Sunday, March 22, 2015

internet hoaxes

I got my first email address when I was in high school and it wasn't long after that my inbox was piling up with chain letters, hoaxes, and spam. I remember one particular tale, perhaps you might have heard it too, that cautioned against having your kidneys harvested while on vacation. Yes, traveler beware, you may be drugged and later find yourself in a tub full of ice sans a kidney!

As we matured as internet users, my friends and I eventually stopped sending these type of emails to each other. The only person who still sends me chain mail is my dad, but those are usually of the harmless variety—mostly containing picture collections of adorable puppies or wonders of the world or perhaps an off-color joke about Hao Long is a Chinaman. Of course, I can still find a lot of garbage online if I go looking for it.

I don't have to look too far. Thanks to WeChat, I'm exposed daily to what I fear is mostly misinformation, fear-mongering, and hoaxes. I try not to fall victim to it, usually opting not to click on any of the myriad such “news articles” posted on my feed. Against my better judgement, I clicked on one such article today. Coming from the mother of my Chinese friend who recently had a baby.

“A five-year-old girl has liver cancer. Could the culprit be snacks? Whatever you do,” it cautioned, “never, ever, feed these things to children under five!!!” I couldn't help myself. I had to know! I had to scroll down!

Number One: Instant Noodles. Okay, this is a given. No one should really eat instant noodles (good old ramen noodles, as known to any US college student). They are garbage, if delicious. Next on the list: gelatin snacks. No more jello for the little ones if you care enough to stop them from getting cancer! Other no-nos included sausage, cookies, ice cream, and potato chips. All pretty much junk food, but, in their defense, sausage and ice cream are both major food groups where I come from. Sure, kids and adults alike shouldn't eat a lot of any of these things, but to suggest a young girl has a life-threatening disease thanks to her parents letting her indulge in snacks like this seems both cruel and far-fetched.

The warnings about food on WeChat are endless, no thanks to the constant food safety scandals that plague modern China. But the scare tactics don't end with questionable food. Beware of your favorite high tech item—the iPhone. Did you know that if you use your phone while it's charging, you run the risk of being electrocuted? I have to admit, I momentarily fell for this one when I opened the link I received from Ming's aunt. The photos were quite convincing. 

beware of a charging cell phone!

But then I thought about it for a minute. Wouldn't I also run the risk of getting electrocuted by my Macbook when I use it while it was charging? That couldn't be. After some digging (a quick google search), I found that this hoax is an oldie, dating back over a decade. Turns out, the chances of getting electrocuted while using a charging cell phone are next to none. If you are curious, check it out on snopes.

This is all a bit concerning to me, mostly because many Chinese people do rely heavily on social media for news and information. In fact, I recently read a Time Out survey that found that it is their primary source for news. Most westerners tend to get their news from a variety of sources. But with state run media and a heavily policed internet, most Chinese don't have the luxury. Instead of watching BBC news and reading a Newsweek, many of my Chinese friends and family are doing what I did back in high school. . . unsuspectingly forwarding hoaxes to everyone they know.

What do you think? Is this sort of thing harmless or a problem? Have you ever fallen for an internet hoax or scam?


martalivesinchina said...

My bf's aunt is sending things like this the whole time!! I stopped reading after the typical story of "a girl went to a bar, met a nice guy and she woke up on a bathtub full of ice without kidneys". All the 90s hoaxes are being recycled, hahaha.

Even my bf told me not to use the phone while charging it. I just sent him that link, but for sure he will mention what happened last year when a women died electrocuted by her phone or something like that.

rosieinbj said...

It's funny how people get so caught up on these. I want to write an article "Whatever you do, never EVER let your friends or family partake is these activities!" And then list off activities such as: driving a car, smoking a cigarette, swimming, eating at McDonald's. They are all potential killers!!!

martalivesinchina said...

Hahaha yes! For Chinese people swimming is specially dangerous, most of them can't swim xDD