How Do You Know What to Believe? The Risks of Perpetuating a Hoax, Online or Off

From: Jim Adams
Sent: Thursday, December 20, 2001 11:18 AM
To: [everyone on his personal mailing list]
Subject: Virus Warning
Importance: High

I just received this message and learned that I had this virus, and chances are you have it, too, since you are in my address book. It lies dormant for 14 days, then it kills your hard drive. Here’s how to stop it. I don’t know how I got it or how it got past my virus protection program. If you’ve got it, send this to everyone in your address book.

The directions for removing it are easy to follow. DO THIS EVEN IF YOU HAVE NO SIGN OF THE VIRUS!!

1. Go to “start” then to “find or search”( depending on your computer) 2. In the search for files or folders type in sulfnbk.exe THIS IS THE VIRUS. 3. in the ” look in ” make sure you’re searching DRIVE C. 4. Hit “search” button (or find) 5. If this file shows up (its an ugly blackish icon that will have the name “sulfnbk.exe’) DO NOT OPEN IT 6. Right click on the file – go down to delete and left click. 7. It will ask you if you want to send it to the recycle bin, SAY YES. 8. Go to your desktop (where all your icons are ) and double click on the recycle bin. 9. Scroll down until you find sulfnbk.exe and right click on sulfnbk.exe and delete again – or empty the bin.

James R. Adams, President


From: Jim Adams
Sent: Thursday, December 20, 2001 6:45 PM
To: [his entire personal mailing list]
Subject: Virus alert
Importance: High

Friends: I do not know what is going on. Now I get a message saying that the message I just sent you was in error. This is the latest:

“This is not a virus! This is a hoax! The file is a genuine Windows file that allows windows to recognize file names with long names. See the link from Symantec if you want more information: Don’t believe everything you read ;-) Michael”

I am sorry that I perpetuated the hoax, but how do you know what to believe? Jim

James R. Adams, President
The Center for Progressive Christianity


From: Dannenmaier, William
Sent: Friday, December 21, 2001 5:55 AM
To: ‘Jim Adams’ Subject: RE: How do I know what to Believe –> RE: Virus alert

Dear Jim:

You ask in the same question both one of the central questions of the Internet as a shared community, and of Progressive Christians as a shared community: “I am sorry that I perpetuated the hoax, but how do you know what to believe?”

Interestingly, at least to me, the answers are similar. The perpetuation of an idea, the spreading, the evangelism, is always something that puts us at risk, personally. We live in a tension of wanting to make sure our friends find out something important but not wanting to confuse them in case it is irrelevant to them or misleads them if we are later proven to be wrong. This is related to what I call “the liberal person’s burden,” the burden of never being 100% certain of your own rightness. But to live in community we must share ideas (otherwise why bother to call it a community) so we risk, we reach out, we tell. Sometimes we miss the mark, many times we hit it when we attempt with a certain humility.

In both cases,

1. We draw upon personal experience in relating it to others.
a. “I live this belief system and it helps me,”
b. “I used this executable file and it didn’t crash my system.”

2. We make allowances for differences of environment and structure:
a. “Well, you were raised catholic so I don’t know how this will sit with that belief system,”
b. “Well, this works on Windows 98 but I haven’t tried it on NT 4.0″

3. We let people know what the risks are:
a. “This type of belief may shake your faith in the inerrancy of scripture”
b. “This type of solution might affect your hard drive”

4. We give people external sources (besides us) to draw their own opinion:
a. “You might try reading parts of the Bible or other books yourself and draw your own conclusion”
b. “You might try anti-hoax websites” [symantec|hoaxbusters]

The Internet hoax thing happens to everyone, I passed on a couple of whoppers prior to one of my dear friends clueing me into the websites in 4b.

When others tell me some fantastic new piece of information or even something like “Ollie North warned us of Osama Bin Laden in 1985″ (turns out it was Abu Nidal he warned against) I don’t pass it on unless I check it first. And if I allude to it without checking I let people know I haven’t checked it yet. Sometimes, it is easy to dissuade someone from a foolish notion they picked up on the Internet, I pointed a friend of mine to the official Ollie North website where he lays out that he didn’t say anything about Osama in 1985. Sometimes it is pretty hard to dissuade people, witness the various stories about the Clintons, aliens, etc. There seems to be some sort of point where a hoax goes from being a mere fact that can be disproved to being part of somebody’s belief system.

I think the theological hoax thing also happens to a lot of people. We hear something, we don’t check it, we pass it on to others. Oftentimes in relation to other denominations or religions. Is Mormon and Islamic doctrine really as anti-woman as we have been led to believe? Do Baptists really have to believe in Creationism? If these are hoaxes, and I have perpetuated them, how do I really know what to believe? By the way I responded to your original list of recipients, also, just because I thought it might be an interesting community to bounce this off of.

Bill William H. (Bill) Dannenmaier


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