Chain Spam Etiquette

Apple PieI recently got an email from my friend warning about pending doom coming from a computer virus. There’s a copy of it in the blockquote below.

Of course it didn’t say NON-APPLE-PIE EATER, but instead something more controversial. The actual content of any chain spam is immaterial. What’s more important to the original poster is the goal of getting as many people to propagate useless information as possible. It was done this time by pairing fear of computer viruses with hate language and a command to disseminate the spam to as many people as possible, even to those who have already received it in an effort to make sure your friends ‘don’t get infected’.

My friend got the email from his uncle, who got it from a life-long friend who got it from someone else. It took all of thirty seconds for me to copy the most controversial phrase from the email and paste it into google along with the word ‘snopes’ to find out if the email had any credibility. — an authority on urban legends — identified this multiply-forwarded message as a chain-spam hoax that’s been around since the last presidential inauguration. In other words, this thing has been rolling around the web for almost two years, spreading fear and hate in one clever package.


URGENT!!! PLEASE CIRCULATE to your friends, family and contacts.

In the coming days, DO NOT open any message with an attachment called:

NON-APPLE-PIE EATER IN THE WHITE HOUSE, regardless of who sent it to you.  It is a virus that opens an Olympics torch that burns the whole hard disk C of your computer.  This virus comes from a known person who you have in your list.

Directions: You should send this message to all of your contacts.  It is better to receive this e-mail 25 times than to receive the virus and open it.

If you receive a message called NON-APPLE-PIE EATER IN THE WHITE HOUSE even if sent by a friend, do not open, and shut down your machine immediately.  It is the worst virus announced by CNN.  This new virus has been discovered recently it has been classified by Microsoft as the virus most destructive ever.

This virus was discovered yesterday afternoon by McAfee.  There is no repair yet for this kind of virus.  This virus simply destroys the Zero Sector of the hard disk, where vital info.

I’m always glad to receive information from friends and family, but am astonished at how quickly we tend to accept the premise that any information coming through their desk tops is automatically good information, even though they aren’t the original poster. There are certain things that come to mind when we fall prey to this kind of spam.

First, the original poster is borrowing the trust, respect and credibility of my familly members and friends. When I receive an email of this type from someone I trust, I am disappointed that the original spammer won another point in a pointless game.

Second, when I send on the same invalid email to more of my friends and additional family, I am only reducing my own credibility. I know my brother isn’t the original poster, nor is my uncle, nor his long-time friend. I have no idea who sent the email originally. Shouldn’t I question the original authority? How much time could it really take?

Third, it can be construed subconsciously even by your best friends as tacit endorsement of whatever ugliness the message used to stir you up enough to forward it. Do you really want your name attached to that?

Fourth, the main message is fear of a computer virus wrapped in subconscious hate language and a direct command to disseminate the email to everyone in your inbox — even to people you know have likely already received it. For some reason we allow ourselves to believe anything resembling bad news and ugly politics.

Signs that it’s probably a hoax chain spam:

  • You do not know and could not possibly find the original poster.
  • The subject line includes multiple ‘regarding’ and ‘forward’ abbreviations: ‘RE: [Fwd: …]’.
  • The subject line and body contain all shout-case words like “URGENT!!! PLEASE CIRCULATE”.
  • The body contains lots of ‘>>>>’ or other message quoting/forwarding techniques for messages from many previous recipients.
  • There are multiple references to relatively well-trusted corporate names like McAfee, CNN and Microsoft, but there are no valid links to real information from the websites for those same corporations.
  • The body contains terms and phrases like ‘worst virus ever’, ‘discovered yesterday’, ‘recently-discovered’ and ‘Shut down your computer immediately.’
  • There are bogus sentences like ‘It is a virus that opens an Olympics torch that burns the whole hard disk C of your computer’. This may be a grammatically-valid sentence in English, but the sentence content lacks any real meaning. An olympic torch cannot magically appear under your computer’s hard drive to burn it.
  • There are sentence fragments that include easily-searchable terms like ‘zero sector’ and ‘hard drive’, but again contain no real information. (In this instance, searching for ‘Zero Sector’ on google brings up only information about this very same hoax.)
  • There are commands or directions telling you to forward the information to everyone in your address book immediately or else.

What you can do about it:

  • Honor your family and friends, but only trust what they tell you from their own direct experience, or from those you both know and trust, not from a forwarded email.
  • When you read the actual content, and it doesn’t make much sense, don’t assume you’re not well-educated enough to understand it. Assume it’s nonsense until you or someone you trust can prove otherwise. Give yourself credit for not being a mark.
  • If you receive a hoax from a friend or family member, research it and reply back to everyone who was copied that it was a hoax and give a valid reference link. Don’t get on a soap box. Just report the facts and be courteous.
  • Don’t allow some wise-apple to command you disseminate anything you’re not sure about. Do you always do what you’re told to do? You’re your own entity – not the original poster’s personal fedex guy. Use your backbone as well as your brain. Think before you link.
  • If you are moved by what you read, and feel compelled to subject others to whatever it is, do the research and make sure what you read is true before you put your own stamp of endorsement on it by forwarding it.
  • If you absolutely must forward it on, consider your audience carefully. For instance, posting it to your favorite google group will probably get you banned as a spammer, regardless of content, especially if it’s way off topic.
  • If you are tired of getting these kinds of emails from a particular friend or family member, consider sending that person a link to this article and tell them you value their friendship but that you would rather hear about them and what they’re doing than receive forwarded chain spam that may or may not be true. It may seem unkind at first, but friends and family are supposed to be able to be frank with each other. There is a fine line between politeness and enabling bad habits. I depend on friends and family to tell me if I have spinach stuck to my teeth and the like. If they are offended because you told them an honest truth about yourself, it may be worth reevaluating the relationship.

Respect yourself, your friends and your family before you put your own name on something that may not be true. Question authority. It can begin with your own inbox.

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