(8/8/2003) This has to be one of my favorite chain letters I've ever debunked because it shows the extreme of what can happen when a legend is left unchecked. What started out as a simple joke, then became legend and eventually inspired a call to action.
SAMPLE CHAIN LETTER TEXT
Subject: Very Important, please read.
Hello, Please take a moment of yout time to think of the
Recent scientific figures have shown in certain areas of the north pole tens of innocent penginues are being accidently slane by low flying aircraft. The new flight paths that go over the homes of the penguines are drawing the attention of the birds and are causaing them to fall over backwards when intoxicated by watching the large aircraft. They watch them untill out of sight, which in the artic could be a very long time. It has been suggested by bird experts that the penguines think the planes are their mothers and so stare at them with love and desperation, untill they eventually topple over (due to their innate 'centre of balance defficiancy', which is due to their magnetic polar placement) and are left stranded on their backs untill either a stong gust of polar wind blows them over, or they unfortunatly die.
We want to send a petition to the british airways and flight paths association and try to show them that we, the people, know about and care for the penguines which they are killing and want to stop this brutal miscarrige of justice... so please, take a moment of your time to sign your name under this sentance and number it, as so as u are the 50th person to sign it please sent it to 'firstname.lastname@example.org', where it will be processed and then ultimatly delivered. Thank you.
END CHAIN LETTER TEXT
Hey, if you can't trust a "mysticpinkllama" using a free Hotmail account, who can you trust. Never mind, that the author can't even spell the name of the very creature he's trying to save (or much else for that matter) or the fact that Penguins are indigenous to the southern hemisphere and, thus, unlikely to be found at the north pole.. Nonetheless, many people have "signed" and passed this gem on, 'just in case.'
The premise of the note comes from an urban legend dating back to 1994. The gist of the tale is that British pilots over the Faulkland islands had noticed the odd behavior of the birds below. The letter above builds on the falsehood by claiming that the entire ordeal is often deadly for the poor birds. In fact, penguins respond to overhead aircraft in an entirely different way - by running away.
It's unclear why anybody would turn this legend into a petition. Perhaps he or she was aware of the joke and trying to see how many gullible folks would sign such a ridiculous 'petition.' Perhaps his or her intentions were slightly more sinister - a ploy to collect e-mail addresses from well-meaning people. I certainly hope he or she didn't just hear the legend of these poor birds and feel compelled to "do something" for them.
Even if this "petition" was based on more than modern folklore, there would be no reason to 'sign' it. Hotmail specifically prohibits the use of their e-mail accounts to create or collect chain letters, so it's unlikely anyone is collecting signatures. For more reasons you should never sign any e-petition, read my primer on Armchair Activism in the Chain-Breaker's Library. Break this chain.