With online rumors, everything old is new again

With online rumors, everything old is new again

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Don't believe everything you read in your e-mail. Some urban legends that were debunked years ago are being brought back to life by people online.

Just days ago, in fact, KSL received an e-mail from someone saying a group is asking for a hearing with the FCC to remove religious programming from the air, including Music and the Spoken Word.

The e-mail was a petition asking people to join the effort to stop this hearing. The only problem is there is no hearing.

Federal officials say this rumor is a continuation of a request filed in 1974, asking the commission to look into the operating practices of stations owned by religious groups. The request was denied in 1975.

The FCC has received so many inquiries into the untrue rumor it has devoted a whole page of its website just to debunk it.

Some Internet industry officials say rumors seem to spread a lot quicker than the truth does online.

"If somebody is really interested in forwarding on a political rumor that's got them up in arms, they're going to do it right away," says Pete Ashdown, president of XMission.

Ashdown says he's noticed variations of old, debunked urban legends still being passed around online.

Remember the one saying that Bill Gates would pay people $100 for forwarding a specific e-mail? That rumor is still being spread today, except Bill Gates has been replaced by Warren Buffett.

"The interesting thing about these Internet legends is that they mutate, very much like a game of ‘Telephone.' Some subtle details will change," Ashdown says.

On occasion, Ashdown says some people will call XMission to ask about some of the rumors they heard about online. Others still contact the company wondering if an e-mail they received from a Nigerian prince is legit, and you'd be surprised how many people still give out their personal information as they reply to that e-mail.

Ashdown says his company has a service that can intercept potentially dangerous e-mails from going out from customers.

"It has a reply address, so all we need to do is look for e-mails going out on our service that are going to that reply address, and we are able to intercept them and not do any damage to our customers," Ashdown explains.

He says one of the best websites that debunks urban legends is Snopes.com, and he recommends people check with that website before they forward something they heard online.

By the way, Jeff Goldblum is very much alive, despite rumors saying he fell off a cliff in New Zealand. Similar urban legends were spread about Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise before the one about Goldblum.

E-mail: pnelson@ksl.com

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