But in any case, no one is stupid enough to really believe such a story. The coworkers or relatives who fill your inbox with urban legends and hoaxes may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, but none of them is stupid enough to believe this. And neither are those people who claim that they do believe it.
I have not given up debunking, and I'll tell you why.
Years ago in college I took a class in computer-simulation design. The final project was a simulation on the subject of our own choosing, and I decided to simulate the spread of rumors through a population. I essentially used an epidemiological model, and included controls to configure various probabilities--the odds that someone who believed a given rumor would relay it to someone else; the odds that the someone else would believe it, and so on. I did my best to put these values into ranges that matched real-world behavior, and then I twiddled the knobs to see what would happen.
One of the knobs controlled the probability that someone who knew a story to be false would forcefully debunk it whenever s/he heard it. And that knob turned out to be astonishingly sensitive and powerful. In the hundreds of scenarios I ran, I found that a tiny shift in the probability of that one factor--a difference as small as one part in ten thousand--could be the difference between a rumor being universally believed (except for a handful of skeptical cranks) and a rumor being universally forgotten (except for a similar handful of credulous cranks).
Sometimes it took quite a long time for false rumors to be completely quelled. And the simulation didn't take into account a change in the odds over time, as debunkers grow demoralized and give up challenging the rumor when they hear it. But it seems to me that just strengthens the argument for debunking--there should be as many people linking to snopes and hitting "reply all" as possible, so that there'll still be enough as their numbers dwindle. Every little bit helps.
Yes, of course there are malicious actors out there. Of course there are people who want to infect everyone's brains with viruses and then exploit their symptoms for financial or political gain. Being an antibody is (I'm not religious but I can think of no other way to convey this) a holy cause, requiring faith.
Posted by: Evan
I enjoy reading Snopes, but all these political/culture-wars emails are a bit baffling. I've never seen a UK equivalent (which is surprising, considering the braindead comments of all political stripes on places like the "Have Your Say" page at the BBC News website. It's fairly obvious who is forwarding these emails on, but where do they come from in the first place? They also seem to be overwhelmingly right wing - is that really the case?
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