Internet 1944

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In the United States, they call it Telephone. You might know it as as Chinese whispers or Russian Scandal, or something else. Whatever you call it, Wikipedia describes it as:

“a game in which each successive participant secretly whispers to the next a phrase or sentence whispered to them by the preceding participant. Cumulative errors from mishearing often result in the sentence heard by the last player differing greatly and amusingly from the one uttered by the first. It is most often played by children as a party game or in the playground. It is often invoked as a metaphor for cumulative error, especially the inaccuracies of rumours or gossip.”

It goes on to cite the biggest telephone game ever played, but that’s not so. The world’s biggest telephone game is being played 24/7 at a place called the Internet.

I was reminded yet again about a couple days ago when a story came out saying that the European Commission was going to whack Intel late this summer for antitrust violations. The initial article said that Intel was going to get a big fine, and noted that the EC could fine such miscreants up to ten percent of their annual revenue.

So far so good, but by the time it got here, the “could” turned into a “would.” It’s the difference between being tried for a crime where you could get the death penalty, and being told that you are going to get the death penalty.

(Yes, the EC “denied” the story, but in such a way that there can be little doubt that a draft decision ruling against Intel is ready for final approval.)

This is but a mild example of what you see all the time on the Internet. It’s gotten to the point where if I see a news story of interest saying something that seems a bit extreme, I go to the original source to see what was actually said, as opposed to what some intermediary thought it said, or wanted it to say. I almost always get a different message from

That is one big difference between the old game of telephone and the new Internet one: people playing the old game weren’t trying to shade or spin whatever the message was.

Well, there’s another. No one playing the old telephone game got his or her information that way, either.

I recently saw one extreme example of this when a friend asked me about parts of the content of an email he received from a mutual acquaintance. To be extremely kind, that acquaintance is allergic to fact checking.

Anyhow, the topic of the email could be called, “Great people you didn’t know were Jewish.” Most of the email was accurate, but there were a number of items I had never heard of before, so I started digging.

I soon found myself in a number of websites that ranged from anti-Semitic to neo-Nazi. I knew the originator was hardly a Hitler in the closet, and just copied the contents from a website, so I looked a bit more.

What I found was that various websites had succeeding generations of the contents of the message. The original message was accurate, but over time, the false stuff got tacked onto the beginning and end of the piece. Since nobody checked anything, or knew enough to suspect something was fishy, you ended up with a Jewish guy spreading anti-Semitic and Nzai propaganda.

While you’re not going to see anything that extreme too often, there are tons and tons of “Telephoning” going on, and in the end, it really doesn’t matter whether it’s wannabe spin doctors or dimwits doing it, it’s that wannabe spin doctors and dimwits just make the pile wider and deeper.

Fortunately, there are places dedicated to combatting such Telephoning; Snopes is a good one, though they obviously can’t cover everything.

For more current items, you should go to the source. If an article cites the original source, go to it if possible (it usually is). These days, if the matter in question happened during a public event, you’ll often be able to see amd judge what actually was said or done from a YouTube clip.

Finally, if people disseminate crap far and wide, you should tell them and all the other fecal recipients that that is what it is. You won’t win any congeniality awards for it, and it will probably be rare that the spewer will clean up his/her act. At the least, though, it will put the others on notice that the spewer isn’t exactly Moses coming down with a couple tablets, and most likely will get you off some email-clogging lists. 🙂


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