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Internet Rumors Target Presidential Election

November 2, 2008

With just two days before the presidential election, gossip, lies, insinuation and attacks are being posted on the Internet in hopes that these fallacies will influence voters before they head to the polls on November 4th.

“It’s a lot of mud being slung, it’s understandable, but I think it’s still kind of sad,” said Nick DiFonzo, a psychologist and rumor expert at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

Candidates and their campaigns are passing along unconstructive tidbits in public venues, targeting their opponents in speeches and mentioning these rumors in their advertisements.

However, it seems that only on the Internet can these completely bogus rumors last, stories told without any proof, steadily traveling from one blog to another.

Many of these rumors have been around for years, regardless of repetitive denial from the candidates. Others emerged only this past week, and they start with the truly ridiculous (Weekly World News Web site: “OCTOBER SURPRISE: ALIEN ENDORSES MCCAIN!”) to the massive amount of bloggers who report election results even though votes have yet to be tallied: (“Has John McCain Won Florida?” asked the Red State Web site Thursday.)

Many voters state they have already decided whom they want to vote for. Therefore, the Internet rumors are aimed at the small amount of unsure voters who are still thinking, debating and possibly researching the candidates.

“The online rumors can affect their last-minute decisions,” said UC Santa Cruz psychology professor Anthony Pratkanis.

Here are a few examples of the Internet gossip (Courtesy Associated Press):

The Rumor: The Huffington Post Web site and others has announced that John McCain used profanity to depict his wife Cindy during his 1992 Senate campaign.

The Facts: This tale is uncorroborated. Author and blogger Cliff Schecter started this rumor in the spring and then in a book called “The Real McCain.” He said that three reporters told him that in reply to some friendly banter, McCain told his wife: “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop,” with an expletive. Schecter has not given any proof this occurred, and he has not given the names of the three reporters who he says wish to remain anonymous.

The Rumor: Barack Obama isn’t an American citizen, announced bloggers at the Free Republic Web site. New versions of this story emerge almost daily at an assortment of other sites.

The Facts: Obama is clearly a citizen because he was born in the U.S. In reply to the allegations, Obama’s campaign put the Illinois senator’s birth certificate on his campaign Web site. On Friday, officials in Hawaii announced that they had personally checked that the health department has Obama’s original birth certificate. Judges in Washington state, Ohio and Pennsylvania have dismissed frivolous lawsuits alleging his citizenship is fake.

The Rumor: The Daily Kos Web site has stated that Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s son Trig, born in April 2008, is actually 17-year-old daughter Bristol’s son.

The Facts: Unproven. After McCain chose Palin as his running mate, bloggers accused Palin of faking her pregnancy to hide her daughter’s unintentional pregnancy. As proof, bloggers pointed out Palin did not appear pregnant prior to Trig’s birth, and that she said she journeyed from Texas to Alaska while in labor. In rebuttal, the campaign declared that Bristol was, actually, pregnant. The statement helped the rumors slow down, but could not stop the continuing questions about Trig’s parentage.

The Rumor: 1960s extremist William Ayers really wrote Obama’s autobiography “Dreams From My Father.”

The Facts: Unproven. Obama notes that he didn’t encounter Ayers until 1995. The book was released in 1995, which indicates that most of the book would have been written in 1994. Blogger Jack Cashill has been starting this rumor at the World Net Daily Web site that hints that the book’s “fierce, succinct and tightly coiled social analysis” is more like Ayers’ style than Obama’s. “Utter hogwash,” say Obama organizers.

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