Debunking Internet rumors


The Jewish Internet with Mark Mietkiewicz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Did you get that email about the company that’s boycotting Israel? Or the message about what that antisemitic actor said? Or the politician who trivialized the Holocaust? Actually, those events may never have happened. You could be on the receiving end of an Internet hoax.

I regularly get emails warning me not to patronize a company because it’s adopted an anti-Israel policy. After a bit of investigating, the rumor often turns out to be just that.

Israel and world Jewry have enough real enemies without maligning innocent organizations or individuals. When you blindly forward something that’s not true, you provoke fights against injustices that simply aren’t there.

Here’s how you can spot whether that accusation really is true, or is merely unsubstantiated lashon hara (gossip):

• Be wary about statements like “This is NOT a hoax.” It probably is.

• Look for the telltale phrase, “Forward this to everyone you know!” The more urgent the plea, the more suspect the message.

• Watch for overly emphatic language, as well as frequent use of UPPERCASE LETTERS and multiple exclamation points!!!!!!! (

Oh, and one more thing. If you happen to get a letter from a wealthy benefactor in Nigeria, don’t give up your day job just yet (

Once you’ve discarded those emails, you are left with some that seem plausible, but you’re just not sure. Here are some that made the circuit recently:

• CNN fired Israeli Jews at its Jerusalem Bureau while keeping its Arab employees. False. According to CNN, it reorganized its bureau in 2012 employing four Jewish employees out of seven.

• Celebrity chef Paula Deen has blamed “the Jews” for her firing from the Food Network. False. The rumor originated at the humor web site, The Daily Currant.

• Norway will soon be “Judenrein” (clean of Jews) as its last 819 Jews are emigrating due to the rise of antisemitism. False. The Jewish population of Norway is approximately 1,700 and there has not been any significant emigration recently.

• Nike shoes ran an ad showing an apparent suicide bombing in Israel. The text of the ad next to Nike’s trademarked Swoosh reads, “You may not survive the blast. But your shoes will.” False. The Anti-Defamation League has an entire section on its website geared to debunking rumors and calls the email a forgery. That so-called ad “was not authorized by Nike and has no affiliation with the company.”

The above examples of falsehoods were gathered — and debunked — at the Internet Rumors page of the Anti-Defamation League website (

• Angelina Jolie hates the state of Israel and wants its destruction together “with those people.” False. I turned to to set the record straight on this baseless one (

• Iran passed a law requiring Jews and Christians to wear badges identifying them as religious minorities. False. For this one, I consulted which reprints the original accusation and explains how it is untrue (

When deciding whether to spring into action, I recommend the ADL and two other sites which do a very good job at disproving — or validating — online rumors: and

These sites deal with all types of rumors, and specifically, the inordinate number of questionable stories about Israel and Jews out there.

Slightly different but also worth visiting is, which focuses on setting the record straight on American politicians and politics.

Sometimes mistakes occur and the party involved takes responsibility, apologizes and corrects the record. Or at least tries to.

The steamroll of angry e-mails fails to take note of the apology or offer forgiveness.

A few years ago, an Israeli-based travel agency did receive a letter from the Marriott hotel chain designating Jerusalem as “Occupied Palestinian Area.” Emails went out calling for a boycott.

Marriott corrected the error and acknowledged that it was remiss in not sending a letter of apology to the offended Israeli travel agent earlier.

But who knows how many accusatory emails are still travelling through cyberspace (

Keep that in mind before you forward that email.

Mark Mietkiewicz writes about resources for Jewish life to be found on the Internet. Contact him at

To read the complete June 2015 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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