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Why you shouldn’t trust email chains

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Greg Peck
July 18, 2013

On Wednesday I received an email forwarded to me from a local woman who from time to time forwards me chain emails. Usually I promptly delete these. I don’t know their sources, and I usually don’t have time to look into the latest national outrage spinning around the Internet. This one caught my eye, however, because it was about the Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, acquitted this week. So I glanced through it.

The email at first asked, “Recognize this guy?” What followed was a photo of a heavily tattooed African-American man sitting in a chair.

“It’s little Trayvon Martin...! At 17 years of age.”

Then comes the outrage. The media keep showing a 5-year-old photo of a younger Trayvon Martin “BECAUSE it helps to cement in your mind the cute, little, hoodie-wearing youngster who was stalked by this monster.”

It goes on to detail Martin’s problems with marijuana and other concerns at school.

“I am not trying to say this kid deserved to die. I am saying the media in the USA is controlled by liberals who twist and distort what you see and hear in order for you to see things their way. Not a single paper has printed RECENT photos of this kid because it would not keep your interest in this case.”

Who is the author of this email? Naturally, the chain doesn’t indicate.

I forwarded the email to Gazette Editor Scott Angus, who quickly reversed it to me because he had seen it before. It turns out PolitiFact of St. Petersburg, Fla., has been all over a variation of this email chain and its many falsehoods.

“The email accuses reporters of deceiving the public by suppressing this photo and publishing photos of a younger Trayvon after his death,” PolitiFact reports.

“Then it complains the media won’t report the 17-year-old’s disciplinary problems. Actually, the Miami Herald reported his suspensions and getting caught with marijuana and women’s jewelry.”

Here’s the real kicker, as Politifact continues: “A couple readers asked us to investigate the photo in their inboxes. As we suspected, it’s not Trayvon Martin. We will note that after Trayvon’s death, a much younger picture of him provided by the family got a lot of press. But this email goes way off the mark.

“This man is Jayceon Terrell Taylor, also known as Game, a 32-year-old rapper from Compton, Calif., near Los Angeles.”

PolitiFact concludes by rightly rating the email chain “Pants on Fire!”

As I suggested above, the email I received wasn’t identical to the one PolitiFact reported, yet it included the same misguided and even false overtones and the same photo of Taylor, suggesting incorrectly that it was Martin.

Because so many people insist on sending such boloney along the Internet without knowing the source or the veracity of the claims, and so many gullible people believe this stuff and attack the media rather than trust the media to look into and verify such claims, we wind up with the volatile political environment we have today.

It’s sad, isn’t it?

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook



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