Dear Gossip Mongers Who Don’t Bother to Fact Check…


I ordinarily shy away from posting anything remotely political or religious on this site, unless it has a direct tie to something involving tech, and every writer on Gear Diary has been instructed to do the same. I do not need to know how anyone voted in order to decide whether we can break bread together, nor do I need to know a person’s religion (or lack thereof) to be able to tell if they are a good person. But today something happened that made me decide that it was time to break my rule.

I have finally. had. enough.

After receiving what must have been my five thousandth email erroneously spelling out how Barack Obama is not qualified or eligible to be President of the United States because he is a) not an American, b) a Muslim, and c) whatever the latest new discovery about his “murky past” happens to be, I finally felt compelled to say something publicly.

What bothers me is not that people are criticizing Obama (or any other political figure for that matter), because in all honesty – my feeling is that as long as you voted, you have the right to criticize every person in public office, even if (or maybe especially when) he isn’t the guy you voted for. No, what bothers me is the way in which so many people will receive something in their inbox, take it a face value, and just because it sounds like it might be true, like it might have happened, like it might one day happen, or they wish it had or would happen, they mindlessly pass it on. This is an even greater issue in the current climate in which there is SO MUCH vitriol and attempts to character assassinate based on blatant lies. People then take those lies, pass them on, and the lies are repeated so many times that they take on a life of their own. In the process I suspect these mindless forwarders play right into the hands of the lie’s originator!

Passing something on sends an implied endorsement to the person receiving the item: If I forward you something funny, you can imply that I thought it was funny and wanted to share it with you. If I forward you news, you could imply that I thought it was interesting and worth discussing. If I pass on something though-provoking, you can imply that I thought you might get something out of the subject. If I forward something about a conspiracy theory, you could imply that I thought there was something to the author’s findings. In other words, by forwarding something instead of just deleting it and letting it die a natural death in my email trash folder, I can extend the life of a topic – whether it is true or not.

If enough of the people I forward something to think it is worthy of passing on, they will forward it as well, and the people that receive the email from them will do the same. And just like that, the number of people reading the item grows exponentially. This is great when it invovles a sweet touching story or a way to make a difference in the world. When it involves an agenda of personal destruction, however, it is quite another story.

One type of email is the eChain letter. Seemingly well-intentioned friends and family tell me that if I pass on the email good things will happen, or I’ll get money from Bill Gates. These are annoying but innocent enough. I’ve even received emails based on an Onion article (a popular satire site) that explained how the Harry Potter books are indoctrinating children in Satanism. That’s just dumb, and it shows the ignorance of the person who passed it on.

And the list goes on and on.

But the one thing that every single one of these emails has in common, no matter what their topic might be, is that obviously not one of the people who mindlessly forwarded it took any time to do even the most basic fact checking.

Not one.

It blows my mind.

And when the email in question is a blatant lie that has at its heart the goal of personal destruction, then it crosses the line.

Today my mother sent me an email regurgitating all the attacks and accusations regarding the President. Criticize him, please! There is much to say – as there is with any politician. But criticize stuff that is real.. that is true… that isn’t a complete, total, and absolute fabrication.

I replied with one simple question- IS IT TRUE? DOES IT HAVE ANY BASIS IN REALITY? To make answering the question easier, I included a link to a Snopes article debunking the misinformation.

To everyone else on the Obama email chain, and yes – I knew exactly who all of them were, because – of course – not one of them had thought to BCC their friends and protect their identity from a fact-checker like me – I wrote the following:

This is totally false.

Look, I understand that you aren’t happy with this country’s leadership, and you aren’t alone. But it truly bothers me that people have to LIE about Barack Obama when they try to discredit him. It seems like there are plenty of REAL things he is doing that would give reasonable people enough ammunition to dislike or discredit him…but making stuff up does not help these people’s (your?) agenda; spreading this drivel makes the ones doing it look like a bunch of discredited idiots and liars themselves.

All it takes is one person – like me – doing a search to see if there is any merit to the latest inflammatory email, and the house of cards falls. Don’t you get that?

Seriously, if you are going to mindlessly pass on every email that you receive without doing a little bit of research, then you totally deserve to be regarded as the gossip-mongers that you are. Educate yourselves before spreading misinformation; there are enough true things happening that you can talk about which are controversial and that won’t make you look like a fool.
Judie Lipsett

I’m not surprised that there wasn’t a single reply back.

The lies, the attacks, the character assassinations make me sad, and they make me sick to my stomach. The thing is that when we forward such emails… we aren’t any better than the liars who started them.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.

15 Comments on "Dear Gossip Mongers Who Don’t Bother to Fact Check…"

  1. Bravo Judie! Amen!
    There are times when even ones’ own rules need to be broken. I’m glad you made this one exception since it NEEDS to be said and not nearly enough people are saying it.

    I think one of the things the people making up the lies are depending on is the fact that there is a psychological truth that after hearing something three times we begin to internalize it as TRUE even if it is not. So take an outlandish lie, state it publically and then let it pass from person to person. Thanks to electronic communication we see it multiple times and, eventually, begin to accept it as true.

    We have big issues in the country. Regardless of your political leanings you HAVE to know that.

    When we focus on the lies… when we repeat them over and over and over again… it only distracts us from starting to find solutions. Maybe that is what the hatemongers want. I. for one, want to see the issues fixed and people no longer suffering.

    Let’s finally get back to real debate in this country. Only then can we hope to make things better.

    I do hope people reading this see your main point- or what I see it to be- use the forward button and reply all button with care. Take time to fact check. Don’t be part of the eProblem.

    Oh, and nice choice in picture- that says it all… and why SOME of this may be happening.

  2. It really is a sad state of affairs, and sadly I think just when I thought the level of political discourse couldn’t get any worse than in the last 16 years, it has sunk to a new level.

    Criticize the health care proposal all you want, that is actually a healthy thing – but call Obama Hitler and you might just as well wear a sign around your neck that says “I am a mindless lemming with no clue about either current events or about history’.

    I had to do a similar ‘chain response’ to the same basic disproved stuff last year during the election … again, vote your conscience … but please use your brain!

  3. BRAVO Judie. Also, what Dan said! 🙂

  4. Thanks Judie. I’ve been meaning to write a post about that myself (I have no rules, yet 😉 ). I like checking for pretty much every biased political news item I hear as well 🙂

  5. Bravo! Well said.

    I myself have done the “Reply to All” on such things as virus hoaxes and the “forward this to as many people as possible and AOL with donate money” to a supposed “brain cancer” kid that doesn’t exist, imploring people to check any such stories out, and pointing to the Snopes pages as well. I embarrassed the hell out of one, and I don’t think I’ll be getting anymore from them.

    It’s the quickness and ease of sending email, I think, that motivates people to abuse it and pass these things on. I also have to sometimes remind co-workers that politically-based emails are against corporate policy, and not to send their favorite “Joke of the Day” to me since my PDA Phone has limited storage, and I don’t need the cute videos clogging it up.

    You know, if the Post Office did start charging per-email (like a popular hoax email claims) maybe this would all stop!

  6. Thank you Judie

    I work in internet tech support, surviving 11 years so far, and I am pretty disgusted with the level of ignorance out there. Too many people raised on TV, left alone with the TV as the babysitter, and just plain stupid.

    No wonder the US is falling behind in so many ways.


    Intelligent writing and conversation is a true pleasure.

    thank you again


  7. I have ended so many conversations by showing snopes. 🙂

  8. EXCELLENT! Thank you for taking the time to write this. If it was an email, I would forward it to everyone I know.

    Things like this are why I subscribe to GD RSS feeds!!!!!

  9. I’m sorry, I’m feeling woozy… I just woke up from a drug-induced sleep in a tub of ice water in my hotel and I’m missing a kidney ! That email warned me this would happen !

  10. LOL You guys are awesome; thanks for receiving this in the spirit it was intended. 🙂

  11. Thank you for your loud shout.
    I too hate “prompt forwarding” and this is why it takes to me ages to answer, always 🙂

  12. I used to get lots of these emails from my dad. It always saddened me, because when I was growing up, he was always so reasonable. We could discuss issues and he was the kind of guy who could give great ideas and be open to great ideas as well.

    But now, I’d say he’s decidedly on the lunatic fringe. There’s always been a lunatic fringe, but they’ve never gotten the media coverage that they do now. It’s not the media is for or against their ideals. The media doesn’t care, there’s no such thing as “the liberal media” or the “conservative media” (at least in the mainstream!) – it’s just about ratings. If it looks good on tv and stirs the pot, then people watch and that’s good for them. That’s all it is.

    He’s totally programmed now by what he sees, so he fact checks nothing. I tried the snopes approach.

    The response? That I am unamerican and am in fact a traitor, and that I’m being persuaded by foreign influences and foreign sources aren’t valid. Snopes is “foreign” I guess.

    I also reply-all’d and his was the only response I got, and as a result, we don’t talk much anymore. I feel like I lost my dad to this madness.

  13. @cyberg00se That’s the saddest thing I’ve read today. I feel you, I lost a lot of friends in a similar way.

  14. I agree (wholehearted) with the nonsense of mindlessly sending these type eMails. I always consult sites like Snopes to make sure what I forward is real. When I receive something that is not, I reply to the sender and give them the Snopes article to read and ask them to check Snopes before forwarding an article for me.

    My question is this, who Snopes Snopes? We are becoming so leery of misinformation in this media rich culture, when does the site that you trust, need another site to check to see if the information that they say is trust worthy, is actually trustworthy?

    Keep up the good work Judie.

  15. Minutes ago, I had to point out that the forwarded email a former coworker sent me was nonsense. Apparently the nuts have given up on the birth certificate and now they’re claiming that Obama could not have gone to Pakistan in 1981 on a US passport, so he’s obviously a foreigner. 30 seconds of research shows that Americans were allowed to visit Pakistan in 1981. The NY Times even gave travel advice. I’m sure I’ll get another email with another easily-disproved falsehood any day. Do people outside of West Texas have the same level of crazy?

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