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February 6, 2008

UK government has Balls to combat offensive email hoax

by Janine de Blois

Taking unprecedented steps to combat an offensive email that has been circulating online since mid-April 2007. The email hoax claims the UK has removed the Holocaust from its school curriculum because it may offend some Muslims. It calls itself a memorial chain and asks people to pass it on. The e-mail continues to be published on many blogs and websites. In some versions it substitutes the University of Kentucky for the UK.

The BBC News website repeatedly receives e-mails, many from international readers, asking about the validity of this supposed curriculum ban. The Department for Children, Schools and Families also regularly has to handle inquiries about this hoax - and it wants to put a stop to the confusion.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls is acting to refute the e-mail, sending a statement to world embassies and media. He writes:
“I want to put an end once and for all to the myth that the Holocaust is not being taught in schools or is being removed from the curriculum. I am pleased to confirm that this is absolutely not the case. Teaching of the Holocaust is compulsory in all secondary schools between the ages of 11 and 14. We are clear that there are certain non-negotiable subjects, which are protected in schools; one of those is the Holocaust. There is no evidence that schools are breaking the rules and not teaching the Holocaust. We also fund visits for young people from every secondary school and college to go to Auschwitz.”

“It is simply not true that UK schools are banned from teaching about the Holocaust, and anyone forwarding messages like these is unwittingly feeding an urban legend,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. “We have seen many reports of this chain letter and it’s clear that this message is not just propagating via traditional email but also via social networking websites like Facebook where people forward nonsense messages to all of their friends without necessarily engaging their brains.”
“Hoaxes waste valuable bandwidth, impact staff productivity and can even place email addresses into the wrong hands. They have been a problem for years, but this must be the first time that a government has taken such firm action to debunk one,” continued Cluley. “Email spreads like wildfire and forwarding one copy could result in 100 more being sent - break the chain by hitting the delete button, and learn not to believe everything you read in your email.”



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