. All negative political ads rely on the idea that making you scared of the other guy has more effect than making you happy about the opponent. Both parties use the tactics.
Somewhere out there someone is mixing up these manure-filled emails and serving them up, and getting paid handsomely for it. It's wrong, and it's evil, but it's a lot like fishing. A fisherman can troll the best bait in the world through the water, but if the fish doesn't bite, the fish is safe. In an information age it is far too easy to check the bona fides of an internet rumor. All it takes is a visit to one of the many fact-checking websites out there. Information and education are power, but laziness is what liars and con men count on when deceiving people.
Forewarned is forearmed. If you read something on the internet and you think "wait a minute now..." that's your first clue. If it sounds too crazy to be real, it's probably really crazy.