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Hoaxes 101: If it sounds too good, it probably isn't true


You received an e-mail message promising a free week at Disney World to everyone who receives the message if the total reaches 13,000 people.

The message sounds too good to be true, but who can resist not getting in on the action?

While harmless enough, this message -- reported from the Disney Company and Bill Gates of Microsoft fame -- is one of many Internet hoaxes that pop up from time to time.

Besides the Disney hoax, which according to the CIAC Internet Hoaxes site (http://ciac.llnl.gov/ciac/CIACHoaxes.html) has been circulating since August of last year, there are plenty others you may have already heard about:

Drug needles left in coin return slots by drug addicts;

The government is going to create a modem tax.

This tax story has a ring of truth to it, as the FCC was considering a per-minute modem surcharge for Internet providers who would most likely have passed the cost on to Internet users.

Gerber Baby Foods allegedly is distributing $500 savings bond to all children under age 12 as part of a class-action lawsuit settlement. Not true says Gerber; they even address the issue on their Web site (www.gerber.com).

The latest one that's made the rounds locally is the headlights-off gang initiation.

A posting went up on the bulletin board at my employer, warning workers never to blink their headlights at an approaching car that is driving at night without the headlights turned on.

Even police departments have fallen victim of this hoax, which has circulated on the Internet since 1993, and was traced by to the early 1980s, where the hoax began (though it said the headlights-on ritual was an initiation ritual of the Hells Angel's motorcycle club).

HOAX BUSTERS. One of the best places to find information about Internet hoaxes and other urban legends is the Urban Legends Reference Pages, found online at http://snopes.simplenet.com/.

The site was created by the San Fernando Valley Folklore Society, and includes an extensive database of old hoaxes and a listing of those reported now in circulation.

Another good source for information on hoaxes and urban legends is the Urban Legends Web site at www.urbanlegends.com.

The site is an archive of postings and information from the contributors of the alt.folklore.urban newsgroup; it's quite thorough and organized by topic.

There's even a Letterman-like "Top 10" list of urban legends for your enjoyment.

The bottom line? Just remember your Dad's advice: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

IMPEACHMENT WEB. If you're trying to keep tabs on the historic trial of President Bill Clinton in the U.S. Senate, the Web is the place to be.

A number of sites offer audio and video over the Web to watch and listen on your PC. My top choice right now is CNN.com's gavel-to-gavel coverage and analysis.

Visit their Web site at www.cnn.com, and you'll find links to live content in both Real and Windows Media formats.

If you experience Web congestion and lose your audio or video, you can try these alternate sites for your live streams:

National Public Radio offers live audio at www.npr.org.

C-Span, at www.c-span.org offers both live audio and video.

Court TV offers audio and video streams via their page at Broadcast.com. For details, visit www.broadcast.com/video/courttv/.

Fox News also offers both live audio and video at its site at http://foxnews.com/.

For some of the important background data, you won't find a better Web site on impeachment than Jurist: The Law Professor's Network site, found at http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/impeach.htm.

You'll find a long list of law-related stories regarding the impeachment process, overviews of previous impeachment actions, and even an examination of what defines "high crimes and misdemeanors."

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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