I recently received one of those "forward this to all your friends" political rant e-mails, this one (entitled "I'm Tired") claiming to have been written by Bill Cosby, nicely formatted with multiple photos of Cosby spaced through the essay. I didn't have to read very far before I thought, "This doesn't sound at all like Bill Cosby." Sure enough, a quick check of Snopes had a link to Cosby's own website totally disavowing the essay and the right-wing views it expressed (Cosby called the views in the essay "ugly").
What amazes me is the number of such e-mail essays there are circulating in cyber-space with opinions mis-attributed to some celebrity who had nothing at all to do with the particular viewpoints. The ones I get seem to be mostly politically conservative, but I assume if I had a different set of friends there are probably a similar set of such things with a liberal outlook.
What always puzzles me is, who the heck creates all these false emails? Who goes to all the trouble of making up some elaborately formatted message that lies about who wrote it?
But I still don't quite understand the phenomenon of intentional mis-attribution. The Snopes article actually tells exactly who wrote the "I'm Tired" essay: A former Massachusetts state senator named Robert A. Hall. Actually, I'd think he would be rather annoyed as well to find that his words had been stolen and attributed to someone more famous.
So, someone reads Hall's essay, and thinks: "Right On! Everyone should read this!" But instead of passing around a link to it, they think (perhaps correctly) "But gee, no one would pay any attention to it at all because it was written by someone they've never heard of."
So then they think, hmmm, if I make up a story about it having been written by someone famous, people will pay more attention to it. Now at this point, I'm losing their train of thought. This essay in the first place was supposedly about old fashioned virtue, hard work, honesty, integrity, self-responsibility, owning your own problems and so forth. How does that integrity go along with plagiarism and dishonesty about the essay itself?
Doesn't the inconsistency about that kind of blow the whole thing away? Does this person really think that people will be persuaded about the importance of self-responsibility by being lied to?
I'm just totally amazed that someone would just make that up knowing that it is a complete lie. I find it hard to comprehend trying to sell ideas through dishonesty. Used cars, yes. Vacation time-shares, sure. Weight-loss aids, yeah: because they are just trying to make money. But if the idea is to persuade people about virtue and what's right and wrong, no, I don't get lying to do it. I can't get my mind into the mind-set of lying for that purpose. I guess I could never be a politician.
I guess what really bothers me about it is that it is basically a slick salesman's trick of a sneaky sales pitch, used to try to trick people into agreeing with a political point of view. ("If Bill Cosby said it, it must be worth thinking about"). If the person doing that really believed that the logic itself was so persuasive, it shouldn't matter who wrote it. If it requires a fake celebrity endorsement (or even a real celebrity endorsement) to make it credible, maybe it's just not worth repeating.