Rumors can spread quickly
Published 8:52 am Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Did you hear the one about the police chief being in jail? If you're one of the people duped into believing this story, you'll wonder why it wasn't on our front page today.
The reason? It wasn't true. Chief Monte McGougin was on a fishing trip last week, but he certainly wasn't behind bars anywhere. For that matter, neither was Keith Hutchins of the drug task force - he's been recovering from surgery.
It's amazing how quickly rumors spread in a small town - and how easily we believe things when we hear them on the street or read them in an e-mail.
And it's not just those of us who indulge in small-town gossip. Think of the dozens of e-mails that appear in your inbox telling you about the urgent need to register your cell phone number on the Do Not Call registry. Guess what? There isn't a need, because there isn't a national cell phone number directory. Think about it: Have you ever received an unsolicited telemarketing call on your cell phone?
Sometimes the e-mails are well-meaning, but still wrong.
Some of these e-mails can be downright dangerous. I can't tell you the number of times I've received an e-mail from a kind friend or relative advising me to dial *77 on my cell phone in the event of an emergency. That's not going to get me anywhere in Alabama, where the emergency number is *47, or *HP. The *77 trick only works in Maine and Maryland; other states have different codes.
In fact, most law enforcement officials tell people just to dial 911 from a cell phone - it will work in virtually every state.
This is my favorite recent one: An e-mail claims that the words “In God We Trust” were deliberately removed from a new series of $1 coins featuring the presidents - a minting similar to the collectible state quarters. Actually, the words were printed on the edges of the coin, to leave more room for larger artwork of the presidents. Apparently even Congress was sucked into this controversy, because just this year both houses passed legislation that will make the U.S. Treasury move the words to the front or back of the coins “as soon as is practicable.”
What do these rumors have in common? To me, it seems they show that we're often too willing to believe the very best about themselves - for example, that they're going to get a windfall of some sort - or the very worst about others - like the e-mails that claim Barack Obama is a Muslim, Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster or John McCain has an illegitimate child. None of those claims is true, but the e-mails keep coming.
I don't know what it is about e-mails that make outrageous rumors seem more legitimate to some people, but they do. But I'd urge you to take those forwards with a grain of salt - usually they're about as true as the messages telling you you're going to get an inheritance from someone you've never met in Africa.
Please tell me you don't believe that one, too.
Kerry Whipple Bean is publisher of The Brewton Standard. She can be reached at 251-867-4876, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.