C'mon, What Can It Hurt?
How many times have you gotten a chain letter where the sender comments that it's probably a hoax but "it can't hurt to send it, just in case?" E-mail is so easy and convenient that it is difficult to anticipate or even imagine an e-mail chain letter having negative consequences to those who forward it.
There are many reasons to break every chain you get, but here are some of the most compelling:
- Many e-mail providers prohibit sending and/or forwarding chain letters. Did you read your provider's terms of service closely? Neither did I, but the prohibition is there and will get your account canceled if someone complains or if the host finds out. Many well-meaning e-petitions and class projects are killed for this reason. Is a chain letter really worth losing your e-mail account over?
- Sending chain letters, or being included in a mass forwarding can increase your exposure to spam, viruses, and identity theft. Your name and e-mail address, along with those of anyone you send it to, are attached to each message you send. You can't possibly predict who may get that information in the future nor control what they do with it.
- Companies and organizations like Microsoft, Disney, the American Cancer Society and the Make a Wish Foundation are hurt by chain letters bearing their names. They must divert valuable personnel and manhours to respond misinformed or fabricated e-mails. Smaller companies have been forced to invest thousands to upgrade their phone systems to deal with the volume of calls caused by their company's name unintentionally being added to a hoax. No reputable organization uses e-mail chain letters for marketing, give-aways or charity.
- False Attribution Syndrome (FAS). Before you send a chain letter, ask yourself if you'd like to be identified as its author. Since the source of a chain letter is often lost or not provided in the first place, each person who forwards one has an equal chance of being mistaken as the author. Many people have been harassed, lost their e-mail accounts or even lost their jobs after falling victim to FAS.
- A warning that elicits fear, anger, sympathy, or distrust may motivate you to send it on, but it's most likely a hoax (or, at the very least, only part of the story). Your emotions always interfere with your ability to make logical decisions, and hoaxters bank on that. Don't be their next victim.
- Most hoaxes are spread by people with good intentions. There are thousands of new users on the 'net everyday and hoaxters count on the gullibility and good intentions of "newbies" to spread misinformation for them. Chain-letters open your friends up to such attacks.
How much damage an e-mail chain letter can do varies on a number of factors, including the subject matter, the identity of the sender/forwarder, social climates, etc. Some are relatively harmless while others carry with them life-altering consequences. Here's just a few examples of how people have been negatively affected by chains:
- A South Carolina chiropractor had to install a new phone system at his practice to handle the thousands of calls he received after his name and phone number became associated with chain letter about a sick child.
- The University of Calgary had to deactivate an employee's e-mail account and phone service after her name and contact information became attached to a "missing child" chain letter and thousands mistook her for the girl's mother.
- The Make-A-Wish Foundation, the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and dozens other charitable and public-service organizations divert thousands of manhours each year to deal with tons of inquiries about e-mail hoaxes erroneously bearing their names.
- Two employees of a London law firm were fired after a racy e-mail conversation between them became a popular chain letter. A London banker suffered a similar fate when an e-mail he sent to some friends ended up in the inboxes of the world.
The list goes on.