Fathom before forward! – A sneek peek into the world of chain letters.

Why do people forward irrelevant emails? A few reasons that I could gather –

  • No harm – There’s no harm in forwarding a simple email right?
  • Spreading knowledge – I’m doing a noble task of spreading knowledge to my fellow earthlings!
  • I don’t want to die – I’m scared I may die if I do not pass this onto ‘X’ people ASAP!
  • I want my soul mate to call/meet me – My soul mate will call me in the next 30 minutes if I forward this mail to X people.
  • I want to get rich – If I forward this message to ‘X’ people, a large corporation will pay me ‘X’ money!
  • A large company will pay… – A large company has promised to pay some unfortunate people ‘X’ money if I forward this mail!

Is Bill Gates an idiot to pay me to forward mails? If I could find my true love by just forwarding emails, doesn’t it make the love as meaningless as well? If I were to die because I failed to forward a mail, I don’t remember the number of times I must have died by now!

As of July 2010, Symantec reported that 92% of all emails were junk. Having cleared my Inbox of about 6000-odd unread forwarded messages, I began wondering if forwarded emails had any meaning or value.

Chain mails are not something new. Interestingly, chain mails in physical form existed even before the internet was born. (Apparently, a chain mail scam ran in Colorado way back in 1935.) Chain mail on the internet is much easier and cheaper – virtually free. With hundreds of free e-mail providers, cheap servers, and software created just for the purpose of sending such mails, it is easy to create a ‘scam’ in minutes and see it spread to thousands of people in a matter of hours.

Most of such mails carry wrong messages and trap thousands of gullible persons to spread it more. While this is happening, the message secretly attaches the sender’s reputation to it. For instance, you would tend to believe something because your teacher or uncle sent it to you. Here is an article that rightly says,

Perhaps the most subtle and powerful viral element of chain letters in email is the social proof that comes with many of them. Every time someone forwards one to his or her address book, another list of recipients and senders is attached to it, creating essentially a list of people who implicitly give authority to the message. If one person sends an email to another, the source may or may not be cited, and the sender’s reputation is the only real social authority the email carries, with a huge list of hundreds of others attached it, with popular viral emails, it suddenly appears that the message is common knowledge and the receiver is perhaps the only person left on the internet who wasn’t warned of the danger.

While, most often, these emails either leave you disappointed or fool you, they do not cause real harm. However subtle the implications might be, I have managed to list a few:

  • Time – Many of us receive such emails when at work. Reading forwarded mails silently eats away our time – seconds, to minutes, to hours.
  • Distraction – Chain mails prove to be a nuisance when you are working on something important and you open the mail thinking it is relevant.
  • Resources – The resources – memory, computing power and electricity that goes into transferring billions of unwanted emails everyday could be put to much better use!

I believe the internet can be a better place if people took time to investigate and verify if the mail that they were going to forward to many more people was true. A simple and easy method is to go to Snopes.com and search for the key words in the mail. Then forward the mail with the link to the Snopes page if the information is true. This way, the recipient will be sure of the authenticity of the email.

After you have verified the truth of the mail, one more check to perform is the how much your recipient would be interested/profited by your email. An easy way of finding out is to ask yourself:

  • Would the recipient be benefited from this mail?
  • Is the subject of the email within the area of study, expertise or interest of the recipient?

One general suggestion: Fathom before forward! 🙂

P.S: While I remember to have posted a false email on my blog, I have definitely learned my lesson, and hence this write up. This article might have helped me vent my irritation against chain mails, I hope there be a little reduction in the number of such mails I receive. 🙂
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