Forwards and Chain Letters

In general, forwarding chain letters is a BAD idea. Why? Because usually (greater than 95% of the time), the information is false. I'm talking mostly about computer-related ones (virus warnings, etc.), but this principle is not limited to these!

Contents

Virus hoaxes

Please, please, please: before you start sending emails warning of a virus, CHECK your facts! I just received this email:

Very Important

During the next several weeks be VERY cautious about opening or
launching any e-mails that refer to the World Trade Center or 9/11 in
any way, regardless of who sent it. PLEASE FORWARD TO ALL YOUR
FRIENDS AND FAMILY. FOR THOSE WHO DON'T KNOW, "WTC" STANDS FOR THE
WORLD TRADE CENTER. REALLY DANGEROUS BECAUSE PEOPLE WILL OPEN IT
RIGHT AWAY, THINKING ITS A STORY RELATING TO 9/11!

BIGGGG TROUBLE !!!! DO NOT OPEN "WTC Survivor" It is a virus that
will erase your whole "C" drive. It will come to you in the form of
an E-Mail from a familiar person. I repeat, a friend sent it to me,
but called and warned me before I opened it. He was not so lucky and
now he can't even start his computer!

Forward this to everyone in your address book. I would rather receive 
this 25 times than not at all. So, if you receive an email called 
"WTC Survivor", do not open it. Delete it right away! This virus 
removes all dynamic link libraries (.dll files) from your computer.

PLEASE FORWARD THIS MESSAGE!

Looks like your standard virus warning. But before you send such things, CHECK on them. Think to yourself: does this one look like it came from a reputable anti-virus company? If you're unsure, do a search on google for some keywords. In this case, you could try "WTC Survivor" (click to run the search). The VERY FIRST match says that this is most definitely a hoax. In the 10 seconds it took you to search google, you've saved bandwidth by not passing the email on as well as unnecessary worry and aggrivation on the part of everybody to whom you would have sent it.

Even if you can't find anything saying it's a hoax, you should be able to find something saying that it's REAL. If you can't, that's also a bad sign. Try searching for specific phrases taken right from the email, like "Really dangerous because people will open it right away." (taken directly from the first paragraph above). This will generally yield more direct matches, because only pages with that exact phrase on them will come up.

Other email chains

This part was best explained (ironically) by a chain I got a few years back. The contents are below. The main point is to be skeptical of promises made in any chain letter. AOL will not shut down your account if you don't send this email out to 10 people; Intel will not pay you $250 for everybody you send it to; And there is no starving child in Africa who will get a grain of rice for every person you send the email too. This is true because of one basic principle: emails cannot be [easily] tracked. And now, an abbreviated version of the actual letter I got (somewhat funny, but I must emphasize that I DID NOT write this):

[begin part not written by me]


Hello, my name is Alfonso Merkin. I am suffering
from rare and deadly diseases, poor scores on final exams, fear of being
kidnapped and executed by anal electrocution, and guilt for no sending out 50
billion forwards sent to me by people who actually believe that if you send
them, that poor 6 year old girl in Arkansas with lung cancer brought on by
second-hand smoke from the cigarettes smoked by the big bad men who kidnapped
her and took pornographic pictures of her for use on their child pornography
web site will get 6 cents every time you send me the letter. Do you honestly
believe that Bill Gates is going to give you and everyone you send "his"
email to $1000? How stupid are you?

Ooooh. Looky here! If I scroll down this page
and make a wish, I'll get laid by every Victoria's Secret model in the
catalog! What a bunch of bull. So basically, this message is a big SCREW YOU
to all the people out there who have nothing better to do than to send me
stupid chain mail forwards. Maybe the evil chain letter leprechauns will come
into my apartment and sodomize me in my sleep for not continuing the chain
which was started by Jesus in 5 A.D. and was brought to this country by
midget pilgrims on the Mayflower and if it makes it to the year 2000, it'll
be in the Guinness Book of World Records for longest continuous streak of
blatant stupidity.

If you're going to forward something, at least
send something mildly amusing. I've seen all the "send this to 50 of your
closest friends, and this poor, wretched excuse for a human being will
somehow receive a nickel from some "omniscient being" forwards about 90
times. I don't care. Show a little intelligence and think about what you're
actually contributing to by sending out forwards. Chances are it's your own
unpopularity.

Here's how it goes:

*Send this to 1 person: One person will be pissed off at you for sending them a stupid chain letter.

*Send this to 2-5 people: 2-5 people will be pissed off at you for sending them a stupid chain letter.

*5-10 people: 5-10 people will be pissed off at you for sending them a stupid chain letter.

*10-20 people: 10-20 people will be pissed off at you for sending them a stupid chain letter.

Thanks!!!! Good Luck!!!

Now onto the ironic part. In order for this to
get any popularity, send it on!!! If you don't think it was funny at all,
don't bother, but otherwise forward this sucker to everyone you know!! If you
don't, I don't care, but why not show this around? Take two minutes and
forward it. Thanks! Remember, the moral of the story is, if you get a chain
letter, ignore it. If it's a joke or something, send it, sure, but if it's
gonna make people feel guilty (i.e. the willieless boy from
Baklaliviatatlaglooshen) or nervous (i.e. Miranda Pinsley who ended up in a
waterfall of turds) just delete it.

[end part not written by me]

Enough of email chain letters. There are other evils...

Non-email chains

I'm not just talking about email letters, either. I got the motivation to write this page because of an AIM chain, of all things. I came back from an hour long class and had several IM's with exactly the same text, namely:

Dear AIM users,

Because of our overloading of our servers, we are being forced to
extract our non-active AIM users. Because this is a free service, AOL has
exceeded the budget for the AIM service. We are asking that you send this
exact message to 20 other AIM users to ensure us that you're an active AIM
user. Our system tracking devise will pick up this message to keep you on our
active list. You have 72 hours to complete this task or your service will be
cancelled immediately. Starting September 10, 2003, we will be charging a
small fee for registering of a screen name for AIM. Thank you for your time
and for using AOL or AIM.

This is the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard. Firstly, this chain letter went around a few months ago, with a different date in it (see the Voorn project or another angry guy). First, think it through. If AIM's servers were becoming overloaded, why would they ever ask everybody currently using it to send TWENTY messages within 72 hours. That will only exacerbate any problems they're experiencing, and it's unnecessary because they have everybody's email address in their signup information. Secondly, even if they could track your messages (which, as far as I am aware, they cannot), why couldn't they just see that you were sending any messages? Why would it have to be this particular one, and to 20 different people? And finally, AIM is not a proper medium for such a distribution as the message claims to be because it is designed principally for individual (1-to-1) communication and small chat situations. It's NOT a reliable method of mass mailing.


The moral of the story is do NOT forward chain letters unless you have a very good reason. Check your facts, or if it's supposed to be something funny, make sure it actually is and won't make people feel guilty about not forwarding it to 50 more people.

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2003 Dave Pacheco
Last updated 2003-09-09