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What do you mean it's not real?

January 20, 2013
By CRAIG HOWELL , Weirton Daily Times

There's a rather humorous insurance commercial where a man is trying to explain to his female friend about how not everything on the Internet is true.

She heard this particular insurance agency doesn't offer an app. She heard everything you find on the Internet is, in fact, true. Then, enter her "French model" date. She met him on the Internet.

It's an issue we all have to keep in mind these days as we have come to rely so much on that information superhighway. While the Internet can provide us with a great deal of material, unfortunately, pretty much anyone can put anything they want out there and most people will never know any different.

The last several days, we've heard the story of Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o who, supposedly, found out the girlfriend he thought had died from cancer was still alive.

Then, it appeared as if they had never actually met and the entire relationship had been online.

Then, there was a girl who found out her picture had been used by some guy who had orchestrated the whole thing and Te'o "embellished" some aspects of the "relationship" when talking about it with family and friends.

We may never know, without a doubt, all the details.

It doesn't really take much these days to create a new identity online.

With social networking, on most occasions anyway, all you really need is a functioning email address. It can be from any source, whether it's a paid cable account or a freebie network.

There's nothing requiring you to post pictures of yourself, or any pictures at all for that matter.

Then, you start connecting with people and you can pretty much say and act any way you wish.

I've heard of people who have set up two Faceboook accounts with completely different information about themselves.

There has even been a documentary and now a television show discussing this whole thing which they call "catfishing."

Yes, you know it's bad when someone comes up with a term to describe the action.

The people behind the show include a man who says he was a victim of such a scam. He wanted to shine a light on the trend while also helping those who also might be victims.

With today's technology I doubt it would really take all that much effort.

Wikipedia, for example, has found itself having to rework some of its operations because it was too easy for people to edit articles with inaccurate, or even completely false, information.

It's gone so much farther than the celebrity death rumors of years past, although those still happen from time to time.

By the way, I've heard Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney are both still alive, as is Justin Bieber.

One of the more heartbreaking and unbelievable story from recent weeks was a video which began circulating around the net claiming the Sandy Hook shootings had been a hoax.

The claims centered around video supposedly showing people of Newtown, Conn. not grieving, and what they claimed also showed some of the people who died still alive.

The people behind this "proof" said it showed the shooting had all been part of a conspiracy by the Obama administration to force action on creating new gun control regulations.

It astounds me someone would take a tragedy and try to spin it for political reasons, but there it was.

I even saw some people I know start to believe it as fact. There were posts on Facebook and Twitter helping to spread the "proof" and further the "conspiracy."

With the right computer software, anyone can edit photographs and video to make it look like something it isn't. Most of us wouldn't even know the difference.

Anyone can post things online and tell us it's something different. You convince a couple of people, then they convince a couple of people and it begins to spread.

Before you know it, there is a large group of people who believe it is fact.

We have to watch what we put up on the Internet. It's not always as safe as we would hope, no matter what Mark Zuckerberg likes to tell everyone.

More importantly, we always need to be careful when using the Internet for research or to connect with someone, especially when it is someone we don't know.

Always double-check your information. Be careful of what you put out there. Be careful when you communicate with someone, as you never know how it can all be used.

It's better to be safe than sorry as they say.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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