Internet Mythology

by DogwoodNC

published by Personal Computer Club of Charlotte, 11/99 

(references updated 9/8/06)


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I know this guy whose neighbor, a young man, had a few stiff drinks at a party, and the next morning he awoke in a hotel bathtub full of ice and he was sore all over. When he got out of the tub he saw a note on the mirror saying that HIS KIDNEYS HAD BEEN STOLEN by Bill Gates, and he could only get them back by dialing 9-0-# and forwarding 5000 emails to a dying girl at Disney World.

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY TRUE!!! My uncle's friend heard this story from his neighbor who got it from a guy who used to work for the American Cancer Society in a major city.

Well the poor guy immediately tried to call 911 from a pay phone to report his missing kidneys, but upon reaching into the coin-return slot, he got jabbed with an HIV-infected needle around which was wrapped a note that said, "JOIN THE CREW". He was so distraught at this point that he went into the nearest theater and bought a ticket. It was then that he felt a sharp pain in his left shoulder blade. The people behind him got up laughing and tossed a wadded-up paper ball at him as they ran out. When he uncrumpled the paper, it said "WIN A HOLIDAY".

THIS IS NOT A JOKE!!! I have a friend who works next door to the police department of a major city and he heard it from his elderly aunt.

The poor man, having no kidneys and infected with a dread disease, stumbled into a nearby Neiman-Marcus cafe and ordered a plate of cookies. He asked for the recipe and was told that it would cost "two fifty." When he received his bill, there was a charge for 250 dollars! Furious, he fired up his laptop and tried to send an email to his lawyer. Unfortunately, he first downloaded a message titled "IT TAKES GUTS TO SAY JESUS" and it wiped out everything on his hard drive.

So anyway the poor guy tried to drive himself to the hospital, but on the way he noticed another car driving along without its lights on. To be helpful, he flashed his lights at him and was promptly shot as part of a gang initiation in a major city. He died before he was able to make it into the hospital.

THIS IS NOT A CHAIN LETTER!!! Please forward this urgent message to every one you can, and spread the news that the Make-A-Wish foundation will donate a pair of Nike sneakers to everyone at Disney World, but only if you send it to 1000 people. Don't be a thoughtless jerk -- it only takes a minute of your time to spread this message, and it could be true!



This particular email message is a parody of several prevalent urban legends, virus hoaxes, and chain letters. At one time or the other, we've likely all been guilty of circulating hoaxes -- even though we may not realize it at the time. It's hard not to believe some of the current stories when they sound so true (like the attack on the woman in the Ohio shopping mall), or so plausible (like gang initiation rites or a surtax for email messages), or so inviting (like receiving a free PC or free money just for forwarding email), or so potentially dangerous (like finding HIV needles in pay phones or deadly spiders under toilet seats).

Some of the hoax stories actually carry good messages (like being careful in parking lots and making sure that your PC has updated virus protection), but they're either not based on a true stories at all or they've been greatly exaggerated over time -- they've become myths and legends.

Other stories are impossibilities. For example, in current technology, you cannot acquire a computer virus merely by opening email. Launching an application that's included as an email attachment is a totally different thing (which CAN be risky) -- but one very common virus hoax-type claims that just receiving the email will be hazardous.

I've received around a dozen hoax/urban legend/chain letter email messages this week; that's what prompted this article. All of them were sent by well-meaning people -- and I'm sure that they thought they were circulating useful information.

What's the problem with hoaxes, urban legends, and chain letters? Sometimes they can be amusing; however, they do take up server space and, if unchecked, can cause widespread system problems. Consider that if you resend a message to 5 people, and they each send to 5 people, and so on, just 10 "generations" later, almost 2 million people would have read it! That's a lot of mail!

Probably more serious, however, is that the stories are often believed. While sometimes they're relatively harmless, some have potentially dire consequences. For example, if you see a car without headlights at night and don't flash your lights (because of the hoax about the gang initiation rites), that car could much more easily be involved in an accident. Another example is the hoax about the CPR substitute, which has been evaluated by the AMA and found to be bad advice.

So, how do you know what to believe? Here are some tips that might help (tho' these are not foolproof):

What should you do if you receive one of these messages? I'd suggest that you first confirm that it's a hoax, then (instead of forwarding it), write back to the originator and explain that it's untrue. (Politely, please!)

There are several archives of known hoaxes, urban letters, and chain letters. For starters, check out these links:


Don't be gullible!