My Easel

July 20, 2007

Fwd… or Not!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Aditya Sengupta @ 1:46 am

Dear All,

I get a LOT of email forwards everyday. While I appreciate the concern some of you seem to have about my lifespan, the lifespan of my mother/father/brother/sister, my love life, my wealth, the safely of my computer system…, I beg that you act with some discretion before you hit that ‘forward’ button.

Why should I care, you ask?

Well, there are some people who get hundreds of emails a day. Yes such people exist. These people have to spend a significant amount of time and effort going through their inboxes weeding out the bad emails. There is so much more one could get done if one did not have all that spam to go through.

Bandwidth costs and Disk space.

One of the ways spammers aggregate email addresses is by sending out these forwards. So all those people who are so concerned about that poor girl with cancer dying suddenly find themselves the recipients of tons of spam.

Recognizing a chain letter

Chain letters and most hoax messages all have a similar pattern. From the older printed letters to the newer electronic kind, they all have three recognizable parts:

  • A hook.
  • A threat.
  • A request.

The Hook

First, there is a hook, to catch your interest and get you to read the rest of the letter. Hooks used to be “Make Money Fast” or “Get Rich” or similar statements related to making money for little or no work. Electronic chain letters also use the “free money” type of hooks, but have added hooks like “Danger!” and “Virus Alert” or “A Little Girl Is Dying”. These tie into our fear for the survival of our computers or into our sympathy for some poor unfortunate person.

The Threat

When you are hooked, you read on to the threat. Most threats used to warn you about the terrible things that will happen if you do not maintain the chain. However, others play on greed or sympathy to get you to pass the letter on. The threat often contains official or technical sounding language to get you to believe it is real.

The Request

Finally, the request. Some older chain letters ask you to mail a dollar to the top ten names on the letter and then pass it on. The electronic ones simply admonish you to “Distribute this letter to as many people as possible.” They never mention clogging the Internet or the fact that the message is a fake, they only want you to pass it on to others.

Why People Send Chain Letters and Hoax Messages

Only the original writer knows the real reason, but some possibilities are:

  • To see how far a letter will go.
  • To harass another person (include an e-mail address and ask everyone to send mail, like the Tommy Hilfiger email).
  • To bilk money out of people using a pyramid scheme.
  • To kill some other chain letter (e.g. Make Money Fast).
  • To damage a person’s or organization’s reputation.

What to do when you receive a chain email:

  • If it sounds ridiculous, it probably is. Delete it.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Delete it.
  • If you’re unsure, do not send it out. Verify it’s authenticity. Snopes and Hoaxbusters are great places to do so. Google will work fine in most cases as well.
  • If there is no contact information, it’s probably fake. Legitimate warnings and solicitations will always have complete contact information from the person sending the message and will often be signed with a cryptographic signature
  • Even if there is contact information, be wary. It’s quite easy for anyone to get back at someone they’ve got a grudge against. One common way seems to be to send out emails asking for blood donors. These emails often have the name of a person with their phone number. Most of these people go through hell dealing with the phone calls they get from concerned strangers.
  • One way of stopping yourself from getting annoying chain mails is by using the ‘reply-to-all’ button with a link to Snopes. The humiliation that follows generally stops the other person from ever forwarding emails. Use this with the utmost care.
  • If you don’t want to risk losing friends over this, send a private reply to the person who sent you the email and include a link to Snopes.

If the email is great and you’re sure it isn’t a hoax,

  • Whatever you do, do not send out the email to everyone you know.
  • Determine whether a person will appreciate the email before choosing to send it to him/her.
  • Add a brief message to the top of the email explaining why you’re sending the message. Don’t send it if you can’t think of one.
  • Delete all the email backlog before sending out the message. It’s a real pain to have to scroll down through thousands of lines of text and ugly graphics to have to read like ten lines! Copy and paste instead.

Move on if you read any of this in the email:

  • If you love your mom/dad/brother/sister and want to add 5/10.20 years to his/her life, email this to everyone on your contacts list.
  • If you don’t send this email out to everyone on your contacts list, you will never fall in love/the person you love will hate you.
  • in the next 60 seconds send this to all the people on ur list and
    the person that u are thinkin of will do something special to show how
    much they care about u! if i dont get dis back i guess ur not my
    friend. If u have alot of love for someone copy and send to ur whole
    list in r true love will surely come 2wards u!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • If you don’t send this to anyone in the next 10 minutes, you will have bad luck all your life.

I know it annoys a lot of you when your email gets slammed with jokes, hoaxes, chain letters and the like. It annoys me, too. But I do appreciate receiving real inspirational/interesting stuff from friends. All I ask is that you be just a bit more discriminate in what you send.

Most of what you forward is to your friends. Well, you wouldn’t want to threaten your friends, would you? What would you call a statement like “If you don’t forward this, you’ll have bad luck all your life”? You wouldn’t want to manipulate them emotionally as well right? It takes about a minute to check the authenticity of an email. Sending out bad emails persistently will cause you to lose your credibility.

P.S. The reason I am posting this (well, beyond the fact that I get scores of bad emails each day) is that I got an email saying something along the lines of:

“If you have a function/party at your home and if there is
excess food available at the end, don’t hesitate to call 1098 (only in
India) – child helpline. They will come and collect the food. Please
circulate this message which can help feed many children.”

1098 is the emergency line of ChildLine India, a charity. They will not come and collect any excess good you might have. There are other ways of using that food. Be imaginative.

P.P.S. Read this for another great point of view.

P.P.P.S. Some material is shamelessly copied from Hoaxbusters.


1 Comment »

  1. Forgot to mention this. There is this link you can send to your friends if you get too many unwanted emails…. if you don’t mind being, shall we say, a bit abrasive. It is:

    A nice site from the folks at 43Folders, or more specifically, Merlin Mann

    Comment by Aditya — July 22, 2007 @ 1:31 am | Reply

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