Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Inbox Myths

With the advent of email the world became much more in touch. Information that a decade ago would have taken days to cross the planet now only takes a few bulk emails. For the most part this is a very good thing. However, along with this benefit comes the redheaded step child of email, the completely unresearched mass forwarded urban legend.

Do any of these sound familiar? Oliver North was afraid of Osama bin Laden back in the 80s. Mars is closer than it has been in centuries. Fred Rogers and Captain Kangaroo were decorated war heroes. The 9-11 flights were picked because of their graphic significance if you change the font to wingdings in Word. If they don’t then you may be the only person on the planet who has not been in the loop on the latest email legends.

I’m consistently amazed at how otherwise sensible, rational people will believe and forward on anything that shows up in their inbox. A few years ago I just used to erase these little annoyances as soon as I saw them. But for the last couple of years I’ve felt this need to research the data and forward the correct information to everybody on the lists. I frequent several websites that research these legends. I also subscribe to an email newsletter from factcheck.org that unbiasedly verifies political claims. I’ve heard it repeated in the political arena that “a lie unchallenged becomes the truth in 24 hours”. Perhaps it is this desire to set the record straight that motivates me.

I’ve had a few people criticize my actions by assuming that I was taking a political position on the email one way or the other. If I state that an email critical of Democrats is not factual that does not mean that I support the Democrats. If I show sources that Fred Rogers was never in the Marine Corp that does not mean that I think any less of Mr. Rogers or the Marine Corp. More often than not the position that I am taking is simply, this is not a fact and I will not use it justify my opinions one way or the other. Many times the facts I uncover go against my personal beliefs and desires. I mean I would love if Mars was going to appear as big as the moon next month but the truth is it just isn’t gonna happen. I just want to make sure that if I take any actions or form any opinions based on these emails that they are based on fact.

I guess my only point here is to say don’t trust everything you see in your inbox. And if you want to find out if something is true or not just send the email and I’ll do my best to ferret out the truth.


  1. I do pretty much the same thing with emails that I get. Usually, I just let the person sending the emails know that they are spreading incorrect information. After a few such corrections, I usually never get a bulk forwarded email again. In the last year, I think I have recieved at most two of these bulk emails. One I recieved just today, from my wife, but hers was accompanied by a personal note that read "What's the name of the website you use to bust crap like this?" I'm pretty sure she was talking about snopes.

  2. I too respond in a simmilar way, usually sending a link to Snopes or some other site. I did get bulk style e-mail from a friend that I thought I had disuaded from sending them at least to me. It was about "Virus alert" that had links in the e-mail to what looked looked like a legitimate and repitable anti-virus site, but was actually a slight mispelling of the company's name. All the links on the site took you back to the real company's site, but this page was not part of it. I showed the isue to my friend and he quickly sent out a retraction. But the phony pages were in fact there to get you to download a "fix" for this virus that "could not be detected by anti-virus software yet." Who knows what it would have done, but I was not gonna be the guinea pig.

  3. So what is it about email that makes people trust it without so much as looking for one other source before sending it out to the world?