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urban legend chain e-mails: verify verify verify!

I remember my first encounter with an urban legend chain e-mail:

It was a majorly forwarded message, supposedly originating from a mother & daughter who had eaten at a Mrs Fields cookie store in Bangsar (that’s in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, btw), and got charged an arm and a leg for the recipe of a cookie, and in protest, they were passing it on to everyone in order to get back at the cookie company.

I was outraged at such corporate bullying that I promptly sent it out to lots of friends, including friends in the U.S…. and one of them replied saying thanx for the recipe but did I realize that it was a bogus mail seeing as she had received a few of the same with only the name of the cookie company, and location, changed?

I was aghast.
I had contributed to spreading a false tale.
I had been taken in by this urban legend chain e-mail.

Never again, I swore.

Since then, I have made it a point not to forward any emails to anyone unless it was meaningful to me in some way. All those “forward this to 7 friends within 24 hours or you will be struck with bad luck” emails get deleted without a second thought. Those with outrageous claims - especially those with fantastic photos - get verified (usually via snopes.com), then maybe I’ll pass it on to others. In general, I would keep those inspirational / uplifting ones, the good jokes, the thought provoking ones… and delete the rest.

One category of e-mails received that, as someone who is officially Malay in Malaysia, is deemed “sensitive” is anything touching on religion. Unfortunately, just because they are religious in nature, doesn’t mean that these e-mails are TRUE.

I usually take them in the spirit I assume they were sent: friends who mean well, and just want to spread the word which had previously been spread to them…

… but it disappoints me every time I get any e-mail with dubious contents, whether religious or otherwise, passed on by people I know, who I think were capable of independent & critical thought.

Here’s one I remember from work: it was a list of things to do, food-wise, as supposedly prescribed by the Koran, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), or some other authority. One item stood out: if a fly were to drop into your food/drink/soup but manages to fly away, you must catch that fly and dunk it fully into the food/drink/soup, otherwise the food can’t be eaten. Wait, what?? Flies’ legs are teeming with germs and bacteria, yet you are saying to dunk it in its entirety in your food?? I replied to the sender, asking her just how logical that was, and pointed out how, by that one item, the credibility of all the other items on the list became suspect. She replied saying I was right from a scientific perspective BUT she had been told that a fly’s wings are “opposites” of each other: if one wing were to drop into your food, it was poison, and the only way to counteract it was to drop in the *other* wing, THEN it would be safe to eat; and perhaps that was what the e-mail was talking about.

Ugh. I’m sorry, but that just didn’t hold water for me... but if she believed in it, well, good for her and fine with me, just don't expect me to follow what you say... And don't judge me because I don't want to dunk flies in my food...

Then this one, received a few months ago, really got my goat. I'm translating it from Malay, so please excuse me if it's a bit stilted :p

~~
Subject: Are we prepared for the end?

a) Mengikut hadith umat Rasulullah akan hidup selama 1500 tahun... sekarang sudah 1439 = 1426 + 13 tahun hijrah... daripada ini kita ketahui kita akan bertahan dalam masa 61 tahun lagi.. Jikalau ini benar, bumi akan kiamat pada tahun 2066.

According to a/some Hadith, followers of the Prophet will live (last?) for 1500 years. Right now, by the Muslim calendar, we are at the year 1426 PLUS 13 years for the hijrah, so that makes it 1439 years down, another 61 to go. If this is true, then the end of the world will occur in the year 2066.
The hadith, for those who don’t know, are traditions relating to the sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH or his companions. Wiki has an excellent overview of the topic HERE.

And thanx to Wiki, I found this online hadith resource HERE. And yet, even this USC-MSA site didn't yield anything I could use: maybe I didn't use the right keywords to search?

So, while I am fascinated at the thought that Muslims have a supposedly preordained limited time on this earth, I can’t verify that a hadith making such a statement actually exists.

(In case you were wondering: no, I didn’t bother with the math part)
So no luck with (a), maybe I’d have better results with the rest?

b) Saintis telah menjumpai sebuah planet yang lebih kecil daripada bumi yang menghala ke bumi.. Ia telah dianggarkan bahawa planet itu akan melanggar bumi pada tahun 2014. Amerika akan cuba untuk menukarkan orbitnya dengan menembaknya dengan sebuah roket... Dan saintis juga telah menjumpai sebuah planet yang juga akan menghentam bumi... Ia dianggarkan akan melanggar bumi dalam masa 60 tahun lagi.. Dan planet ini lebih besar daripada bumi... Jikalau ini benar, dunia akan musnah pada tahun 2065...

Scientists have found a planet, of a smaller size than Earth, that is heading towards Earth. It is estimated that this planet will collide with Earth in 2014. The U.S. will try to change its orbit by shooting a rocket at it. And scientists have found *another* planet that is also on a collision course with Earth: its estimated collision will take place 60 years from now... and this second planet is a lot larger than Earth.. If this is true, the world will be destroyed in the year 2065.
Oh cool, extra-terrestrial danger - I’ve heard of something like that; heck, that spawned at least two movies! Should be easier to verify.

I wish.

Firstly, something to take note of: it seems "planet" may not be the right term, as usually *asteroids* are the things said to have close shaves with earth, and have been blamed for previous catastrophes in earth.

Secondly, I really do wish the email contained some sort of identification of these extra-terrestrial bodies so I could quickly cross-check with NASA, or be able to search Google with something more effective than “collision + asteroid + deflect + 2014 or 2065”

Findings:
  • Has NASA already deflected a hazardous asteroid? Nope.
  • Can NASA deflect such asteroids if need be? Not yet.
  • Is there an asteroid that is going to hit us in 2014? Not as far as I can tell.
  • How about the impending collision in 2065? Also, not as far as I can tell.
Fascinating things I *did * find out:
Okay, so while that was really educational, my original intention remained unfulfilled: could not verify the claims of paragraph (b) of this email.

Better luck with the next claim? See for yourself…

c) Dan dikatakan kuasa Israel akan mencapai puncaknya pada tahun 2007... Dan kuasanya akan jatuh semula dalam 14 tahun, iaitu tahun 2022, disebabkan oleh penurunan semula Nabi Isa... . Dan hadith mengatakan bahawa Nabi Isa hanya akan hidup selama 40 tahun dan dunia akan kiamat pada hari Nabi Isa wafat.. Jikalau ini benar dunia akan kiamat pada tahun 2062...

And it is said that Israel's power (influence?) will reach its peak in the year 2007, and that its power will then fall again within 14 years, that is by 2022, as a result of the return of Prophet Jesus. And a hadith states that Prophet Jesus will only live 40 years and that the world will end on the day he dies. So if this is true then the world will end in the year 2062…
Oh cool, this is interesting too!

Okay, so where is this said about Israel’s rise & fall? I already hit a dead end… Is it from the Koran? Another hadith? The USC-MSA site again yielded nothing useful to me. Perhaps they were thoughts, speculations and wishful thinking of an ulamak?

And which hadith is it that talks about Jesus’s return? Plus a specific duration for that return?? While this is again a fascinating snippet of information, again I can’t verify it... another dead end...


Sigh!

The e-mail then summarises that “the end of the world is anticipated to end sometime between 2062-2066, that all the above have been investigated, and that the hadith about 1500 years of Prophet Muhammad's followers is believed to be the most accurate, so figure it out for yourselves, so spread the word and save yourselves...”

Riiiiiiiiiiiight…..

Don’t get me wrong, I am not religion-bashing, and I am not denying that somewhen, somehow, the end of the world will come.

I * am* however highlighting where this email is ineffective due to holes in its message. For people who write e-mails like this: perhaps your goals are noble, but I don't believe that the end justifies the means.

Call me anal if you want, but as I said earlier, I make it a point to verify claims I see in emails / blogs, whether they are religious claims like these, pleas for support for Breast Cancer stamps issued by the US Post Office, or a too-fantastic-to-be-true photo of a baby undergoing in-the-womb surgery gripping the doctor’s hand with its teeny hand.

And for all of us who receive tons of forwarded stuff in our inbox:
yes, some are these heartwarming stories that totally pull at your heartstrings, or show the potential of everyday people to be heroes; I’m thinking for these I’m not so anal about – after all, we need lots of uplifting and introspection-encouraging messages in this day & age where so much of the news is depressing.

But when the email exhorts us to spread the word to boycott certain products because their profits go to Israel, or because the owners are Chinese, or because they contain pig components, or because invisible spirits pee in the food to make it seem tastier than the competition’s, or because the huge pot of curry contains a pair of underwear for extra flavour… well, may I suggest that you perhaps take the time to think about its contents before forwarding to everyone you know?

I know of people who will immediately argue that we have a responsibility to spread the word to our fellow brothers & sisters.

I don’t deny that… but: what if the email was originally from a disgruntled employee determined to get back at his employer? Or from a rival restaurant/organisation, using underhanded tactics to steal market share from a competitor?

I feel that when we spread the word, we should be confident that what we are spreading is true to the best of our knowledge.

In other words, for me, for these numerous emails, the buck stops here.

what about you?

Comments

  1. Happy New Year Azllyne.
    I don't bother to read any of these mails anymore.

    Regarding Hadiths, I don't believe it unless it is backed up by at least 2 important sources.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Me? I just delete whatever forwarded emails I get thats tells me to do the same to an equal number of people....Too lazy lah! LOL :D

    I remember back in high school(Ancient history)I used to get a lot of chain mails too.I guess things never change,only the medium does.:D

    ReplyDelete
  3. happy new year to all :-)

    Adam: yep, good principle.. too many rogue hadiths being peddled out there...

    snglguy:yep, in the snail mail days it was already an offense to perpetuate chain letters due to the unnecessary burden on the post office.. and now it's eating up valuable server space & function... I suppose this shows that despite the advances in technology, people in general stay the same....

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Dear legitimate commenters: all comments are welcome! My sincere apologies for making you go through the word verification hurdle, tho.

Dear spammers: please don't bother... I'm just gonna delete any spam that squeaks through word verification anyway, so why not save us both the trouble, eh?

Thanks!
*lynne*

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