By Judy Vorfeld Have you ever fallen for a clever urban legend or virus hoax? Then immediately passed it on to your best friends and relatives, or even your clients? Have you later discovered it was a hoax? Did you want to go back and erase it ... using virtual White-Out?
If you communicate with people regularly via the Internet, you may regularly receive and pass on all kinds of false information. You may also create hardship for people in various parts of the world.
"How can I create hardship for people when I'm a good, sincere person?" you ask. It's easy: just believe every chain letter you receive, even those that start with phrases like "Someone sent this, and I'm not sure it's true, but just in case..." Not only believe them, but immediately pass them on.
"But I'm a caring person," you say, "and I never pass them on unless they'll help someone else."
Perhaps you don't realize that chain letters almost always contain false, misleading, frightening, or foolish messages ... Urban Legends ... Virus Hoaxes. I'm a caring person, too, and I used to pass them on until I discovered most were hoaxes. I also learned that many people throughout the world sacrifice to pay for time spent on the Internet. Receiving chain letters makes their lives much more difficult. Usually they have to pay to download every message. Time equals money.
Chain letters almost always end up asking you to forward the information, good thoughts, and/or money immediately. This is supposed to either spread love globally, get or give money, or save the lives of countless innocent people.
But some chain letters have to do with "good luck." Here's part of one that pops up frequently: "The origination of this letter is unknown, but it brings good luck to everyone who passes it on. Do not keep this letter. Do not send money. Just forward it to five friends to whom you wish good luck. You will see that something good happens to you four days from now if the chain is not broken."
This sounds nice . . . but notice that little warning not to break the chain! It makes you responsible for whether or not good things happen to your five friends (and their five friends, and their five friends, etc.) as well as to yourself. Hmmm.
How can you tell if it's a hoax? Almost always, there's a call to action. "Read this, then DO something!" It's usually skillfully written to touch the reader's emotions . . . those feelings that spur compassion, and suggests immediate action, like forwarding to everyone who needs to know.
Many urban legends are brilliantly written. I wonder if there's a Ph.D. given for people who write successful urban legends. People pay big bucks to have copywriters create a powerful call to action. Ah, to have just a bit of these writers' skills. One-tenth would be okay.
Have you ever wondered about the effect of sending chain letters? It's amazing. Take a look at The Skeptic's Dictionary - (look under "P" for Pyramid Schemes) which shows a diagram of the effect of a pyramid scheme. Chain letters fit in this category.
This pyramid effect is verified by the Department of Energy, which says, " . . . a message can be forwarded to hundreds of people at no apparent cost to the sender. If each of the so-called good Samaritans sends the letter on to only ten other people, the ninth resending results in a billion e-mail messages, thereby, clogging the network and interfering with the receiving of legitimate e-mail messages. Factor in the time lost reading and deleting all these messages and you see a real cost to organizations and individuals from these seemingly innocuous messages."
How can you help stop this kind of activity that not only clutters cyberspace, but strikes fear into many hearts? Any time you get a call to action, STOP! Think! Verify! Every time you're tempted to click "FORWARD" and send a chain letter to others, think about it first. Create a new file folder for your incoming mail called "Chain-letters." Put suspected chain letters in this folder. Let them sit a while or try some of the links below, using appropriate keywords. If it's not an urban legend, you may want to send it. If it is an urban legend,delete it.
I challenge you to join the crusade to keep networks less clogged and your friends, relatives, colleagues, and clients free from frightening and/or foolish information. If you want to be actively involved, link to this article from your site. Spread the word. Educate.
- About Netiquette
- Chain Letters
- Computer Virus Myths
- DOE on Chain Letters
- Internet Scambusters
- The San Fernando Valley Folklore Society's Urban References Legends Pages (SNOPES)
- Skeptic's Dictionary: Pyramids/Chain Letters/Ponzi Schemes
For more information, contact Judy Vorfeld