Editorial: Don’t believe chain e-mail

Published 10:01 am Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The age of the Internet and 24-hour news sources is fascinating. On one hand, news spreads faster than ever.

On the other, disinformation spreads just as fast.

It is hard to grasp why so many people are so willing to believe what they read in e-mail chain letters. They should realize this: The author doesn’t care about the truth or facts. The author simply wants to see how far and wide the chain letter goes. It’s a game.

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A recent chain letter calls for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and says this:

“For too long we have been too complacent about the workings of Congress. Many citizens had no idea that Congressmembers could retire with the same pay after only one term, that they didn’t pay into Social Security, that they specifically exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed (such as being exempt from any fear of prosecution for sexual harassment) while ordinary citizens must live under those laws. The latest is to exempt themselves from the Healthcare Reform that is being considered…in all of its’ forms.”

At the end, it asks people to forward it to 20 other people. Suckers comply.

Skeptics, however, easily can find the truth at sites like Snopes.com or Factcheck.org.

Here is what Factcheck.org said about the example above:

“That’s a lot of very old baloney packed into a few words.

“It never has been true that members of Congress could retire with full pay after one term. That’s a false allegation that has been circulating for at least a decade. As we reported back in 2007, lawmakers can qualify for very good pensions, but nowhere near that good. A lawmaker might qualify for a pension of 80 percent of final salary, and only after many years of service.

“An even older Internet myth is the claim that members of Congress don’t pay into Social Security. That was true once — but not for the past quarter-century. They have paid Social Security taxes since 1984, as we reported in a separate article, also in 2007.

“The claim that members of Congress would be somehow ‘exempt’ from the now-stalled health care legislation is a more recent absurdity. It’s a twisted claim based on misrepresentations of the House and Senate bills, neither of which exempts lawmakers. We explained how that false notion got started on the Internet rumor mill in an article we posted on Jan. 20.

“Finally, the claim that Congress is exempt from ‘many’ of the laws it has passed is 15 years out of date. In the 1980s there were news stories prodding members of Congress for putting themselves ‘above their own laws,’ as a 1988 Time magazine story put it. But following the ‘Republican Revolution’ of 1994, which put Republicans in control of both House and Senate, Congress passed the Congressional Accountability Act (PL 104-1), which applies a dozen civil rights, labor and workplace safety regulations to the legislative branch.”

The web page goes on to list laws enforced by the nonpartisan Office of Compliance, which oversees laws that apply to Congress. Factcheck.org also explains Article 1, Section 6 of the U.S. Constitution, the entry about freedom from arrest enjoyed by members of Congress. That section was written to prevent the president from bullying or threatening members of Congress.

So why do people forward the chain e-mail messages? Probably because they are eager to read things they agree with. But politics rarely works out in a manner that one side or the other gets their way completely.