WHAT'S SO BAD ABOUT UNTRUE EMAILS?
(A bulletin by Chris Long, BS in Computer Information Systems)
[A service of Laugh & Lift - http://www.laughandlift.com]

Before I start my ramblings on, I'd like to share a story:

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AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE
(Author Unknown)

I was on my way to the post office to pick up my case of free M&M's (sent to me because I forwarded their e-mail to five other people, celebrating the fact that the year 2000 is "MM" in Roman numerals), when I ran into a friend whose neighbor, a young man, was home recovering from having been served a rat in his bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken - which is predictable, since as everyone knows, there's no actual chicken in Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is why the government made them change their name to KFC.

Anyway, one day this guy went to sleep and when he awoke he was in his bathtub and it was full of ice and he was sore all over and when he got out of the tub he realized that HIS KIDNEYS HAD BEEN STOLEN. He saw a note on his mirror that said "Call 911!" but he was afraid to use his phone because it was connected to his computer, and there was a virus on his computer that would destroy his hard drive if he opened e-mail entitled "Join the crew!" or "It takes Guts to Say Jesus." He knew it wasn't a hoax because he himself was a computer programmer who was working on software to prevent a global disaster in which all the computers get together and distribute the $250.00 Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe under the leadership of Bill Gates. (It's true - I read it all last week in a mass e-mail from BILL GATES HIMSELF, who was also promising me a free Disney World vacation and $5,000 if I would forward the e-mail to everyone I know.)

The poor man then tried to call 911 from a pay phone to report his missing kidneys, but a voice on the line first asked him to press #90, which unwittingly gave the bandit full access to the phone line at the guy's expense. Then reaching into the coin-return slot he got jabbed with an HIV-infected needle around which was wrapped around a note that said, "Welcome to the world of AIDS." Luckily he was only a few blocks from the hospital - the one where that little boy who is dying of cancer is; the one whose last wish is for everyone in the world to send him an e-mail and the American Cancer Society has agreed to pay him a nickel for every e-mail he receives. I sent him two e-mails and one of them was a bunch of x's and o's in the shape of an angel (if you get it and forward it to more than 10 people, you will have good luck but for 10 people you will only have OK luck and if you send it to fewer than 10 people you will have BAD LUCK FOR SEVEN YEARS). So anyway the poor guy tried to drive himself to the hospital, but on the way he noticed another car driving without its lights on. To be helpful, he flashed his lights at him and was promptly shot as part of a gang initiation.

Send THIS to all the friends who send you their junk mail and you will receive 4 green m&ms, but if you don't the owner of Proctor and Gamble will report you to his Satanist friends and you will have more bad luck and the government will put a tax on your e-mails forever. I know this is all true 'cause I read it on the Internet.
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If I had a nickel for every time I've received one of these untrue email messages, I'd be able to retire right now! :)

Seriously though, why is it that people send these types of messages on? To answer this, we first need to distinguish between the 2 primary classes of untrue junk email (of which I have totally made up names for):

1) "Junky" Junk - this is the type like the m&m's emails, Disney World giving free stuff emails , Bill Gates emails, e-mail tracking systems emails, angel stuff emails, etc.

2) "Feeling" Junk - this is the type like the Proctor and Gamble message, virus warnings, taxing of emails messages, "Touched by An Angel" message, etc.

So what's the difference? Well, the "junky" type preys quite frankly on certain people's lack of knowledge (I'm trying to put this nicely...) These are the things that most people would laugh at and dismiss as totally fake if told to them on the street, but yet somehow believe that they are real on the Internet. People usually send these on "just because" or "well WHAT IF it's true?"

The "feeling" type plays on people's emotions. They are messages intended to rile people up and usually people send these on because they genuinely are concerned about people that they know and want to "inform" them as well. Unlike the "junky" type, they aren't always implausible. It's just that they're not true and can be unfairly damaging to people and organizations mentioned within the messages. This is the type that I most commonly receive from well-meaning Christians who send things on because the message gets them riled up emotionally, but don't bother to check one of the many web sites available to see if it is true (a lot of the time if an email message preys on your emotions especially of compassion and guilt if you don't send it on, it's false - guaranteed! - even without the need to check a web site)

What many good, decent people don't realize on the 'net is that there are also many people who aren't so decent. There are people who start email forwards just to see how quickly it will spread through in their eyes "gullible" people. And these people love to prey on yours and my emotions. They love to get us so riled up that we will keep sending on the message. And guess what? There are people who specificially start forwards directed at Christians for the sole purpose of making us as Christians look like fools! Not to go off on too much of a tangent here, but one of my biggest pet-peaves with Christians is that WE are our own worst enemy! (If you don't believe that, think about it for awhile...)

Unfortunately even a lot of messages that aren't 100% junk, such as forwarded stories and humor, often contain junk blurbs at the end with lines like "Send this to 10 people and a really cool picture will pop up on your screen - I guarantee it! - it's really cool!!!"

So what's so bad about untrue emails? Who really cares about whether a false message gets sent to people a zillion times? Here's why:

Almost all false junk emails mention a person, an organization, a government, a business, or multiples of these. Here's the problem: These people/organizations are unfairly hurt both in image and money and often have to spend a lot of man power and money to debunk these myths. What do I mean by this? Let me give you one of many many examples: One of the more popular untrue emails is about Touched By an Angel being taken off the air and asks users to write to the FCC or sign a petition to them. I recently saw in print a representative of the FCC on this issue basically saying that they have a whole department of people who have to handle all of the correspondence that comes in about a petition that doesn't even exist. That's a waste of yours and my tax dollars.

And I'm not even going to mention all the Internet bandwidth these messages take up and just plain annoyance that these messages cause to many people.

It is ironic that the reason that many people send on these types of emails is to "enlighten" others and try to do a good deed, yet in reality they are probably doing just the opposite and hurting people and businesses in the process.

On the other side of the coin, many people also believe that you have to check a web site that is devoted to hoax/SPAM messages to see if a message is true or not. While if you have any doubt about a message, this is a good idea, it is typically not necessary. Usually you can spot an untrue message a mile away just by examining its characteristics. One web site that devotes itself to hoaxes and SPAM's is the very complete, but worldly www.snopes.com.

For more information on how to spot an untrue email, see the bulletin: "10 Ways to Spot an Untrue Email."

Chris Long

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Copyright by Chris Long, 2003-2007. Permission is granted to "forward" this message to others as long as the entire message remains intact.

This is version 2.0 of this bulletin (June 2007).