Misconceptions, Half-Truths, and Lies, Lies, Lies

The internet is a rich source of unverified speculation, baseless rumors and agenda-serving fabrication: no surprise there.  Ever since the widespread of adoption of Web 2.0, commentary, blogs and microblogs reconfigured the web into a vast wiki: user-sourced and generated, largely on the honor system.  That’s rarely a good thing (BP’s offshore safety standards anyone?), particularly to anyone accustomed to accepting information at face value–which is also rarely a good thing.

This is where snopes.com comes in.  If you haven’t already bookmarked this site, do it now.  It began about fifteen years ago as ‘The Urban Legend Reference Pages’–a site developed by Barbara and David Mikkelson dedicated to dispelling myths and providing real information on all sorts of topics.  As the web grew, so did the demand for their curious and obsessive fact-finding.  Today, readers submit all sorts of conjecture: about Nigerian inheritances, the war records of Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers, the new Pepsi can that eliminates ‘under God’ from our National Anthem…

The only real reason I mention snopes is that I got an email this morning about the many uses of WD-40.  This particular message closes by claiming that remarkable product’s main ingredient is fish oil.  All in all, it was rather mindblowing.

After a quick check on Snopes, I was it was also not entirely true.  What is true, is that this remarkable petroleum-based spray lubricant can serve a mind-blowing amount of uses.  Those that have been confirmed as fact are:

  1. Protects silver from tarnishing.Element 79, Chicago Advertising, Dennis Ryan
  2. Removes road tar and grime from cars.
  3. Loosens stubborn zippers..
  4. Untangles jewelry chains..
  5. Keeps ceramic/terra cotta garden pots from oxidizing.
  6. Keeps scissors working smoothly.
  7. Lubricates noisy door hinges on vehicles and doors in homes.
  8. Lubricates gear shift and mower deck lever for ease of handling on riding mowers.
  9. Rids kids rocking chairs and swings of squeaky noises.
  10. Lubricates tracks in sticking home windows and makes them easier to open.
  11. Spraying an umbrella stem makes it easier to open and close.
  12. Restores and cleans roof racks on vehicles.
  13. Lubricates and stops squeaks in electric fans.
  14. Lubricates wheel sprockets on tricycles, wagons, and bicycles for easy handling.
  15. Keeps rust from forming on saws, saw blades, and other tools.
  16. Lubricates prosthetic limbs.
  17. Keeps pigeons off the balcony (they hate the smell)
  18. Removes all traces of duct tape.
  19. If you spray WD-40 on the distributor cap, it displaces moisture allowing cars to start.
  20. It removes blackscuff marks from t he kitchen floor!  UseWD-40 for those nasty tar and scuff marks on flooring.  It doesn’t seem to harm the finish and you won’t have to scrub nearly as hard to get them off.  Just remember to open some windows if you have a lot of marks.
  21. Bug guts will eat away the finish on your car if not removed quickly! Use WD-40!

By the way, the email list was twice as long, but these are the only ones verified.  You’re welcome.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Embracing Dishonesty With Outsized Enthusiasm

We live in an information society.  Facts fill our days, data fills our screens, millions of answers wait just a 1.3 second long Google search away.

So it only makes sense that someone would decide to rebel against all that information with blatant disinformation.  And use a Tumblr account to do it.

Experience shameless fiction posturing as fact at Fake Science.  You’ll learn many things you never knew, and all of them will be wrong.  You won’t even have to go to Snopes to doublecheck.

Dennis Ryan Chicago Advertising Element 79

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


On Twitter, Social Immediacy, and the Recurring Non-Death of Jeff Goldblum

We seem to have hit a rough patch for celebrity deaths this past week: Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and just yesterday, pitchman Billy Mays.  The demise of Michael Jackson in particular captured worldwide interest and led to all sorts of tributes and memorials, from BET to the cover of every major newspaper.

As is now the case with any breaking story with such magnitude of human interest, online usage spiked as people sought to learn what happened as it happened: for a short while, Twitter actually shut down and Google returned error messages for searches related to “Michael Jackson,” assuming that the volume of inquiries indicated some sort of automated attack on its servers.  For one hour last Thursday night, over one of every five tweets referenced Michael Jackson.

The interval between when TMZ announced his death and when more reputable outlets followed suit will provide fodder for journalists to debate for years; what caught my attention–courtesy of our ever aware planner Lance Hill–was the corresponding rumor that Jeff Goldblum had also died.  Oddly, Mr. Goldblum seems to be a more modern version of Abe Vigoda: rumors of his death first popped up ten years ago.  Picture 3If you check the chart at left, courtesy of the Twitter trend monitoring service  Twist, both Goldblum and Harrison Ford shared temporary obituaries late last week.  The ever-useful rumor-quashing site Snopes reports that these rumors originate via an automated prank; some ‘comedy’ websites encourage you to enter a celebrity’s name into a ‘fake news generator’ and then spread the story–similar rumors spread a few years ago about both Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks.  And apparently these fake story generators favor Hollywood deaths that involve the ‘victim’ falling off a mountain during a location shoot in New Zealand.  Go figure…

Social Media provide untold value–not only to enable us to connect more frequently in our time-starved culture, but also to provide a first-person outlet for critical news as it breaks.  The recent coverage of the massive post-election protests on the streets of Iran would have been far less-comprehensive without the first-person details passed along via Twitter.  But as author and social media commentator Clay Shirky points out, having this vast distribution network accessible to everyone makes it all but impossible to define what constitutes a ‘journalist’ anymore.  Further, without being bound to the principles–and legal ramifications–of traditional journalism, false stories spread much further, much faster.  On the upside, ‘wiki’ principles hold true in these cases as well; the majority of social media users want to know the truth and will quickly rise up to correct erroneous stories as they find them.

It takes a village indeed.  And online, that village is very, very large.  And loud.  And occasionally wrong.  But inevitably corrected.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79