Urban Myths
[ Issue 41 ]

Urban Myths hold a lot of interest for Emily Bronto

Permit Bikwil to acquaint you with the fascination of Urban Myths

Urban Myths

In the Web Line column for Issue 41 Tony Rogers discusses the urban myths that continue to spread through the Internet, offering some advice on how to disbelieve them.

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Web Line — Tony Rogers


In Issue 28 (November 2001) I wrote on the subject of the reliability of information found on the Internet. In that column I alluded briefly to urban myths and the particular problem of Internet rumour and hoaxes. Today I’m going to look a bit more closely at the trend and some of the antidotes available on the Net itself.

What's an “urban myth” (sometimes called an “urban legend”)? According to Harlish Goop, the Oxford Dictionary of New Words of 1997 describes it as

an unverifiable and usually apocryphal anecdote of some aspect of modern life, widely recounted as if true, which has acquired the status of folklore.

It goes on to say that term arose in the 1980s, though the phenomenon of course is ages old, as I indicated in the earlier column.

In today’s world such myths are likely to be spread electronically. A good example of an electronic urban myth is the now notorious Nine-Eleven photo supposedly showing a man (“Tourist Guy”) on the roof of the World Trade Center tower oblivious to the plane approaching from behind. This concocted picture arrived sometime late in 2001 in someone’s email Inbox, and though few believed it genuine within minutes it was circulating the world thousands of times.

Another example you may have heard about is the report of the flesh-eating bananas from Costa Rica. Mind-boggling.

So what about those antidotes? Believe me, there are thousands of Web sites with info on what’s fact and what’s myth, some better than others, so I’m going to look at just a handful in the expectation that they will suffice to stimulate your interest.

I’ll start with the one site I mentioned in this context in the previous article: the About Network’s Urban Legends and Folklore.

It has these sections:

A - Z List - Index of Internet hoaxes, rumors, urban legends
The Top 25 - Most popular topics of the past week
What’s New - Latest additions to the Netlore archive
Updates & News - Internet hoaxes and urban legends in the wild.

More usefully, it has also myths arranged by category, including

Animals & Insects
Bogus Websites
Companies & Products
Computer Virus Hoaxes
Faux Photos
"Free Stuff" Chain Letters
Health & Medical
Sept. 11 Terror Attacks & Aftermath.

Did you miss the dead-frog-found-in-a-can-of-peas hoax, for example? You can find it here.

Or the one about the ankle-slashing gangs? What about the story of the proof-reader George Turklebaum, who had been dead five days before his co-workers realised? Or the endless series of scams about free gifts you can get just by forwarding a chain letter?

In all, this site lists and describes hundreds of hoaxes and myths.

The AFU & Urban Legends Archive * also is arranged by category: Animals, Books, Celebrities, Collegiate, Death, Food, Language, Movies, Religion, and so on. There is a good discussion on the old we-only-use-ten-percent-of-our-brain idea. Several rumours are shown to have had an origin in fact but been much distorted since.

Let’s go over to Urban Legends Reference Pages. Here again, the material is classified by topic. These include Autos, Cokelore, Computers, Disney, Love, Music, Pregnancy, Titanic and Weddings. I was interested to read the full background to the news that Michael Jackson has a prosthetic nose and it fell off during a recent TV special.

Equally interesting is the discussion on whether throwing rice at a wedding is dangerous to birds:

Let’s quit worrying about the birds. They'll be fine. Seagulls don't explode when they eat Alka-Seltzer; pigeons don't explode when they eat rice.

[ cf. Editorial in Bikwil Issue 3 (September 1997) ]

Vmyths — Truth About Computer Virus Myths & Hoaxes — is devoted entirely to the subject of computer security hysteria. There are several very useful sections at this site, under such headings as Hoaxes A-Z, How to Spot a Virus Hoax, Ways to Reduce Virus Hoaxes and False Identity Syndrome. Sadly, it seems to have stopped being updated (perhaps temporarily only), but for all I’d know this news could be a hoax. Nevertheless it remains a comprehensive site well worth a visit.

Let me leave you with four examples of what are claimed to be actual newspaper headlines. They are from a collection of such headlines at Net47 Presents Urban Myths & Legends. Hoaxes or not, these very funny lines surely deserve a mention in Bikwil:

Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted
Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case
2 Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter
New Vaccine May Contain Rabies.

* Note:
Since this article was first published in 2004, The AFU & Urban Legends Archive seems to have vanished from the Internet.

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