Friday, June 20, 2008

Viral Email

If anyone out there has avoided being the recipient of a viral email, may your good fortune continue forever. But the rest of you, you know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the semi-hysterical, semi-irrational messages that appear in your inbox everyday. Since these emails, almost without exception, urge the reader to forward them to everyone in their address book, you might receive two or three copies of the same email. (It’s happened to me, and when it does I forward my reply to everyone in my address book.)

There’s no end to the incredible variety of subjects these emails cover. Obama’s father was born on Mars! Disney World is the secret headquarters of the WTO. Mexicans have cooties! Rapists hide under your toilet seat. Adolf Hitler is alive and living with Michael Jackson. HIV was developed by white supremacist homophobes. HIV was developed by Communists. HIV was developed by Obama’s father. I mean, really!

It’s not that I wonder where all this is coming from. There have always been cock-eyed stories floating around about 12 foot alligators in the NYC sewer system, or about the babysitter who discovers that the “children are dead and the phone call is coming from inside the house”, or that there was a bloody hook hanging from the car door handle. But mostly everybody knew that they were crapola. What happened to make us so credulous? I know what happened. The ‘Forward’ button happened, that’s what!

Honestly, some of these viral emails are so comprehensively misleading that you would almost need to answer them line-by-line. That’s tedious for me and for the people that would be reading my reply. Still, that’s my job. I feel compelled to do it. But I urge all of you who may be tempted to forward anymore ‘Very Interesting’ items to me; Check with Snopes, check with Google, check with Wikipedia. Don’t rely on just one source. Be suspicious of emails that are confusingly or vaguely worded, that don’t cite reputable sources, that ramble from subject to subject, or draw conclusions from questionable or insufficient data. Most important; don't believe something just because it says what you want to hear.

The preceding paragraphs are for those people who mistakenly forwarded incorrect information in good faith. By that, I mean that you actually believed that what you were forwarding was true. I've made many mistakes myself and you have my sympathy. We'll do better in the future.

But for those of you who knowingly disseminate untruths, half-truths, whoppers, fibs and lies, simply because you want to do damage, you have my complete contempt. Appending a sentence about how you "don't know if this is true, but (you're) forwarding it anyway" will cut no ice with me.

- Maggie

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