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Urban Legends: Please Don’t Send Me Email Hoaxes

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If you have a mail address and have at least one friend in the world, you likely have had some email joke/story/whatever forwarded to you. We all have done it, and we are all more than likely guilty of at some point having forwarded something that ended up not being true. Yep, Urban Legends, fake virus warnings, etc. were all the rage for some time and somehow continue to linger even today.

Because I have been on the receiving end of many very public email addresses, I somehow end up on the mailing list of everyone that still believes these things and forwards them right on through to their entire address book. Adding insult to injury, I get the same message more than once as everyone wants to be the first to let you know that [insert name here] virus is running rampant and you better protect yourself! Thanks, twenty other people have already given me fair warning.
Some of my favorites? Making money from Microsoft/Disney/Oracle if you simply forward this message on to 10 other people. Why is it the email newbie’s believe there is some magic way of tracking the forwards first off, and that these big companies have the power much less the interest in following a chain letter to pay you for doing it?

How about the Nigerian offshore money scam? That one still runs rampant because there are people that fall for it and really they have been selected for the chance of a lifetime to scam some government out of millions. They never stop to ask themselves why would their email be found or if this sounds fishy? No, it must be true, and I’m getting my piece of it, how about you?

One of the very earliest versions of the email forwarding spoof made popular in the media was a warning about gangs driving around with their headlights off waiting for someone to do the common courtesy of flashing their lights to let them know. The email warned you not do this because if you did they would force you off the road and attack you. I remember specifically receiving this email dozens of times from different sources within one week. Unfortunately, because of the media attention the “joke” received, some wannabe gangs started acting out on it.

Seen the tallest woman in the world? Lead in your lipstick? Shark jumping out of the water to attack a helicopter? The list goes on, and on, and on and….on. About.com lists the top 25 urban legends if you care to see how many you have received in the past. I was actually surprised there were a number of them I haven’t seen.

I actually don’t mind receiving some of the better jokes or feel-good stories out there, but please, if you are going to forward on an email, follow a few basic rules of courtesy. Basic net etiquette, or Netiquette as it has become know. Summarizing a bit of what you can read over at Wikipedia from that link, and adding a few thoughts of my own:

Urban Legends: Please Don’t Send Me Email Hoaxes

Think before passing something along. Is it old news that has been forwarded to death? Ask yourself if it sounds plausible. If something sounds too incredible to be true, there is a good chance it might be.

Do a little research. If you are going to take time to fill up your email recipients on that email, take a few extra moments to check out the credibility of the story. There are many sites providing a great service of pointing out hoaxes, but two of my favorites are
About.com – urbanlegends.about.com
Snopes – snopes.com

Trim the fat. Nothing is more annoying than receiving a forwarded email that has the words “FWD” in the subject a dozen times, all the email addresses and headers of the previous forwarding along with forwarding angle brackets (>) galore. If I see a message with all this detritus, honestly I just delete it. It isn’t worth my time to search through the message to find the meat of it all. Along with my laziness, I figure I’ll get it again sometime soon from someone else.

Don’t make my email public. Worse than actually receiving the message is seeing my email publicized in all its glory along with a hundred others for the world (and viruses ridden computers) to see. I have actually seen some emails of some pretty prominent people this way. Learn the power of the blind carbon copy (Bcc) function. You have to enable this field on some email programs, but please do. By entering emails where you don’t show everyone else who you have emailed to. Simple common courtesy.

Turn off your footer. Along with cleaning out the automatic footers and salutations of previous posters, turn yours off. Nothing is more of a turn off to reading a good story or joke than seeing your company advertisement at the end of it. Is that why you sent it to me, to get me in your downline of whatever you are a part of?

Actually, include a message from you. Yes, I may know you well or perhaps not-so-well, but please write even a short note about why you are forwarding this on. If I just receive the message along with the rest of your oh so lucky recipients with no note from you, I am likely going to figure it is spam and toss it. If you tell me why you sent it along, I may actually give it a read.

Only the good stuff. This is completely subjective of course, but use a little discretion and be selective on what you forward on. Don’t forward on everything that you happen to get. Yes, I realize you may be excited to receive email at all (”They like me, they really do”), I am not that way. I happen to receive hundreds of emails a day, so I prefer not to wade through too many extras. I love a good joke or feel-good story, as long as it is really good. I hope that my friends and family value the fact that if a story is sent to them by me, it really must be worth reading because of I very selective on what makes it pass my filtering. Only the good stuff.

Never use the reply to all button. Just like forwarding on, you may feel inclined to write back on a good email to say thanks for sending it and throw in a ROFL or LOL. Good for you, but please, please only reply to the person that sent it to you. It kills me to not only receive the original email but also a half dozen replies from recipients that feel the need to tell the entire group how hilarious they found the joke. Of course, if the original sender had used the Bcc, this would never happen.

For several years now whenever I get an email that is badly formed or has a hoax that has tricked the sender into forwarding it on, I take a moment to politely teach them these principles. For hoaxes, I include a link to the relevant entry at About.com and ask that they check this site in the future before forwarding things to me in the future. Usually, people are not offending and actually grateful to have been educated. Repeat offenders get a reminder with a little less subtlety 🙂 and continued abuse makes gets them elected to my spam-blocking list. These days I actually get very little forwarded on, and I enjoy the times I get something good sent my way.

I’ll stop there. I could, of course, think of many more bits of advice to give, but I figure you get the point. Sadly I expect that most of the people receiving this don’t need the advice. You’ve likely learned your lesson in the past. I don’t fault anyone for having gone through a stage of bad habits if you have nicked them and participate like a good netizen these days. We all have to learn someday. Now you have a job, teach the newbies.

James Deakin lives in California USA. He is an author of two famous novels, Rage of Angels and When Tomorrow comes. He is also the founder of classof2k9.com

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