As the internet began to be widely used, but was still relatively new, people began to realise fairly quickly that it could be used for mischief.

I’m sure we all remember the chain letters that were so rife, and even with internet naivety fairly common, it’s still hard to forgive those who blindly forwarded mails to at least 50 of their friends, in case something bad happened if they didn’t. Or the fools who would forward the mail and then stare at their screen for 3 minutes waiting for the “totally freaky thing” to appear as promised.

I was just learning of the internet and its ways at the computer lab at our university (why are they called labs when very little actual research is done there). Ours was even given an even more wanky name. In the Media department at Glasgow Caledonian University (Glasgow’s third best university) it was known as the Newsroom. Clearly all the journos were always out chasing stories in the field because there certainly weren’t any there; I’m not even sure if we had a journalism course at the university. The Newsroom was generally full of students checking their Hotmail, occasionally writing snippets of essays, playing MP3s like a new Tina Turner song that was popular at the time (I later found out it was Macy Gray) or using Ask Jeeves to research symptoms of ailments which could get them out of their exams.

When I wasn’t writing essays or eavesdropping on gossip from social circles I wasn’t a part of, I’d be either setting the desktop pictures of every spare computer in the room to a photo of Ashley Judd (this is not a joke, I used to regularly do this) or I was working on one of my very first websites, an online yearbook for my coursemates – an alternative to the official yearbook being produced by the yeargroup’s resident horde of skanks, and unique in that it actually included every student.

I was busy Judding one of the spare PCs when I overheard a fellow student laughing at her screen. I looked over, there was a picture of a cartoon monkey on it. Hmmm, OK. But that wasn’t what had made her laugh. She dismissed the monkey and called over a friend, “Hey look at this site it’s amazing,” she pointed at the screen and read aloud the instructions from the website, “Just look at the screen and smile, after 3 seconds the screen will take your picture and show you it.”

The friend was, to be blunt, fucking delirious with excitement, and readied her hair and her pose for the big moment.

Of course, I thought, the computer screen can’t take your picture. That kind of wizardry requires, you know, a camera of some kind. A website on a screen alone can no more take your picture than a newspaper or a piece of salami.

This girl is taking a picture of something else...
This girl is taking a picture of something else…

The new victim smiled for a few seconds and then … yep, there it was the picture of the monkey saying ha ha you fell for it. Well the two of them were in uproarious laughter. For the next hour or so, everyone who came into the Newsroom was invited to get their picture taken, and without fail, everyone went over, struck a pose, and seemed genuinely shocked when it was all an … ‘elaborate’ prank.

This was the first outbreak I’d seen of the Internet Dumbfuck Virus – the only internet virus that still, to this day, has no cure, cannot be fixed by a software update, a reinstall, a firewall, or an anti-virus program.

It was huge back then. Because people believed anything they saw on the internet. The cleverer hoaxes played on this naivety even more by spreading nonsense so obscure you just thought “well why would someone make something that random up?”

I was one of those people who believed the old one that “Kevin’s little sidekick in The Wonder Years grew up to be Marilyn Manson”. Why would someone invent that? The answer, because they could. And because people would take it at face value.

But I like to think I learned quite quickly.

In the years since I have used the “419 Addendum” to weed out internet falsehoods. The 419 scam (named after a Nigerian law relating to fraud) is the one where someone tells you you’ve been given a huge sum of money and they need your bank details and/or an admin fee to release it to you. In my 419 Addendum technique, I apply this to any internet rumour or statement. So when I read something on the internet I treat it as I would if it had a Nigerian money scam tagged on the end.

“Hey, did you know that the little guy from the Wonder Years grew up to be Marilyn Manson, and he’s got $4,000,000,000 waiting to be transferred into your bank account.”

Doesn’t sound that plausible anymore. So I would do an internet search to try to find out how Josh Saviano from The Wonder Years acquired such a fortune and why he would be bequeathing so much of it to me. Along the way I’d probably find out that he wasn’t Marilyn Manson.

In fact I’d probably find a thousand websites tell me that the Wonder Years / Manson thing was a well-known fake.

And that’s the thing about the Internet Dumbfuck Virus. It makes people believe things that are not only made-up and stupid, but which are incredibly easy to check out.

Sadly, while I think the virus was in remission for about a decade, it is returning with a vengeance, largely thanks to Facebook. It seems it is all too easy to see something, especially a photo, and share or repost it without thinking.

The one currently doing the rounds on my Facebook right now – pictures of the grown-up killers of Jamie Bulger. You’d think people would think twice before posting photos of someone and saying that they are child killers right? Of all the ones, you’d think a little voice would say “hey, I know everything on the internet is normally true, but maybe just this once, just this one little time, maybe check this out, because, you know, you could be broadcasting to all your friends, and all their friends, and all their friends, that a random innocent person killed a little boy.”

Celebrity deaths are also common. Morgan Freeman, Sandra Bullock and many others have had that lately, both tragically killed, with Facebook pages set up in their honour. Do people check it out before reposting? Course not. Must be true. What’s that? Morgan Freeman’s dead and he left me $4,000,000,000 in his will? See, works every time.

Photos of missing people, photos of people abusing animals who “must be caught and punished”. In most cases, not missing or found already, and caught already, often years and years ago.

Facebook starting to charge a subscription, or changes in Facebook’s terms & conditions that require you to do things.

Again, so easy to verify. It’s not like you have to search “Facebook scams” and wade through all the results to find the truth. Select the exact text of the thing you have been asked to share, and paste it into Google. It will tell you in less than a second if it’s true or false.

Think of it like crying wolf. Every time you succumb to the Internet Dumbfuck Virus and mindlessly repost something, those of your friends who waste the time checking it out for you and letting you know it’s a scam or a hoax, will think “what a fucking idiot”, and the next time you post something meaningful, true or close to your heart, they might just ignore it.

These tips can help you in many other aspects of your online life too. If you see an advert for something “discovered by a mom, probably in your city, that costs just a few dollars, and that would baffle or enrage scientists, dentists, doctors or weight-loss experts”, it’s probably fucking bogus.

If a website or an e-mail has a little box with logos on it, saying “As featured on BBC News, CNN, The Huffington Post”, you won’t be surprised to learn those logos don’t link anywhere and those news outlets haven’t fucking touched it. Remember how easy it is to lie.

But do also remember the old chain letter e-mails. They have a new form now. The more something tells you to like it and share it, the less worthy it probably is. If it tries to guilt you into sharing (“very few people will repost this, but my true friends will”) or has stats (“surveys show only 7% of people care enough to repost this, will you be one of them”), then it’s even more bogus.

And instead of sharing a photo or a copy/pasted status update that says “cancer is bad” or “my children are the most important things in the world to me”, why not write something yourself, or tell them in person.

If you can’t obey these simple rules then the Internet Dumbfuck Virus well and truly has you, and there is no sign of a cure.

[sk_button color=”cc0000″ target=”_self” href=http://www.mccannecdotes.com/the-internet-dumbfuck-virus-ii]READ PART II[/sk_button]

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3 Comments

  1. Great article!!! (*pssst* it was Fred Savage that played Kevin in the Wonder Years.. He now directs episodes of Modern family, so probably DOES have $4,000,000,000..)

  2. Hear hear! I DO NOT want to play candy Crush so please stop inviting me Fbook friends – nor do I care what your score is or how I can help you to improve it!

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