Fact Check

Internet Spring Cleaning

Is it time for another Internet spring cleaning?

Published Mar 20, 2000

Joke:   It's time for another Internet 'Spring Cleaning.'


[Collected on the Internet, 1999]

Internet Cleaning


*** Attention ***

It's that time again! As many of you know, each year the Internet must be shut down for 24 hours in order to allow us to clean it. The cleaning process, which eliminates dead email and inactive ftp, www and gopher sites, allows for a better-working and faster Internet.

This year, the cleaning process will take place from 23:59 pm (GMT) on March 31st until 00:01 am (GMT) on April 2nd. During that 24-hour period, five powerful Internet-crawling robots situated around the world will search the Internet and delete any data that they find.

In order to protect your valuable data from deletion we ask that you do the following:

  • 1. Disconnect all terminals and local area networks from their Internet connections.
  • 2. Shut down all Internet servers, or disconnect them from the Internet.
  • 3. Disconnect all disks and hardrives from any connections to the Internet.

  • 4. Refrain from connecting any computer to the Internet in any way.

We understand the inconvenience that this may cause some Internet users, and we apologize. However, we are certain that any inconveniences will be more than made up for by the increased speed and efficiency of the Internet, once it has been cleared of electronic flotsam and jetsam.

We thank you for your cooperation.

Interconnected Network Maintenance Staff
Main Branch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Sysops and others: Since the last Internet cleaning, the number of Internet users has grown dramatically. Please assist us in alerting the public of the upcoming Internet cleaning by posting this message where your users will be able to read it.

Please pass this message on to other sysops and Internet users as well.

[Collected via e-mail, 2006]

From: Department of Homeland Security
Date: March 29, 2006 8:48:17 AM MST
To: All US Medical Facilities

Subject: World Wide Web cleanup

It is necessary to inform all internet dependent facilities that the internet will be shut down for cleaning for twenty-four hours from midnight on March 31 through the early hours of April 2. This cleaning is necessary to clear out the "electronic flotsam and jetsam" that has accumulated in the network. Dead email and inactive ftp, www, and gopher sites will be purged. The cleaning will be done by five very powerful Japanese-built multi-lingual Internet-crawling robots (Toshiba ML-2274) situated around the world. During this period, users are warned to disconnect all devices from the internet. If electronic files will be needed during that period of time, it is advised that back-up systems be used, without attempting to access them through the Internet. Although the general public has not been informed of this shutdown to avoid a general panic, it has been deemed necessary to inform public medical and emergency facilities that may have become internet dependent. This message may be passed on to any facility or person that you believe may be affected by this short shutdown.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

U.S. Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security Randy Beardsworth

Origins:   This

perennial April Fool's joke has been sprung successfully on credulous victims for decades. Where it once used to be told about the phone system and was spread by photocopies and faxes, now the target of the "Spring Cleaning" is the Internet, and the message is disseminated by e-mail. Both versions have found plenty of marks over the years, and new variants now invoke the name of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to lend credence to the joke.

Prior to its "Internet cleaning" version, the premise of the jape was to convince the gullible that phone lines had become dirty, requiring the phone company to force air through them to clear the debris. Users were cautioned to place plastic bags over handsets, lest the dust being blown through the lines settle on everything in the house.

A 1974 version of this prank substituted "frozen" phone lines for "dirty" ones:

A radio announcer told his audience that, since the community had experienced several nights of unusual below-zero temperature, the telephone company, at a specified time, would put "heat-a-lators" on all the telephone lines to thaw them out. The disk jockey told his listeners to put their phone receivers in an empty bucket so that, as the lines thawed out, water wouldn't run out and ruin their rugs.

So many people took their phones off the hook that the central office was in a "no tone" condition for four minutes.

Last updated:   30 March 2006


  Sources Sources:

    Reader's Digest.   "Laughter, The Best Medicine."

    February 1974   (pp. 67-68).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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