Chapter 4: Usenet customs & myths (4 of 7) -- BRAIN-TUMORS & MODEM TAXES


      Net users sometimes like to think they are smarter or somehow
better than everybody else.  They're not.  If they were, nobody on the
Net would ever have heard of Craig Shergold, the Brain-Tumor Boy, or the
evil FCC's plan to tax your modem. Alas, both of these online urban
legends are here to stay.  Just when they seem to have died off, somebody
posts a message about one or the other, starting a whole new round of
flame wars on the subject.
     For the record, here are the stories on both of them:

CRAIG SHERGOLD

     There once was a seven-year-old boy in England named Craig Shergold
who was diagnosed with a seemingly incurable brain tumor.  As he lay
dying, he wished only to have friends send him postcards.  The local
newspapers got a hold of the tear-jerking story.  Soon, the boy's wish
had changed: he now wanted to get into the Guinness Book of World Records
for the largest postcard collection.  Word spread around the world.
People by the millions sent him postcards.
     Miraculously, the boy lived.  An American billionaire even flew him
to the U.S. for surgery to remove what remained of the tumor.  And his
wish succeeded beyond his wildest dreams -- he made the Guinness Book of
World Records.
     But with Craig now well into his teens, his dream has turned into a
nightmare for the post office in the small town outside London where he
lives.  Like Craig himself, his request for cards just refuses to die,
inundating the post office with millions of cards every year. Just when
it seems like the flow is slowing, along comes somebody else who starts
up a whole new slew of requests for people to send Craig post cards (or
greeting cards or business cards -- Craig letters have truly taken on a
life of their own and begun to mutate). Even Dear Abby has asked people
to stop!
     What does any of this have to do with the Net? The Craig letter
seems to pop up on Usenet as often as it does on cork boards at major
corporations.  No matter how many times somebody like Gene Spafford posts
periodic messages to ignore them or spend your money on something more
sensible (a donation to the local Red Cross, say), somebody manages to
post a letter asking readers to send cards to poor little Craig.

THE MODEM TAX

     In 1987, the Federal Communications Commission considered removing a
tax break it had granted CompuServe and other large commercial computer
networks for use of the national phone system.  The FCC quickly
reconsidered after alarmed users of bulletin-board systems bombarded it
with complaints about this "modem tax."
     Now, every couple of months, somebody posts an "urgent" message
warning Net users that the FCC is about to impose a modem tax.  This is
NOT true.  The way you can tell if you're dealing with the hoax story is
simple: it ALWAYS mentions an incident in which a talk-show host on KGO
radio in San Francisco becomes outraged on the air when he reads a story
about the tax in the New York Times.
     Another way to tell it's not true is that it never mentions a
specific FCC docket number or closing date for comments.
     Save that letter to your congressman for something else.