Because it makes you part of the problem.
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.
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.
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.
- Snopes.com, my favorite all-around urban legend site.
- Truth or Fiction
- FaceCrooks for Facebook-related hoaxes and scams.
- List of Urban Legends on Wikipedia
- The Spam Primer, which goes into this topic in more details. Let’s face it, ultimately you are sending spam when you forward urban legends.