Debugging Rumors

By Fred Shedian
Posted at August 9, 1999 - 5:00 AM GMT

Space, the Internet frontier. These are the voyages of the SS Rumor Mill. Our mission, to explore any plausible situation and turn it into fact.

Although I know it sounds funny, the above occurs every day. Almost every online magazine, news service, or relating website post rumors from their listed sources. Yet, are they all factual? Numerous reports can be found on Ain't It Cool News, Cinescape, TrekWeb, and most other similar sites for a news item that was later determined to be false. A perfect example of this was several weeks before the final episode of Deep Space Nine. The creator of Babylon 5, Michael Straczynski, was quoted as saying the finale was not original and simply a remake of his show's ending....destruction of the station and all. Fans were sent into a panic. They were going to destroy DS9? Could they do that? Would everyone be killed? What about the rats on the station? Some news sites stood by the story until the finale itself aired. The result? Although many things changed, the station did not explode in a glorious battle. What happened? Did the DS9 Rat Union sue Paramount?

It was an example of what we see every day, a rumor. They are started when one site posts fictional or partially fictional information. From here, it spreads like a cancer and in a matter of six hours engulfs the entire world wide web. Factual or fictional, many times they taken as the law of the land. These remarks are not made in attempts to discredit those persons who have sources who have proven their legitimacy in the past. However, as I think most can agree, there are quite a number of people who have no clue what they're talking about. They exist only to create panic and gain attention for themselves.

As I mentioned several weeks ago, the number of people claiming to have special information is simply unrealistic. Almost every employee associated with Star Trek would need to inform two or three people about a particular secret. Then, these individuals (or message carriers) would need to continue to spread the word until it finally made it onto the Internet. Even then, the number of people claiming secret information outweighs the number of plausible message carriers. Although I am sure several people will disagree with this point, I believe the math speaks for itself.

Once a legitimate message carrier has been located, a hard task for news sites in itself, then a question must be raised as to the integrity of the secret. Anyone who has ever been a part of the childhood game in which a message is passed from one person to another will understand what I am saying. If a secret states "Captain Janeway will perish in the forth episode only to return in fifth," by the time it makes it to the Internet it may read "Captain Janeway to die in a hellish battle with Species 8472 shortly after season begins! Voyager to be a causality of this campaign! All to be recreated as robots following week!"

One or two people will say I am exaggerating, but I don't believe so. The above is not the fault of the webmasters of the news sites. They do not know how old the secret is, how many people it has passed through before they got it, and what the integrity is of message. Yet, some responsibility does fall on sites that list rumors without any attempts to locate legitimacy. Not attempting to dog anyone in particular, however I have noticed the TrekWeb Message Boards, Ain't It Cool News, and several others do not have the cleanest track record when it comes to rumors.

Why have I mentioned the above? The answer is simple, the return of the SS Rumor Mill. Yesterday's TrekToday news items mentioned the WWF mix with Voyager, more of Seven of Nine this season, and the return of Flight Academy. Before a quarter of the fans have a heart attack, let's pause for a moment and review what these items may really mean.

When Jason Alexander made a guest appearance on Voyager earlier this year, many were quoted as saying it was a simple attempt to raise ratings using the Seinfeld franchise. Yet, when the episode aired, Alexander was an alien, playing role like hundreds of other guest actors before him. He was not, in any fashion, attempting to use his Seinfeld past as a part of the show. Was it an attempt to boost ratings? Anything is possible. However, the script was not written around Alexander. He simply fit the role, similar to the way casting is performed almost every day.

Now rumors are floating that the WWF will be paying a visit to Voyager. These people are actors, nothing more. If a script is written and a person who currently involved in the WWF goes for a part, so be it. Personally, I am not looking at what other projects this individual has done. However, I look at their performance on that particular episode.

Instead of "WWF paying a visit to Voyager" perhaps, many moons ago, the message was really "WWF actor gets part as a guest star on Voyager." The first creates images of a match between Tuvok and Hulk Hogan. The second creates an image of an actor playing a role. The SS Rumor Mill seeks out to create items that will gain attention. The first would gain more publicity online than the second. As I've mentioned, it isn't the fault of the webmasters who post what information they receive. In fact, it may taken over a week for the original meaning of message to be edited into what is seen today. It is simply a guessing game.

Looking at the rumors regarding Flight Academy, all I can say is here we go again. Many may recall the rumors that were flying about Kate Mulgrew leaving Voyager. In the end, it turns out she wanted to make a change in order to spend more time with her new husband. This is a venture any married person would understand. Although there were other minor issues, the above was the core of the situation. Yet, many sites were attempting to paint a picture where Mulgrew was furious about this or that, taking quotes out of context (or three years old) to support their claims.

The rumor with Mulgrew went on for months until it was finally terminated when a contract was signed. With Flight Academy, the pictures seems to be frighteningly similar. Janeway is gone, Janeway is back. Academy is Series V, isn't even a consideration. If this were tennis, I believe we'd have a good match. However, facts are being distorted yet again. In what fashion?

We simply do not know, nor will we find out any time soon. The answer will lie in a chapter of a book detailing this age of the franchise, possibly only being mentioned in a single sentence. "With ideas coming in, the best contenders eventually became a Flight Academy, Captain Sulu in 2376, and the Neelix Cooking Show. The result, _______ was selected.", we simply do not know.

The purpose of this week's column is not to put down those who give news items to news sites. It is not to go after the webmasters of these sites, although a certain amount of filtering is always recommended. The purpose of this column is to make you, the readers, aware that what you see is not always what you get.

Look at every item from a nonofficial source with bit of skepticism. Fictional rumors do have basis in fact. It is up to us, with a good eye and the mind we have, to decode the garbage from the factual data. With factual reports, seventy-five percent of the article will be true. With fictional rumors, perhaps ten percent (of ten words) will be true. It is a game of Russian Roulette.

My intentions are not to discredit anyone, create hard feelings, or generate hate in any direction. Not every rumor is true. When it comes to reading rumors, always look at them with a skeptical eye. In the best case, it is found the rumor is false. In the worse case, someone says "I told you so." Yet, if we believe everything we hear, then Star Trek: Generations should have been about the USS Enterprise as a Luxury Liner.

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Fred Shedian writes a weekly 'A Take On Trek' column for the Trek Nation.