Citizens' Issues
Internet hoaxes are a new fact of life

Internet hoaxes have spawned a number of websites that do nothing but shoot them down. For consumers of the Internet, it means maintaining a healthy dose of scepticism, and not believing everything you read

Lies produced and spread on the Internet have been a staple of online life for years now, but have mostly remained in the background. However, one spectacular hoax burst into full view last week, rocking the collegiate sports world.


Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o, the runner-up for last year’s Heisman Trophy, had been cited for his emotional courage by remaining on the gridiron despite the reported early autumn deaths of both his beloved grandmother and girlfriend within 24 hours. The grandmother was real but it turns out, the girlfriend never existed.


In numerous interviews with the sporting press during Notre Dame's undefeated season, Te’o spoke in great detail about the young woman and Stanford grad, who he said had tragically died of leukaemia 12th September. Now, he says he only engaged with her online, and it was revealed last week she never existed.


Internet’s dark side

While this sensational and bizarre story has yet to fully play out, it’s a reminder of the Internet’s dark side—its ability to transmit completely erroneous information with a perplexing degree of credibility. One sees it in forwarded emails and Facebook posts. Someone receives a message that is either misinformed or an outright hoax and passes it on as gospel. Soon, people accept it as truth.


“Folks have a real tendency to believe much of the information online as they feel anything published must have some competency as many have thought in the non-digital world,” Marcus P Zillman, an author and expert on Internet hoaxes, told ConsumerAffairs. “Many have never experienced an educational endeavour of learning what misinformation is and how it truly affects society in today’s New Economy.”


Debunking hoaxes

Internet hoaxes have spawned a number of websites that do nothing but shoot them down. describes itself as a “reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumours, and misinformation.” In one example, it takes on the Darwin Awards, which were a subject of a popular circular email a decade ago.


The Darwin Awards were a series of news items detailing the death of some person who died as the result of incredibly stupid behaviour. Most readers accepted these as fact.


“As is the norm for such Internet circulated lists, Darwin Awards-2006 email is a mixed bag,” Snopes editors write. “There are some actual incidents, accurately chronicled, one that we know is an out and out fake, and a handful of others that we can’t yet authoritatively prove or disprove. Interestingly, while this compilation purports to be from 2006, all of its entries date from 1995 through 1998.”


The emails, the editors concluded, were authored not by a Darwin Awards Committee but by persons unknown.


Brett Christensen, of the Australian website, says people tend to accept information they receive online because it comes from someone they trust. But in many cases, he says, it plays on their prejudices.


“Hoaxes often cater to preconceived ideas held by the recipient,” Christensen said. “If a hoax message seems to confirm a person's views on religion, politics or general perception of the world, he or she is perhaps more apt to send it on without investigating its claims. In other words, if you really want to believe it, you might tend to overlook or excuse any logical inconsistencies or suspect claims that a hoax message contains.”


Romance scams

Perhaps nowhere are Internet hoaxes more devastating than in affairs of the heart. It happens all the time on online dating sites, where a relationship begins without a face-to-face meeting—many times with painful consequences.


Over the years ConsumerAffairs has received a large number of reports from dating site users who became emotionally involved with someone online, only to find out they were being scammed. David, of Loveland, Colorado, said he fell for a romance scam when he thought he was helping a young Russian woman stranded in a foreign country.


“Since then I have been approached on every dating site I have joined by supposed women who are stranded in Nigeria or Ghana,” David wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “When the dating sites are notified they are scammers they do nothing about it.”


Lately, dating sites have done more to warn users about possible scams, and a reading of the most recent ConsumerAffairs posts suggests users are now more savvy. Patsy, of San Antonio, Texas, writes that she spotted an attempted scam on right off the bat.


“He said he was from Germany, working on a project in Nigeria,” Patsy wrote. “I come from a German family and the accent was definitely not German, another red flag. So, I continued to play along and last night he asked for a loan of $600.00, I declined. He wasn’t too happy about that, so I just signed off.”



These scams, of course, have a profit motive. The people attempting to fool unsuspecting love-seekers are hoping for a payday. But in recent years there is a new breed of Internet imposter, who may or may not be at the centre of the current Manti Te'o firestorm.


These are people who create identities and try to fool people just for fun. There’s even a name for it—‘Cat-fishing’—named after an MTV series ( that outs Cat-fishers. High profile individuals, such as athletes, appear to be common targets.


A ‘Cat-fisher’ will fabricate a profile and take someone’s picture from their Facebook account to trick their victim into thinking they are someone who desires a relationship with them. Why they do it is anyone’s guess. But profit does not seem to be a motive.


Here are three questions to ask yourself if you think you are being Cat-fished:


  • Why won’t this person engage in a video chat with me?
  • Why won’t this person agree to a face-to-face meeting?
  • Is this person too good to be true?


If there are not good answers to these questions, chances are you're being played as the victim of an Internet hoax.


As for the media’s role in the Manti Te’o hoax, Christensen says it might be excused in this instance for swallowing the fabricated story hook, line and sinker, but in others, he sees it as very culpable.


“For example, a number of media outlets reported on the claims that the Google Street View car killed a donkey in Botswana,” he said. “However, even some fairly basic research by journalists writing these stories should have been enough to reveal that the claims were untrue.”


For consumers of the Internet, it means maintaining a healthy dose of scepticism, and not believing everything you read.


(Courtesy: Mark Huffman)


BSE Sensex, Nifty on a bullish trend: Weekly Closing Report

On a weekly basis, the Nifty has to hold 5,940 for the bullish trend to continue

The market settled in the green this week supported by the populist measures by government a decline in headline inflation numbers and a slew of positive third quarter results released by corporates during the week. The market will be driven by corporate earnings and global cues.


The Sensex climbed 375 points (1.91%) to 20,039, closing above the 20,000-level mark for the first time in two years, and the Nifty closed the week at 6,064, a gain of 113 points (1.90%). On a weekly basis, the Nifty has to hold 5,940 for the bullish trend to continue.


News of the government deferring the implementation of the General Anti Avoidance Rules by two years and December headline inflation falling to a three-year low enabled the market higher on Monday. Upbeat quarterly performance by TCS and gains in realty, banking and FMCG stocks boosted the benchmarks on Tuesday.


A bleak picture of the Indian economy painted by the World Bank and weak global cues led the market on Wednesday. The decision to allow oil marketing companies raise diesel prices in “small quantities” hiking the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders from six to nine saw the indices head higher on Thursday. Riding on the optimism of the oil & gas sector on the government’s reformist measures, the market closed in the positive on Friday.


BSE Oil & Gas (up 9%) and BSE Realty (up 8%) were the top sectoral gainers while BSE Auto (down 3%) and BSE Metal (down 1%) were the main losers.


The Sensex toppers were ONGC (up 16%), NTPC (up 8%), Bharti Airtel, Reliance Industries (up 7% each) and GAIL India (up 6%). The major losers were Mahindra & Mahindra (down 6%), Wipro (down 5%), Hero MotoCorp, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries (down 4% each) and Hindalco Industries (down 3%).


The chief gainers on the Nifty were BPCL (up 17%), ONGC (up 16%), DLF (up 14%), HCL Technologies (up 9%) and NTPC (up 8%). Mahindra & Mahindra (down 6%), Wipro (down 5%), Hero MotoCorp, Reliance Infrastructure and Sesa Goa (down 4% each) were the key losers on the index in the week.


Giving a big relief to overseas investors, the government on Monday postponed implementation of controversial GAAR provisions by two years to 1 April 2016. The decision to postpone the implementation follows the recommendations of the Shome Committee which was set up by prime minister Manmohan Singh in July last year to look into investor concerns.


Inflation based on wholesale prices declined to a three-year low of 7.18% in December, but it has failed to provide relief to consumers as retail prices rose to cross the double-digit mark in the same month. Retail inflation rose for the third successive month in December to 10.56%, driven by higher prices of vegetables, edible oil, pulses and cereals.


The government on Thursday partially deregulated diesel price allowing a hike of 40-50 paise a litre per month for retail customers and nearly Rs11 for bulk consumers. However, the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs raised the cap on subsidised LPG to nine cylinders per household from six, bowing to public pressure.


On the corporate front, while TCS beat market expectations with a 26.7% jump in its third quarter net profit, Wipro declined as the company’s core IT services did not perform as expected. FMCG major ITC reported a 21% rise in standalone net profit on the back of strong performance in cigarettes, agri and paper businesses. Bajaj Auto fell on a decline in its operating margin for the December quarter and HDFC Bank was punished for a rise in bad loans in the December quarter.


Two-wheeler major Hero MotoCorp ended lower on its poor quarterly performance while Reliance Industries, after market hours on Friday reported a 24% jump in its Q3 net on earnings from its oil refining business.


On the international front, the Republican-controlled House will vote next week to permit the US government to borrow more money to meet its obligations, a move aimed at avoiding a market-rattling confrontation with president Barack Obama over the debt limit.


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