by David Sisler

Every day I receive the email version of chain letters. Someone hears a good story, and wanting to share the inspiration, forwards it to everyone in their address book. Someone in that group forwards it, and on and on until it arrives in my mailbox. On one recent day, I knew the sender, and the subject shouted, "Virus Warning! Pass it on!"

I scrolled down through the almost endless lists of email addresses until I finally found the message. This alleged virus was called "Wobbler," and the original sender warned, "it will arrive on an email entitled ‘California.'" If opened, "It will erase everything on your hard drive."

Several months ago, my computer was infected with the "Pretty Park" virus. It came from someone I knew. The body of the letter said, "This is funny." I clicked on the attachment and nothing happened. "This is stupid," I thought and went on to something else. "Pretty Park" attaches itself to an email address box and then automatically replicates itself to everyone on the list. Those of us who passed it along, did so unwittingly and unwillingly. Now I try to be more cautious.

I wrote a personal note in the "Wobbler" story telling my readers that I had not been able to confirm the veracity of the "pass along," but since it concerned a virus, it is better to be warned and not need it, than to need it and not know about it.

That statement only covered up sloppy research on my part. One of the forwarders said, "This is not a hoax and has been confirmed by Microsoft." I went to the Microsoft site and searched for the "Wobbler." Nothing turned up.

Next I went to McAfee.com, one of the leading virus protection sites on the web and searched for it there. Nothing. So I sent them an email asking if they had heard of it. Not waiting for their reply, I passed along the message which started all of this, and added my warning: "A friendly reminder from someone who has gotten one of those rassenfracken-frickenbricken emailed viruses – if you don't know the sender, don't open the attachment! If you do know the sender, setup a password between you for authenticity."

Well, you've gotten to this point ahead of me – "Wobbler" is a phony. There is no such virus. The story sounded wrong. It had all of the warning signs. I tried to check, but didn't wait for the answers. It had just enough truth to make me forget everything I've learned about urban legends, and even with my considerable misgivings, I passed it on. Egg is better consumed than worn on one's face!

But we do that sort of thing all the time. The story is juicy. The details are sensational. The teller of the tale is close to the events. And we want to believe that the other guy really is a villain. So we listen in mock horror. Like actors in a bad, old "B" movie we shake our heads and say, "Do tell! I knew he was no good!" If we don't pass the gossip on, we believe it nevertheless, without every examining what we've been told.

"Now wait a minute. I never knew him to act in that manner," we think. "None of the evidence points in that direction in the smallest fashion. Everything I have ever observed about him is completely opposite from this anecdote. But the teller of the tale is just one step removed from the actual events, so she should know." And then we justify it with the time-worn cop-out, "Well, where there's smoke there must be fire."

We forget the warning from Jesus of Nazareth, "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."

Gossip: the results may not be as dramatic as the devices the Israelis and the Palestinians are using to destroy each other, but the effects are just as devastating, just as deadly. You've heard a story. You wonder if it could be true. Check it out by talking only to the person who is the subject of the tale. If you choose not to do that, let the story die in your hearing. Don't pass it on. If you are the one who is doing the talking, spreading the gossip, destroying people with your words, shut up!


Published in The Augusta Chronicle 11/11/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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