Messages spread quickly in cyberspace -- too quickly sometimes for the truth to catch up, according to a New York Times
article by Susan Stellin.
Shortly after Sept. 11, an unknown individual composed an e-mail that purported to list the donations that various automobile companies had made to relief efforts. The message cited CNN Headline News as the source of the information, and contrasted large gifts said to have come from Detroit-based companies with negligible, or nonexistent, contributions from foreign automakers.
That e-mail gathered momentum as recipients forwarded it to friends. At some point, the message made the jump from electronic media and was cited in opinion pieces in local newspapers. It was cited in at least one radio
advertisement as a reason to buy American cars.
The message that has been more difficult to spread is that the e-mail is riddled with errors, according to the Times
CNN says it never did a segment on gifts from the auto industry to 9/11 charities, and many of the companies the e-mail cited as giving nothing have, in fact, made sizable contributions, both from their own coffers and through contributions from employees. Several of the foreign automakers portrayed as deadbeats have issued press releases detailing their charitable contributions, updating their Web sites to feature prominent links to pages
describing their 9/11 philanthropy and responding to each individual who inquires about the erroneous e-mail.
Despite these efforts, the message continues to circulate. "It has been plaguing our industry for months," said Lori Barnes, vice president for public affairs at the American International
Automobile Dealers Association (AIADA) in Alexandria, Va. "It's a classic case of an
Internet rumor gone amok. We were thinking it would go away, and it didn't; it just grew and grew and grew."
Although no one can say for sure whether the message was composed out of malice or misinformation, it concludes by encouraging recipients to consider the companies' charitable records when buying or leasing a new vehicle, and to "give more consideration to a car manufactured by an American-owned and/or American based company."