The problem with chain letters is that they are thoroughly obnoxious. Sure, they could contain useful information, like how much fecal material resides on your toothbrush, or how bad margarine is for you, but some chain letters are completely false, or contain information that’s YEARS old! So, how does one separate the fact from the fiction, the cream from the crap? With a heavy dose of intelligence, a level head, and a few investigative websites.
Intelligence – use it or lose it
First of all, don’t ever believe everything you read. Especially if it’s online, and even more so if it’s from that crazy aunt who keeps 40 cats and claims she keeps a zebra in the backyard. Just because it exists, or someone says it exists, doesn’t mean it exists, or that it’s entirely truthful. If it sounds outrageous and crazy, it probably is outrageous and crazy.
A Level Head – even keeled means smooth sailing
Secondly, chain letters are usually created, even the truthful ones, to provoke those who are easily panicked into a frenzy, flooding their friends inboxes with disastrous information. Learning to pause and take a moment to think about what you just read can save your friends from groaning each time they see your e-mail address in their inbox.
Investigative Websites – A little legwork goes a long way
Last, there are some great websites that can help you sort out whether you should trash or forward that letter. www.breakthechain.org is a website dedicated to convincing people that not all chain letters and forwarded e-mails are truthful, and even the ones that are claiming to be truthful are entirely true. It shows you letters that have been caught as chain letters, and lets you send chain letters to the webmaster so that they can keep helping to ‘break the chain.’
Another website that will help you determine fact from fiction is www.snopes.com, which is dedicated to dispelling urban myths and legends. They’re set up so all you have to do is search for a specific topic, like “strawberry meth,” to return a wealth of information on the subjects’ half-truths. Likewise, www.scambusters.org will help you figure out if that prince from Nigeria really is willing to share his fortune with you or if he just wants to wipe out your bank accounts. They also have an Urban Legends section that can aid you in finding out why Aunt Betty wants you to make sure you keep panty hose on the ends of your water faucets.
And so, to sum it all up, there are three ways to keep your friends from hating your e-mail address in their inboxes. Use your head, don’t panic, and do a little research before you hit the “forward” and “send to entire address book” buttons.
I’ve never forwarded a chain e-mail in my life. I’ve sent back rebuttals from Snopes disproving their letters, and even have received flack from it. But there’s no shortage of people who don’t think things through on the Internet.