It seems to be that time of year again where my inbox is getting filled with well meaning emails from people warning me about viruses, why God exists, that are the funniest things ever, that will bring me good luck if I inflict them on other people in my address book, and that will protect PBS from the latest round of evil funding cutting. My standard response is generally something along the lines of:
Hi! Please remove me from your distribution list. Forwarded email is an ineffective way of informing people about anything because they are almost universally incorrect or, worse, hoaxes. I get my news, laughs, and heartwarming stories from other sources and like to keep my email to a minimum so as not to overwhelm me. Thanks, I appreciate it!
If it’s especially pernicious, I’ll include a link to snopes.com or BreakTheChain.org. And I always try to link to a debunking of the particular email hoping that the person will forward the debunking around to their distribution letting them know that the email they just sent was wrong and not to forward it (they never do).
I’ve noticed a disturbing new trend lately though. The email forwards are saying things like, “This was checked with snopes.com and is real,” and even provide a link. Ironically, the links invariably start with, “This is a real threat,” and then go on to talk about how it was a real threat from 5 years ago and now is just leftovers floating around. No one ever reads below the fold to where it is debunked. So, the forward goes on and people think they are helping others when, in fact, they are just making more of a mess of things.
I used to be a lot more direct about this. I was pointed about them being hoaxes and pointless, I often replied to all so that everyone who got the latest round of forwards knew it was a hoax and not to forward it on, and I made it perfectly clear that email forwards were near the top rung on the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” ladder. But for professional and political reasons, I tread much more softly these days.
But the rule should simply be: don’t forward emails. I found this recent posting on a website to be particularly good: The five rules of forwarding emails. I would add a sixth: don’t forward emails. Especially in light of #5 which I hadn’t even considered: by forwarding emails, you expose my email address to the open Internet which exposes me to spam from people who harvest email addresses. I realized that one address that I created to be my private address for friends only has gotten out and will likely start collecting spam in greater quantities. Wonderful. Thanks.
Please, don’t forward emails. It’s really that simple.