Thursday, December 10, 2009

Internet Urban Legends and Fraud

I'm always amazed at how many urban legends fly around cyberspace. Today I got one that had a video that purportedly showed President Obama being snubbed by a Russian delegation. The email said:
For those of you who haven’t seen this already – I hope you can all get it. Pretty amazing! Could it be that the bloom is leaving the rose with this Nobel Peace Prize Winner? Watch this 10-second video where a lineup of leading Russians refuse to shake his hand. Did you see this on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN or MSNBC?
This is "hard ball", Soviet Style. After the third handshake refusal,,, it becomes obvious. The facial expression is priceless. "I guess we're no longer in Chicago ".
And, how in the world did Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer, miss this? If it had been Bush, think the media would cover it? Anyone ever seen a Head of State snubbed like this? Speaks volumes.
Attached to the email was this video. From looking the statistics on the YouTube variations of this video, it appears that this "evidence" of Obama's snubbing has been viewed on YouTube over 1 million times. However, since I received the video as an email attachment -- not a link -- it's very likely that the video has been viewed many times more from email.

I wonder how many people believe Obama was snubbed by the Russians. I've decided he wasn't. Let me explain.

After watching the snubbing video I decided to look for other news about it. I searched Google and found the email was right in that the mainstream media was not making a big deal out of this. However, I found other videos that said the snubbing did not happen. These videos asserted that Obama was holding out his hand to introduce Medvedev to an American congregation.

After watching several videos, I came to the same conclusion--Obama was simply holding out his hand to introduce Medvedev. I reported this to my friend and sent him some videos. However, he still believed Obama was snubbed.

It's interesting how the lens we look through can influence what we see. Psychology research calls this a "confirmation bias." I believe that the many people passing on this email were looking through a distorted lens caused by frustration, fear and maybe a little paranoia. I believe my friend is a great guy with good intentions but because he doesn't like what is happening to the world under President Obama, he has an easy time confirming that there is a scandal happening around Obama. When someone paints a picture that suggests a scandal exists around Obama, he sees that picture--even if the picture is distorted and taken out of context.

I've found my own views are not free from these distortions and that I need to be very honest with myself or I won't recognize the distortions. I've also found that many times others are not open to reason or challenging their views and they refuse to clean their lens when it's pointed out to them that it might have some dirt on it.

I saw another video recently that purportedly showed Obama had admitted to being Muslim. The scandal was that this was kept out of the news and that Obama had lied about it. However, Aaron pointed out to me that all the quotes were very short and no context was given around them.

As I studied the video again I found there was only one quote that really could be evidence that President Obama was a Muslim. I then found a longer version of this interview where it appeared he admitted to being Muslim and it was clear that he had a simple slip of the tongue and corrected himself.

You might be asking, what does this have to do with fraud? Well, the thing that is most amazing to me is that so many of these legends are being fabricated by taking pictures and quotes out of context. It would take real effort to take these quotes and clips out of context and put them all together to paint a fraudulent picture of President Obama. What kind of fraudster is trying to find video and audio that can be used to discredit the President?! Amazing!

Now, just for clarification, I did not vote for President Obama and I disagree with many of his policies. However, I hope that I can be unbiased enough to see clearly when someone sends me some bogus information on him.

With that said, I believe the press does this in a more subtle way all the time. Some say it's in the President's favor, others say the press is distorted against the President. I believe the truth is that each report we watch is going to be biased. The key is for us to be very honest with ourselves and to be open to reason when new information is found.

In the end, I found a link to my favorite place to investigate urban legends: Snopes. I should have gone to Snopes first! Snopes is the best place to start when you receive any email with some amazing new fact that hasn't been in the mainstream media!

Lessons learned: 1) be skeptical of any email with news that never made it to the mainstream media; 2) be doubly skeptical of any audio or video clips that are short and out of context and 3) check out before wasting too much time!

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