Email Hoaxes, Urban Legends, Scams, Spams, And Other CyberJunk
The trash folder in my main inbox hit 4000 today. Since I never throw anything out, I know that what's in there is courtesy of my email filter which is set to automatically delete anything that is forwarded from my work account from a certain person. That "person" is our spam filter that insists on sending me, the administrator, a notification when it blocks an email. It's also set to delete some other mail automatically, those would be that come from addresses that have sent me spam. So I have 4000 of these in my trash. Yippee.
The compulsion to hit the forward button is alive and well even with the plethora of information available on the web about the downside of doing just that. But I have a theory.
According to one website I visited "The rate of growth of Internet use in the United States is currently two million new Internet users per month." 2 MILLION new internet users a MONTH?? It all makes sense now. There are too many newbies out there running amok with a computer, a mouse and an internet connection clicking the forward button!
But who can blame them really? Before I learned the downside of forwarding this cyberjunk and more importantly, learned that most of it isn't even true, I was among the forwarding faithful, sending on mountains of useless information to everyone I knew as quickly as it arrived.
Perhaps it was the first thing I got that I knew wasn't true that turned on the light bulb, or perhaps it was the first thing I got that just didn't make any sense, after all, who in their right mind would believe that Bill Gates was sitting around tracking forwarded emails and would actually pay you if you "passed it on"? I may be gullible, but that one was just too hard for me to swallow.
I started to look into these warnings and threats and found that the majority of them were either not true at all, like the Bill Gates hoax, or, if they were true, they were so out of date that they were no longer relevant, like the Phenylpropanolamine Drug Warning which continues to make it's rounds almost 5 years later.
By this time, I had accumulated a vast number of contacts, friends and family that didn't bother to check and just hit that forward button.
Originally, I did the research myself upon receiving a new piece of misinformation and emailed back to the sender with my findings. Eventually I became the "go to girl" for accuracy and everyone I knew would send me the email and ask me if it was real. Flattered to be considered "the expert" among my friends I dutifully did the background work and reported back but hey, I'm a mother of 3 and work full time and as honoured as I was to be the "go to girl", it got to be tedious. That's when I started sending people links to reliable sources for them to find their own answers.
I was pleased when the "go to girl" mail slowed to a trickle as did the forwarded email from people I knew. That is until several of those 2 million new users a month were people I knew and it started all over again!
First came my husband's "Auntie" who's feelings were hurt when I asked her not to forward these messages any more with an explanation of course. She was "only trying to be helpful!" She replied. Well, of course she was, isn't that why everyone forwards these messages? To be helpful.
Then came my niece who politely asked my permission to send me a few chain letters. Being the softie that I am I agreed to a "few". This was my introduction into teen angst via email. Since I was far from teenaged when I became an internet junkie, I hadn't been exposed to the suicidal poetry and advice on being a good girlfriend end of the chain letter spectrum but soon I got more than I could handle since all her friends started adding me to their address books! (And I was expecting what?)
Finally my brother-in-law of only several days forwarded me a notice that the government would soon be taxing email on behalf of Canada Post! sigh.
It was time to make a choice - either reinstate myself as the "go to girl" again, ignore and delete and let the forwarders click away in blissful ignorance, or do my part in passing the message along that forwarding every piece of junk that comes into your in box is not cool.
Of course, never knowing when to shut up won over the other choices. Hopefully the idea will catch on and people will go the extra step and rather than just delete that hoax, do the sender a favour and reward them with some useful information that might just help reduce the clutter in everyone's inbox.