A few days ago, a bile raising story about a banker (unidentified) leaving a waitress (also unidentified) a 1% tip on a $133 lunch tab at a bistro in Newport Beach, California, went viral. Adding insult to indignity, the alleged banker scrawled "get a real job" on the receipt.
At first, I was livid. But something about the receipt - supposedly snapped by another diner with a camera phone, began to reek of fraud. The image itself was much too clear and well composed for a photo grabbed on the fly by smart phone optics. And then that hand writing— it was way too neat. It resembled a computer generated font designed to mimic handwriting. And the numbers - they fit into the current one percent / 99% class warfare combat zone just too perfectly.
And now we learn the tab was a hoax.
Which got me thinking - how often are we being hoaxed, conned, zoomed, put on and flat out lied to? If I started a list of only the scams we know of, it would probably consume a terabyte or more. The internet has become a two edged spatula, serving up instant information at the click of a mouse, nearly none of which is vetted, verified or unadulterated.
In the digital age, Wikipedia has replaced Encyclopedia Britannica. It's free, fast and unlike the paper and ink version, redolent with inaccuracies and outright lies. Compiled by donors who can pretty much write whatever they please while needing no credentials in anything, Wikipedia pages should be plastered with this banner in day-glo orange: Source At Your Own Risk. Still, students, educators and so called journalists rely on it as if its veracity were incontrovertible.
The life cycle of internet hoaxes is also telling. The initial release of the nasty restaurant tip story lingered and built up quite a head of rage. But the moment it was debunked, the tale evaporated from home pages and aggregators and was quickly replaced by... The Chichen Itza Pyramid Light Beam! One Mexican telecast said it proved the ancient civilizations could be in contact with superior intelligences (providing the translation I read was correct). It looks like a pretty cheesy Photoshop job to me. And I'm not the only one. Several YouTube videos by tech types explain it away with some convincing rationale.
Certain human beings must be hardwired to gobble hoaxes and piffle. Some years back, the guy that perpetrated the Bigfoot scam confessed shortly before his death that he and confederates had staged the whole thing. He even provided the original 1967 film footage of his buddy lumbering through the trees in the ape costume. Yet, the legend - - replete with fresh and regular sightings — endures.
Even big time journalists get faked out. Dan Rather's career ended ingloriously because he (or his staffers) could not identity a "political bombshell" ink-jet printed document masquerading as a typewriter generated one supposedly 30 years its senior. Courage, Dan.
The best line I ever saw about gullibility was written by someone in Time Magazine, referring to the popular 1990's program, The X-Files. Commenting on certain factions of its audience, the writer said the show was "60 Minutes for the reality-impaired."
To borrow a phrase from the even moldier Hill Street Blues, let's take the advice of that burly cop to his fellow patrolmen: let's be careful out there.
Gotta go now. I'm late for my Tarot card reading. TTFN!