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Truth, lies, and the Internet

The Kurt Vonnegut speech hoax epitomized the ability of fabrication, fiction, and hyperbole to propagate and become prevalent online.

People shouldn't believe everything they read--especially, it seems, on the Internet. Cyberculture runs rampant with stories about spoofs, virus scares, urban legends, and outright fraud. The fact that a message can circulate from its point of origin or a circle of people to all corners of the worldwide network is the Net's greatest and most garish feature.

Recently, this duality was epitomized by the Kurt Vonnegut email hoax, where a university commencement speech purportedly by the author was in fact a Chicago Tribune column written by Mary Schmich. Thousands, if not more, had a chuckle and forwarded it to others without a thought to its authenticity. While this was a relatively harmless occurrence, one can easily imagine more embarrassing revelations (remember Pierre Salinger's TWA missile theory?), as well as libelous or otherwise damaging consequences to online information.