If it’s on the internet, it must be true … right?

“The story was on the internet. Why wasn’t it in the newspaper? People deserve to know about this!” stated the  message left on my voice mail.

I was glad the caller left a name and call back number. Often people who appear to be upset leave messages on my office voice mail and don’t realize that it’s not like a cell phone. If they don’t leave a call back number, I don’t have any way to call them back.

So if you left me a message but not a phone number, and I didn’t call you back … that’s the reason.

Initially, I wondered if she was upset that a story on our OkeechobeeNews.net website was not in the print edition. That happens sometimes. Space in the print edition is limited by ad sales. The more ads we sell, the more pages we can afford to print! (So if you want more news space in the paper for stories and photos, encourage local businesses to buy more ads!)

Online space is much more plentiful. We might only have room for two or three photos from a big event in the paper, but we can — and often do — post a whole gallery of photos on our website.

Or sometimes, we might have the longer version of a story online. For example, when Okeechobee students competed in the District Science Fair, the story in the newspaper only listed those who had received first place ribbons and were chosen to compete at the Regional Science Fair. The story on the website named every single student who competed in the District Science Fair.

But, as I learned when I returned the call, the message was not about something that was on our website.

When I spoke to this caller, I discovered she was referring to something a relative had sent her on her computer. I asked if she could send it to me, but was told she had already deleted it.

The online item she referred to alleged there had been a case in Okeechobee of a razor blade affixed to a shopping cart handle, so that a person grabbing a shopping cart would be cut. The story also alleged that when the shopper complained to the store manager, he didn’t bother to call the police, and instead covered it up to prevent a scandal.

I explained that the newspaper does regularly check the police reports, and we would know if anything like this had been reported. But of course, the online item claimed it had not been reported.

I also explained that these type of stories used to be urban legends, and now they tend to be internet hoaxes.

I tried an online search, and was surprised to find out that while most of the time the stories about razor blades or needles left on door handles, shopping cart handles, gas pump handles, etc. are based on something told “by a friend of a friend,” there was one case in North Dakota, where there actually was a police report of a razor blade affixed to a shopping cart handle. And in that case, there was no cover up, hence the police report. No one was injured.

So perhaps that was the story that started the rumors, and the alleged site of the incident just changes with the storyteller.

Urban legends often take the same story and just change a few of the details, such as the city the story takes place. Or sometimes the story will allegedly happen to a celebrity and they will just change the name of the celebrity.

Sometimes something happens in a movie, and people retell it as if the incident happened to someone they know.

Years ago, someone compiled a lot of these urban legends into a series of books with titles such as “The Mexican Pet” (referring to a tale in which a nearsighted tourist thinks a rat is a chihuahua) and “The Choking Doberman” (including a story about a family taking a distressed dog to the vet to discover the pooch is choking on a burglar’s fingers.)

There are websites such as Snopes.com that debunk internet hoaxes.

There are “mythbusters” shows on television in which they try to determine if some of the tall tales that “happened to a friend of a friend” are even possible.

But despite all of the books, TV shows and websites that point out the impossibilities in the urban myths, the stories continue to circulate.

And face it, when you live in Florida, it’s easy to believe a weird story when you hear one. Weird stuff happens in Florida all the time.

The surprising part is that anyone in Florida even feels the need to make something up. Alligator thrown through drive-in window? Yep, it happened in Florida. Teenager pretended to be a doctor, set up an office and treated patients and got away with it for months? Yes. That one is true as well. Pet python escapes and grows to 20 feet long by feeding on neighborhood pets? In Florida, that is not even unusual.

Now, if you ever do find something dangerous on a shopping cart, gas pump, car door or anywhere else, do report it to the police and/or deputies. And while you are at it, take a picture of it with your phone and send it to okeenews@newszap.com or just post it on facebook and tag OkeechobeeNews.
You can be sure if you report such a danger to the police department or sheriff’s office, they will share that information with the newspaper, so that we can warn the public.

However, if you just see something shocking on the internet, it’s generally a good idea to take a few minutes to check  it out  before you forward it to your friends and relatives.

Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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