The NEWS with Tim O'Callaghan

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Avoid trap of misinformation

This first published March 20, 2008 in the Henderson Home News, a Community Newspapers of Nevada publication.

Like many of you, I have access to the Internet and an e-mail address — OK I have close to a dozen e-mail addresses. It’s a little much, I agree, but keep in mind I have developed them over many years. As a matter of organization, they all end up at one address.

So you could imagine just how much spam, the Internet version of junk mail, that I receive? Thank heaven for spam filters that block many of them by sending them to a “junk” folder.

Being an avid e-mailer lends itself to being put on multiple family and friends’ lists of favorites, which is a little tougher to regulate.

What bothers me more than anything is misinformation that is passed along as gospel on the information highway. There is no other space that has the amount of information the Internet does. However, there is no place or space that has more misinformation than the Internet, either, suggesting it could also be named the misinformation highway. May I suggest calling it the gauntlet, where you can try to figure good from bad.

Once in a while I will get an outrageous sack of bull that doesn’t seem to be logical, so much that I need to know the truth.

When this happens, I turn to a Web site called Snopes.com, the mother of all urban legend busters on the Web.

When I find something isn’t true, I send an e-mail back to the sender and everyone they sent to with the truth according to Snopes.com. Sometimes it’s a gentle message and other times it’s a full shame-on-you for passing bad information.

What I’ve discovered is that I’m receiving fewer e-mails that contain bad information from my friends and family. Occasionally, I will receive a message that is directed just to me asking if such and such is true or not.

You should be aware that most of that outrageous spam is designed to incite an emotional reaction by the reader to join in the mob mentality of hang ’em first and ask questions later. It is the hope of spammers that you will send it to all your friends.

What you may not know is the spammer has included hidden text that sends all those addresses back to them.

This week I received an e-mail that was titled “Allegedly” and it read:
“This is a new ship Wal-Mart had built to make 10-day cycles between China and the USA. It can load and refuel in less than one day. A ship’s beam is its width, if you are a landlubber.
“All I can say is if it ever sinks, Wal-Mart and a lot of U.S. consumers will be in trouble.
“This is how Wal-Mart gets all its stuff from China. Get a load of this ship! 15,000 containers and a 207-foot beam! And look at the crew size for a ship longer than a U.S. aircraft carrier, which has a complement of 5,000 men and officers.
“Think it’s big enough? Notice that 207-foot beam means it was NOT designed for the Panama or Suez Canal. It is strictly trans-Pacific. Check out the cruise speed: 31 knots means the goods arrive four days before the typical container ship (18-20 knots) on a China-to-California run. So this behemoth is hugely competitive carrying perishable goods.
“This ship was built in three or perhaps as many as five sections. The sections were floated together and then were welded. The ship is named Emma Maersk. The command bridge is higher than a 10-story building and has 11 crane rigs that can operate simultaneously.”

Sounds impressive, but not everything you read is factual, and there lies the problem.

The Emma Maersk is a real ship, but it wasn’t built by or specifically for Wal-Mart. It was built by Maersk Line, one of the largest shipping companies in the world. Wal-Mart does use Maersk Line.

After checking the Maersk Line Web site, I found the Emma Maersk sails an Asia-Europe trade lane of ports. There are no “10-day cycles between China and California.”

The actual width is 183 feet, allowing it to go through the Suez Canal to ports in Rotterdam, Holland. It can carry 11,000 (ETU) equivalent 20-foot units, not 15,000. The Emma does have 1,000 plugs for refrigerated containers, and therefore it could carry perishables, but not to U.S. consumers today.

I checked Snopes.com, but nothing came up. Maybe I should submit this item.

Last week I received a spam proclaiming the motto “In GOD We Trust” had been left off the new Presidential gold dollar coins in some kind of conspiracy. The photo was convincing, yet logic was telling me something was wrong with the claim.

After checking it out, I can assure you there is no conspiracy. The “In God We Trust” is located on the rim, or outside edge, of the new coins. Again, this is a good example of how spammers mess with our psyche to get us to respond.

If you are person of faith, you need to be just as cautious, because those sweet little prayer passages and stories that tingle your soul are designed to do just that. The sad thing is, there’s a little devil playing in the background trying get as many souls as possible to spam.

The next time you get one of those e-mails, check it out before you send it off to your friends and family. You might save yourself the aggravation of receiving spam and keeping the spread of misinformation to a minimum.

Tim O’Callaghan, co-publisher of the Home News, can be reached at 990-2656 or tim.oc@vegas.com.