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.
“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.
on to say that term arose in the 1980s, though the phenomenon of course
is ages old, as I indicated in the earlier column.
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.
example you may have heard about is the report of the flesh-eating
bananas from Costa Rica. Mind-boggling.
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.
start with the one site I mentioned in this context in the previous
article: the About Network’s
Legends and Folklore.
A - Z
List - Index of Internet hoaxes, rumors, urban legends
25 - Most popular topics of the past week
New - Latest additions to the Netlore archive
News - Internet hoaxes and urban legends in the wild.
usefully, it has also myths arranged by category, including
Stuff" Chain Letters
Terror Attacks & Aftermath.
miss the dead-frog-found-in-a-can-of-peas hoax, for example? You can
find it here.
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?
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.
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
interesting is the discussion on whether throwing rice at a wedding is
dangerous to birds:
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.
Editorial in Bikwil Issue 3
(September 1997) ]
— 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.
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:
Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted
Gets Nine Months in Violin Case
Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter
Vaccine May Contain Rabies.
Since this article was first published in
2004, The AFU & Urban Legends Archive seems to have vanished from the Internet.