Skip to main content

Wash your brain to avoid spreading false ideria

I hate the term 'meme', because I think there is a very poor parallel between genes and ideas (and it's a cringe-making word), but it can be quite handy when referring to a phenomenon that is very common online. It used to mostly happen through emails, but these days it is more likely to be a Facebook 'share' because it is easier to do.

Typically you get a message from a friend that either warns you of something dire ('Don't open a message like this! It's a computer virus!' or 'Don't use this product, people have been killed by it'), or says 'like this picture and something amazing will happen' (it won't), or tells you something outrageous that really underlines your suspicions about someone in the public eye (most recently that Michele Bachmann wants to ban Halloween).

By all means pass this kind of thing on if it's true - but just as it's a good idea to wash your hands to avoid spreading nasty bugs, so it's a good idea to 'wash your brain' by doing a quick check before passing on these nasty messages.

I'd suggest three quick checks, which can be done in a few seconds. This can a) prevent a red face when you discover you were duped later and b) avoid these silly messages clogging up the e-waves. So:
  1. Do a quick search on Snopes. This long-running urban legend site is particularly good on the kind of message about viruses and evil products that do the rounds.
  2. Also do a quick search on Waffles at Noon. Though not as comprehensive as Snopes, this site is often better on picking up the latest silliness that is spreading via social networks. Here's Waffles on that Bachmann story.
  3. Do a quick Google search. If it is a hoax, there will probably be a clear reference to this on the first page. I did a Google search on 'Michelle Bachmann halloween' and apart from the delight of finding out you can get a Bachmann halloween costume, it was rapidly clear that this was a hoax. (You may wonder how there can be a video of her speech (the bottom item on the picture below) - this is because it's a video showing a still picture with a man reading 'her' words.)

We all get caught out occasionally, but by using these simple checks you can minimize the embarrassment.

Incidentally, as 'memes' are clearly more like viruses or bacteria than like genes, perhaps we should call them miruses or ideria. Just a thought...

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou