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Why Shouldn’t I “Forward to Everyone You Know”?

Because it makes you part of the problem.

We often get forwarded email warning us about everything from lost children to free money to crooked politicians. They're mostly bogus, and they're known as urban legends. Here's how to tell.
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Question: I received an email with a disturbing story that seems like more people should know about. At the bottom, it even suggests that I forward it on to everyone I know. It seems such an important issue… and yet I’ve been told that I shouldn’t forward this kind of thing. Why not?

I get that kind of email from time to time also. Over the years, I’ve developed a pretty good skeptical “nose” for sniffing this kind of thing out.

What is it I’m smelling?

Usually, a big pile of lies, frauds, and misinformation.

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Forward to everyone you know

Email pleading with you to forward it to more people is almost always a hoax or complete misinformation. Either ignore it completely or do some due diligence and confirm that what it’s claiming is accurate before passing it on. In all cases, be skeptical.

Be skeptical. Then be more skeptical.

Approach the internet with skepticism. It’s chock full of misinformation, and a lot of it shows up in your email inbox.

Every few days, it seems, I receive a forwarded plea warning us about the latest political abuse, conspiracy theory, health threat, or computer virus. Some form of “Forward this to everyone you know!” is almost always present. They’ve come to be known as urban legends.

I cannot stress this enough: they’re almost always wrong. Not just a little wrong, but complete manure.

And they all insist that for your health, your wealth, the education or protection of others, or the very future of our country, you should forward the email to everyone you know.

Don’t. Please don’t.

Resist the urge.

Skeptical means checking first

At least don’t do it until you’re sure it’s legitimate. (If it asks you to “Forward this to everyone you know,” or “Tell all your friends and loved ones,” it’s almost certainly not.)

How do you tell if it’s legit?

There are many great sites you can use to find out. I’m particularly fond of Snopes1 — it’s rare that I can’t find what I’m looking for there, and each item has a clearly written and well-researched explanation of its truth or fallacy. Sites like Snopes allow you to quickly and easily search and determine whether that important plea is just another hoax.

Why care?

There are many reasons to care about this. Forwarding email that is wrong is kind of like putting garbage in the inboxes of all your friends and family; at best, you’re wasting their time, and at worst, you’re causing unnecessary anxiety. (Check out the end of the discussion of the so-called Klingerman Virus for one extreme case of hoax-induced anxiety.)

Isn’t it safer to just forward it just in case?

No. It’s much more likely that you’d be passing on misinformation. Check it out before you forward. If you don’t check it out, don’t forward it, and no harm done. If it’s an important, legitimate issue, chances are you’ll see it in the legitimate press. We see that often when real malware threats make front-page news. Email is not how news organizations, corporations, and governments spread legitimate news and important information.

Do this

Tell all your friends! Forward the URL of this article ( to everyone you know!

I’m only being partly facetious. You’re obviously welcome to point people at this article (or not) as you see fit. But as you can see, urban legends and political misinformation are passed around the internet frequently. The more people that get it, the fewer bogus stories, warnings, and other garbage we’ll all have to wade through. You’ll educate a few people and reduce the misinformation on the internet.

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Footnotes & References

1: There are people who object to Snopes. In my experience, it’s because Snopes didn’t give them the answer they wanted, even though it gave them the truth. Nonetheless, there are many good alternatives.

Additional References

5 comments on “Why Shouldn’t I “Forward to Everyone You Know”?”

  1. My sister used to forward that garbage to me.
    I cured her by fact-checking the email, and hitting “reply all.”
    She never sent me another email like that.

  2. And Vicki’s comment raises another, to me the worst part of this forwarding nonsense. She was able to “reply all”.

    These folk invariably put the email address of anyone they have ever come across in the C.C. line, for all recipients to see.

    Please use use B.C.C. to hide all that private info from all recipients., or better yet, don’t send them.

  3. I agree with Leo on this topic, but I take it a step further. I include Social Media in the mix. When you get something like Leo describes in this article via email or on social media, fact-check the information BEFORE you give it ANY credence or share it with others. If the item’s claims aren’t supported with a fact-check (I use Snopes too), for email delete it or sent it to the spam folder. For Social Media, I add a comment calling it out, referencing my fact-check information with link(s) to the information I found so others can verify what I say for themselves. This last part may or may not help, but I think it’s worth the effort. Finally (again on Social Media), if I think the content of the item meets the standards set by the provider(s) for deletion, I report it too.

    In my opinion, misinformation has become so prevalent on the Internet that we must all take steps to curb it’s spread. If you see anything that looks like misinformation/fake-news to you on Social Media, fact-check it with a reputable fact-check source, and if your check supports it’s fallacy, call it out with links to the information source(s) you used to fact-check it. If you think the item’s claims rise to the Social media site’s standard for removal, report it and include your fact-checking information source(s) in your report. These steps may not eradicate misinformation/fake news on the Internet, but I suspect/hope they’ll slow it down significantly.

    Ernie (Oldster)

    • All good thoughts, without a doubt. It made me think, though, that if your research serves to prove something as true or factual, it’s worth sharing that. We’re all being inundated, and making it easier for the next person to confirm something also has value.


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