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Analyzing Rumors and Myths
Analyzing Rumors and Myths

This activity provides students with an opportunity to explore and discuss the phenomenon of "disinformation" that often circulates during crisis.

You will need to print out and make copies of the handout Fact Finding in the Information Age for your students.

Sources used for this lesson: Urban Legends Reference Pages and Urban Legends and Folklore.

1. Share with your students:

While the media and the worldwide public struggled to keep up with breaking news, millions of people received and sent emails containing a "prediction" by Nostradamus, a 16th Century philosopher. The prediction, or different variations of it, was posted in offices, read to friends, mentioned on MTV, and circulated coast-to-coast.

The "prediction" spoke of "two brothers torn apart by chaos" and "the third big war" beginning "when the big city is burning". Within hours, new verses were added and circulated, perhaps to make the prediction more interesting:

On the 11th day of the 9th month,
Two metal birds will crash into two tall statues
In the new city,
And the world will end soon after.

Each version of the Nostradamus prediction had one thing in common. They all cited 1654 as the date of Nostradamus’ prediction. Nostradamus died in 1566.

It turns out that a college student wrote the original "prediction" in the 1990s in an essay on Nostradamus. The student was trying to demonstrate how easily a prophecy can be created to fit almost any situation. The whole thing was a hoax.

2. Ask the class:

  • Has anyone heard rumors, myths, or bizarre information about the terrorism or its aftermath?
  • If so, what have you heard? Where did this information come from?
  • Why do you suppose people create and spread rumors and myths during times of crisis?
  • Do you think it is okay to circulate hoaxes and rumors during times of crisis? Why or why not?
  • How do you think this impacts society? How does it impact you?
  • What can people do to guard themselves against rumors, myths, and hoaxes?

3. Activity:

Write the following statement on the board:

CNN used film footage shot in 1991 to show Palestinians celebrating the September 11 attacks.


Do you believe this to be true? Why or why not?

Distribute the handout "Fact Finding in the Information Age" and review and discuss the SMART steps and resources. Assign the students the task of proving the statement to be true or false using the tips on the Fact-Finding handout. Students could then write an article explaining their findings and citing their sources.