The age of the Internet has made our lives easier in many ways – could you have imagined Skyping with the kids and grandkids 25 years ago? But it has also become a breeding ground for hoaxes, fake news, and misleading stories that sound completely credible. In the past year alone, several “breaking news” items from Facebook and Twitter were picked up by reputable news sources that later had to retract their articles (see: viral video of twerking fail and the waitress anti-gay tipping scandal). Read on for the most popular debunked urban myths spread by email chain letters, social media, and other untrustworthy sources:
Myth: The "Knockout Game" turns deadly
Unfortunately, a phenomenon called the “Knockout Game,” in which people try to knock down an unsuspecting victim with one punch, is all too true and has been the probable cause for assaults in several cities, mostly in the Northeast. It has been the subject of multiple recent news articles - including one about the arrest of a 35-year-old Brooklyn man who punched several elderly women, and another about a Houston man charged with a hate crime after punching a 79-year-old black man. This “game” has not, however, resulted in deaths of the attackers from victims fighting back. After reports of attacks, a supposed news article circulated announcing that a 60-year-old woman named Beulah Montgomery shot and killed teenagers who attempted to make her a victim of the game. The report contained no details, there is no record of this attack, and no record of a “Beulah Montgomery.”
Myth: Sanitary pads can cause cancer
A chain email circulating in September 2013 claimed that 56 girls have died from using certain brands of sanitary pads, which caused bladder and uterine cancer after prolonged wear. The email also said that wearing one pad for a whole day could eventually cause a fungus to grow inside the body and for the blood to turn green. It was attributed to the Tata Cancer Hospital, which does not exist. While it's true that bacteria can build up on sanitary pads and that doctors recommend changing them every 3 to 4 hours, reports of cancer and green blood are unfounded.
Myth: Dr. Phil created a foolproof personality test
You may have seen your Facebook friends sharing a “personality test” by Dr. Phil recently. This 10-question assessment supposedly gives you an accurate psychological profile and is given by “Human Relations” departments at major corporations. But on an episode of his show, Dr. Phil listed "Dr. Phil's Personality Test", along with his "Ultimate Weight Solution Seminar" and others, among the scams that are falsely associated with him.
Myth: The Megalodon shark is still among us
During Discovery Channel’s 2013 Shark Week, the program “Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives” brought in 4.8 million viewers, convincing many that the ancient megalodon still exists. Just a few problems: The “documentary” showed footage of people on a fishing boat off the coast of South Africa which capsizes after an attack by something big, plus it included pictures of giant shark fins protruding from the water and testimony from “experts” and “eyewitnesses” – all of which were fabricated.
Fact: Sixty-foot-long megalodon sharks did roam the Earth's oceans—but only from about 17 million years ago until about 2 million years ago, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History. Discovery, which bills itself as a science education channel, did run a few disclaimers, such as “certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized.” But the disclaimers flashed quickly across the screen, were vague, and clearly were not seen by many viewers.
Myth: Monthly medicare premiums will rise to $247 under Obamacare
It seems that barely a day goes by where the Affordable Health Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) and Medicare aren't in the news. And fact and fiction are swirling about what will happen with its implementation. One email attributed to a professor from Indiana University and another to the Blue Cross Blue Shield said that Part B Medicare premiums (which cover doctor's visits and other normal health care services) would more than double to $247 per month in 2014. In reality, the Medicare Part B standard premium will only increase by $5 in 2014, from $110.50 in 2013 to $115.80, according to analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. These numbers do not apply to individuals making more than $85,000 per year or couples making more than $170,000 per year, since they will pay a higher percentage of the program costs, as they always have.
Myth: Mr. Rogers was a Navy SEAL
A particularly outlandish and humorous rumor involves the genial Fred Rogers, longtime host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Rumors claimed that Mr. Rogers was actually a Navy SEAL (in some versions, a Marine) with many confirmed kills on his record. Another related rumor said that Rogers wore sweaters on his shows to cover his many military tattoos. Rogers, however, never served in any branch of the military—nor had any tattoos.
Myth: Facebook’s Graph will publicize your private information
After Facebook introduced its Graph search, some users posted statuses warning others that Graph would allow anyone to view a people's photos, likes, and comments, regardless of their privacy settings. In fact, the Graph search just allows for an easier way to find content. For example, you can use Graph to search something like “restaurants my friends have been to in New York” and quickly get results. Graph does not change privacy settings, meaning that if you choose to only share your pictures, statuses, and information with your friends, then only your friends will see your information in a search.
Myth: Batteries last longer when stored in the freezer
Growing up, your parents may have put batteries in the fridge or freezer to make them last longer. Or maybe you even have a pack sitting on the shelf in your freezer now. On Energizer’s website, the question “is it a good idea to store batteries in a refrigerator or freezer?” is at the top of the FAQs list. However, Energizer and other battery makers recommend storing at room temperature. A cold freezer may cause corrosion from condensation and other damage.
Myth: Special Tootsie Pop wrappers win you free candy
Rumors have circulated for years that the makers of Tootsie roll pops will send free candies to anyone who finds a wrapper with a special mark: a Native American boy shooting an arrow at a shooting star. While Tootsie Roll Industries does not give out free candy, the “Indian wrappers” are hard to come by – so much so that the company released their own legend explaining the wrapper design.