E-Mail Forwarding Etiquette
E-mail is probably the second most important communication tool invented in the 20th century, right behind the telephone. Its convenience and ease of use also make it very easy to abuse. Like most emerging social technologies, there are no established rules about what is accepted and what isn't.
I asked the people who know - veteran e-mail users - to name a few things they would like all e-mailers to do or consider before forwarding an e-mail message. Here are their suggestions:
- Ask for permission. If you frequently forward messages (warnings, as well as feel-good messages or jokes), ask those you send to frequently if they want to be included. Also ask for their permission to forward something they sent you - don't assume that their consent is implied.
- Check facts before forwarding a message. You've got the most powerful research tool ever known to man right at your fingertips - USE IT!!
- Don't forward the message to everyone on your list. If you must forward a message to more than a few people, do it in smaller batches of five or fewer. Forwarding in small batches reduces the size of headers (the list of e-mail addresses attached to all e-mail messages) and also gives you a chance to save face - perhaps someone in the first batch will recognize a message as a hoax and tell you before you forward it again.
- Don't "piggy-back" personal notes on forwarded messages. Many veteran e-mail users automatically delete messages if they see FW: in the subject line or otherwise recognize it as a chain letter. We assume there is nothing of value in the message, thus your personal message is lost. If you want to tell your friends and family something, dedicate a message to it.
- Check your e-mail program's settings to see if it forwards messages as attachments or in-line text. Most of the time, in-line text is best because it is the easiest to read. However...
- Check your settings to see if the program automatically inserts leading characters (such as ">>") before each line of the message when you forward it as inline text. Disable this feature, as it often messes up the message's line formatting and makes it very difficult to read. (Some programs and services like Yahoo! Mail do not allow you to turn this off. In this case, it might be better to use the "forward as attachment" setting).
- Clean it up before sending it out. Forwarded messages automatically include a "header" that lists everyone the message was sent to last time (and possibly every time) it was forwarded. You could be violating somebody's privacy by sending out their name and e-mail address without their permission. Also, delete any ">" characters in the body of the message inserted by other people's e-mail programs. It may take a little time, but the recipients will appreciate it. If the message isn't worth this little bit of effort, maybe it's not worth forwarding.
- Forward the ORIGINAL message only! If the message is nested in a series of forwarded attachments, try to work your way down to the one that contains the actual message, and forward it - or copy it and paste it into a new message. This way, the recipient doesn't have to double-click through all those blank Forward messages or scroll through pages of headers.
- Never forward something that "could be real." We realize that you're only trying to be helpful and conscientious, but you could be doing more harm than good. If you're not sure about a message's validity, contact a friend who might know and ask him or her, or search BreakTheChain.org using the form at the upper left. If I don't have it, submit it for breaking. Don't forward anything that you haven't validated.
- Delete any part of a chain letter that begs, bullies or shames the reader into sending it. This insults the recipient and sends the message (however unintentional) that you don't think he or she is responsible and intelligent enough to decide what is worthy of forwarding.
- If the chain letter contains a poem, joke or other thing you want to forward and lots of other stuff you don't, forward only the parts you want. You don't have to send on every piece of mail exactly as you received it. Delete the parts you don't like or copy and paste the parts you do into a new message.
- Don't want the junk. The more junk you send, the more you will get. The same holds true for those you send it to. Propagating chain letters increases both the sender's and the recipients' exposure to spam, scams, spyware and other junk e-mail.
- Break the chain. Recognize that e-mail is an insecure and unreliable medium for sharing information and any claims made via chain letters should be validated before it is sent on.