Go On, Be Honest
24 October 2002
Have you ever received suspicious emails? Are you sometimes concerned about the verity of what you read on the internet? Ever been duped by some misleading fact or figure on the internet? Has this had an adverse material impact on your life, or the lives of any of your friends and/or family? If your answer to all of these questions is "no", then you are lucky, but are also highly likely to fall prey to an "internet lie" at some point in the future. If any of your answers is "yes", then you will already realise the importance, nay, the necessity of the Movement Against Internet Lies (MAIL), and may even already be one of our ever-increasing membership. Yes or No, this is important to you and your use of the internet, so read on to discover more about the material impact of Internet Lies, and what you can do to avoid their nasty consequences.
Our slogan is "Go On-line, Be Honest". You would think that this would not be a difficult rule to live by. But time and again our members find and report anomalies, inaccuracies, and downright fabrications on websites, email and another online content. We then attempt to contact the author of the lie and try to persuade them to correct their "mistake". Sometimes this is not possible, in which case the relevant authorities are contacted to chase the case. To date, our members have detected over 30,000 internet lies, and well over half of them have been corrected.
Some examples of the effect Internet Lies have on everyday lives:
In January 2001, an Iron Maiden fansite posted the address of an upcoming gig as the NEC Birmingham, rather than the Wembley Arena in London. The mistake remained on the site undetected and uncorrected. On the night of the gig, several thousand Maiden-Heads descend upon the fragile local transport system in and around the area of the NEC. Emergency service records for the night in question shows that the increase in traffic congestion led to slower ambulance response times, and to two deaths. One of these was from a road traffic accident, no doubt caused by the unexpectedly high traffic volumes, all caused by a lie on a website.
On Wednesday the 18th of September 2000, the UK National Lottery website posted the wrong numbers as the result of that evening's draw. A technical error meant that it was not updated from the previous draw. Mr Charles German of Clitheroe, saw the incorrect numbers, presumed he had won the jackpot, and promptly phoned up the manager of the detergent company he worked for, venting his spleen of decades of resentment. By the next morning, the error was uncovered, and Mr German was left without a job or a jackpot. Unable to support his family, he committed suicide.
In early March of 2002, Miss Natasha Barrow was spring-cleaning her recently purchased flat in Edmonton, North London. Concerned with a particularly stubborn stain on her new work-surfaces, she happily logged on to a popular search engine, searching for some hint or tip to help her with her chore. The first article on her list seemed to provide her with a detailed and accurate answer, and she set about purchasing the necessary ingredients. Unfortunately for her and her neighbours, the site was not a DIY or household maintenance help-site, but some off-the-wall fiction site. The resulting explosion gutted her flat, and several nearby homes were so severely damaged that they had to be demolished.
There is a dual responsibility when it comes to internet honesty. MAIL's focus is in two areas: First, raising awareness on the impact of posting Internet Lies, as well as detecting and trying to correct them. But MAIL's second aim is to educate internet users so that they can recognise an Internet Lie for what it is and so avoiding any of the ill effects of assuming the falsity to be truth. MAIL has created a simple checklist that should be in the back of every internet user's mind:
- Does the information come from a trusted, reputable or reliable source?
- Can the information be verified from a non-internet source?
- When in doubt, remember: Stop, Think, Click.
The key to the MAIL checklist is to help internet users to Read With Caution. But is you want to get more involved, then it is easy to become a MAILman (or woman). Just send a self-addressed stamped envelope to PO Box 3926, London W1L 4LJ, and we will send you an information pack. Alternatively, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The amount of information on the internet is increasing at an exponential rate. Also, internet use is still increasing as more and more people begin to rely on the internet for their source of news and other information. All this means that the negative impact of internet lies will be felt ever more heavily by thousands of innocent victims a year. Please help MAIL by doing your part in the battle against on-line lies and falsity. Be Vigilant.