It's hard to kill off a good myth. Winterval sadly won't die away, despite my fellow media blogger Kevin having done a magnificent job of summing up the silliness. His essay shows you exactly why things won't just fade into the distance, and why instead they carry on. Some people don't check; some people don't want to check, for fear of puncturing the balloon on a good story; some people check, but don't believe the debunking anyway because they're looking to reinforce their existing thoughts on a particular subject; some people check, but believe the myth to be from a more trustworthy source than the debunking.
You might think, well what harm will a bit of myth-pushing do? Not a lot, on the face of it. But when someone whose work is as important as the Red Cross falls victim to people digging up an old myth that is still knocking around on the web, that becomes a serious matter. The Red Cross was accused of not being Christmassy enough by the Daily Mail way back in 2002 - and now the story has been spreading again, thanks to social networks and people not checking the source material to see if it's true or not.
It's so dispiriting. There are so many reasons why an organisation like the Red Cross should be seen to be politically and religiously neutral, it's not being the Grinch that stole Christmas for not shoving Baby Jesus's face up in all their windows from August 1st onwards. What it also shows is the way in which, if people are happy to publish some tripe about how things are being banned when they're not, and that stays on file to be accessed at any point in the future, it becomes history, or fact, to some people. This is why it's important that people push to amend online archives when they complain about a publisher's behaviour, and why it's important that regulatory bodies push this as much as possible too.
But there's something else. It's just plain irresponsible to do this kind of story without thinking. It might seem like an easy couple of hundred words to report on the apparent outrage caused by an organisation's behaviour and cause a bit of a flutter for your readers; it's not so much of a throwaway subject when people say they're never donating to the charity again, based on what you said.
All you can hope is that the denials from the Red Cross get linked to as much as possible so they turn up in search results as high as possible. I've done my bit; now you should do yours.