Key Characteristics of Bogusness

by Robert Nagle on 8/28/2009

in political rhetoric

Lori Robertson on the signs of an inaccurate/misleading email:

  • The author is anonymous. Practically all e-mails we see fall into this category, and anytime an author is unnamed, the public should be skeptical. If the story were true, why would the author not put his or her name on it?
  • The author is supposedly a famous person. Of course, e-mails that are attributed to legitimate people turn out to be false as well. Those popular messages about a Jay Leno essay and Andy Rooney’s political views are both baloney. And we found that some oft-quoted words attributed to Abraham Lincoln were not his words at all.
  • There’s a reference to a legitimate source that completely contradicts the information in the e-mail. Some e-mails will implore readers to check out the claims, even providing a link to a respected source. We’re not sure why some people don’t click on the link, but we implore you to do so. Go ahead, take the challenge. See if the information you find actually backs up the e-mail. We’ve examined three such e-mails in which the back-up material clearly debunks the e-mail itself. One message provided a link to the Tax Foundation, but anyone who followed it would have found an article saying the e-mail’s figures were all wrong. Another boasted that Snopes.com had verified the e-mail, but Snopes actually said it was false. 
  • The message is riddled with spelling errors. Ask yourself, why should you trust an author who is not only anonymous but partially illiterate?
  • The author just loves using exclamation points. If the author had a truthful point to make, he or she wouldn’t need to put two, three, even five exclamation points after every other sentence. In fact, we’re developing another theory here: The more exclamation points used in an e-mail, the less true it actually is. (Ditto for excessive use of capital letters.)
  • The message argues that it is NOT false. This tip comes from Emery, who advises skepticism for any message that says, "This is NOT a hoax!"
  • There’s math involved. Check it. One message that falsely claimed more soldiers died during Bill Clinton’s term than during George W. Bush’s urged, "You do the Math!" We did. It’s wrong.

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