Forwarding Hysteria

(Last change: 12 January 1999.)

How many times have you received email that says "please forward this to everyone you know"? How many times have you forwarded such email and later discovered that you'd helped perpetrate a hoax, or learned that the email became outdated two years before?

Any time that you receive much-forwarded email telling you to do something that seems a little odd, or warning you of a problem, try to verify the information given before following the instructions or forwarding the email. It can save a lot of trouble (and sometimes money!) later.

The Net allows hoaxes and urban legends to reach hundreds of thousands of people within hours; it's often (as demonstrated by the durability of the Craig Shergold business) difficult or impossible for the truth to catch up with the rumor. It's especially tough to contain such items because well-meaning people like to tell everyone they know about potential dangers and about ways to do good. But it's really best to resist the temptation to tell anyone these things until you've checked up on the info yourself.

Here are some of the general types of false or distorted information that most commonly get distributed without verification:

and so on. A good rule of thumb is that if you don't personally know the original originator of the message, it may well have been distorted in transmission -- remember the game "Telephone"? Information tends to get garbled as it's passed along, even if it was true originally. (It also tends to get outdated as time goes on...)

Here's another good rule of thumb: if you receive a piece of email which demands that you panic without thinking, it's probably not a good idea to follow instructions. This is particularly applicable to the last three types of commonly forwarded mail on the above list.

Before you forward anything to a large number of people, stop and think. Do you know for sure the email is true? Does everyone you're writing to need to know about it? If the answer to either question is "no," you might reconsider sending it out.

This page is not meant as an attack on anyone. Forwarding important email is something most of us do at one time or another. I'd just like to see people make sure of an item's accuracy before passing it on.


Addenda


Jed Hartman <logos@kith.org>