Did you think the band 10cc were named after an ejaculation of semen? The truth is on the internet

In last week's diary, I narrowly avoided making a fool of myself - all right, all right, a fool of myself again. At the very last minute, I was alerted that the transcript of obscene out-takes from Have I Got News For You was actually a fake. Someone had been doubtful earlier, but I had insisted: what would be the point of faking it? Who on earth would go to all that trouble?

There speaks the authentic voice of the gull, the dupe, the mark, the buffoon, down the ages. It was, more or less, what Lord Dacre said when he saw the Hitler diaries in a Zurich bank vault. "I was impressed," he wrote, "by the sheer bulk of the diaries. Who, I asked myself, would forge 60 volumes when six would have served his purpose?" But the motivations of hoaxers, fraudsters, flimflam artists, are simple: money, desire for fame, mischief. What is almost more interesting is why people like me are so gullible, over and over again.

The internet, this medium of free exchange in which messages can spread like a disease, uncensored and unchecked, has become an industrial propagator of lies, rumour and misinformation. Even I have learnt a few lessons by now, through bitter experience and a bit of research. Namely, that any virus warning you receive by e-mail will be a fake, any petition you are asked to sign and pass on will be a fake, or at least outdated (as with recent requests I have received to help Afghan women or the Brazilian rainforest).

I've been looking at a couple of excellent websites (hoaxkill.com and snopes.com) that specialise in these untruths on the net. This was partly useful, because I could check some of the above virus warnings and petitions; partly salutary, because I discovered that what I had thought to be other "interesting facts" were actually fabrications; and, in the end, thoroughly alarming because, as I trawled through the sites and followed up references, it began to seem as if everything I know is actually wrong. Some of which has previously featured in this column.

Oh dear. Where shall I start? I recently referred to the "fact" that the band 10cc derived their name from the amount of semen in a single ejaculation. Not true. (For the record, a single ejaculation is closer to 3cc.) Does this mean the Lovin' Spoonful doesn't come from that, either?

I think I once told the story of the wife of the golfer Henry Cotton being asked on live radio by Jack de Manio whether they had any superstitions. She replied that, yes, every morning before he went out to play, she kissed his balls. "His golf balls, of course," interjected de Manio. Not true - it's an old golfing legend that has also been told of Arnold Palmer's wife.

Not true that Uncle Don, a beloved figure of radio for children in the US, once said after signing off, "There, that ought to hold the little bastards", not realising that the mike was still on. Not true that Charles Manson auditioned for The Monkees (he was in prison at the time).

In the feverish weeks before my final exams at university, I heard of a recent candidate who had thought he had written brilliant answers, but in fact had written his own name over and over again. Apocryphal. As is the story of the examinee at Oxford or Cambridge who calls for cakes and ales during the exam. He is discovered to be correct, according to some forgotten ancient statute, and it is brought to him. But he is fined for not wearing a sword, according to the same statute.

Did you hear the story of the singer Mariah Carey's response to the news of the death of King Hussein of Jordan? She expressed sadness for a personal friend and "the greatest basketball player of his time". After being told that it wasn't Michael Jordan, she was led away by her entourage in a state of "confusion". I heard it. And believed it. Wrong.

The story of the famous Hollywood star having a rodent removed from his rectum is also false. In fact, the idea of gerbils (or hamsters) up the arse isn't a gay practice at all, but a homophobic invention. As are the accounts of various gay rock stars collapsing at parties and having "pints" of semen removed from their stomachs. Nor is it true - even I never believed this one - that, if you look very carefully in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy meets the Tin Man, you can see one of the Munchkins hanging himself in the background.

All these are untrue. They must be. I read it on the internet.

This article first appeared in the 31 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Why Tony Blair is a Bobo