Automatic forwarding: Please stop it.

 © by RobertBasil

Recently a friend sent an e-mail to me (and a bunch of other people) asking for prayers for a battalion of Marines that had lost nine soldiers in four days. It included this sentence: “Nothing in the media about these guys because the news does not seems to care.”

In fact, this incident was reported by a number of media outlets – when it actually happened. I wrote back to her: “All soldiers can use our prayers. However, this is an outdated post. The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines were in Afghanistan from October 2010 until April 2011.

She replied, in part: “I guess you’re into extreme details. … You really could have just ignored the request.”

No, I couldn’t. Here’s why.


The emotional impact

Our new national pastime of forwarding outdated “news” and urban legends contributes untold gobbets of spam to the Internet. Imagine all those glurge stories, gang-initiation hoaxes and bogus cancer updates squeezing the Interwebs’ arteries, like garden hoses stuffed with fried scrapple and funnel cakes.

What concerns me more is the emotional impact. For example, the “nothing in the media about these guys because the news does not seem to care” line is just plain wrong. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, National Public Radio, the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union all reported on this terrible situation.

Others news outlets may have, too, but those were the ones Snopes cited in its bibliography. No doubt regional newspapers and TV stations reported the deaths of the 24 – not nine – soldiers killed during that particular deployment.

Surely some recipients of the original e-mail are thinking, “Another case of the lamestream media not caring about our soldiers,” or are deeply saddened/angered that the war goes on and on, and soldiers die and die, but nobody gives a rip.

The e-mail has been circulating for more than a year. How many readers has it reached? How much has it added to our collective burden of pain, anger and mistrust?

Details do matter.


Don’t make things worse

If someone sends you an e-mail you think is worth sharing…don’t share it. Not immediately, anyway.

Take a minute to go to a site like Snopes.com or UrbanLegends.About.com to try and determine whether the item is legit or not. If you don’t trust these sites, at least follow the source materials cited. Such links will help you determine, for example, that the Great Wall of China is not the only man-made object on Earth that’s visible from the moon.

I was sorry that my response upset my friend, and I told her so. But here’s what upsets me: The daily receipt of urban legends, hateful “humor” and misleading bulletins that make the Internet not just spammier, but also a darker, sadder and angrier place. Spreading misinformation, however unintentionally, does that.

Don’t help it along. The next time you get an e-mail about Obamacare requiring that we all be implanted with microchips or the notion that 4,000 Jews stayed home from work on 9/11 – for crying out loud, take two minutes to vet it.

And if it does check out? Think twice before forwarding it anyway. It’s probably good to know about current phishing scams. (The real ones, anyway.) A whole lot of us could do without the glurge.

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  1. Celloluv

    Amen, amen, amen!!!!!!!!!

    We’ve had to ask relatives to stop sending these emails. Some of the stuff they find to send are 5+ years old. I spend a lot of time trying to re-educate my mom and then get her to pass the ‘real’ information.

    I’ve managed to stop a lot of this type of email but the news alone has enough emotional impact. Now to think about ‘spamming’ this article. :>) Thanks for putting these thoughts into writing!!!!

    • Just responding to all with the Snopes info has gotten me taken off the automatic email forwarding. I guess it embarrassed the senders?

      but as a result, I ended up responsible for all family emails to our family – my partner just deletes on sight most emails from his family, because they’re 90% junk forwards. The other 10% is important, but he doesn’t have the patience to wade through the maddening crap to get to the invitations and announcements.

  2. I get a lot of this stuff too. The sad thing is I just hit delete now. SO much of what is being shoved at us is not true or so manipulated even by the media that I’m just cynical. Except when it comes to pumpkin stories!

  3. Oh, thank you for this. I’m sorry your friend got her feelings hurt, but people are just so quick to hit that “forward to all” button.

    I’ve lost count of the number of people who I have directed to Snopes for various reasons.

  4. I completely agree with you on this! It amazes me when friends or family members (who otherwise seem pretty smart) forward this stuff around.

  5. Cynthia

    As a person who tries to follow the teachings of Christ, I do my best to avoid spreading lies and misinformation. Stating this to my friends and family who ask me to pass on stuff has resulted in anger. I no longer say why, I just don’t pass it on.

  6. Elizabeth

    Oh bless you for this! You said exactly what I struggle to say on almost a daily basis. It’s as if we thrive on the negativity, victimization and outrage and show our social power or whatever by the number of people we can “share” with. Sometimes I want to reply with “assuming this is true, what are you doing to change things?”

  7. denise vick

    You are so right. After about the 20th post of President and Mrs. Obama saluting the flag with their left hand, I responded that people should get their facts straight before posting things like that and I pasted the link to snopes.com. My friend came back with, “I don’t care about things like that.” I’m wondering what she doesn’t care about…the truth?

  8. Agreed! I also hate the “you’ve been touched by a (whatever), forward this to ten friends in the next ten seconds if you want good luck” variety. Most people wouldn’t send a Hallmark greeting card that says “I love you, now send a card to ten friends today or have horrible luck forever”, so why is it okay to send an email that essentially says that? It’s emotional blackmail and when you call somebody on it for forwarding that stuff, they don’t like feeling like they have been duped into playing along. It’s easier to just delete and hope the sender wises up eventually.

    • Donna Freedman

      @JustMe: If it were closer to April Fools Day, I’d collect all the commenters’ addresses and e-mail them:
      “If just 10 billion people will forward this to their closest friends, Bill Gates will donate a penny per click to little Ashley’s organ transplant fund! You remember little Ashley, don’t you? She’s the high-schooler doing missionary work in an impoverished country during spring break when a truck driver who’d been flashing his high beams forced her off the road. He threw open the back door and pulled out the axe murderer who was hiding in the back seat of Ashley’s car. But then he handed Ashley a business card soaked with burundanga, and she passed out. She woke up in a bathtub full of ice with both her kidneys missing; written on the bathroom mirror in lipstick were the words, ‘Welcome to the world of AIDS’. She crawled out of the bathtub but unfortunately landed on a cut onion, a known germ magnet that allowed massive contamination of her kidney-removal wounds. Ashley tried calling 911 but was so weak and dizzy she accidentally dialed #90, which allowed hackers to access her SIM card and make hundreds of thousands of long-distance calls at her expense. But her guardian angel sent Ashley’s story to Mr. Gates’ attention. Since Ashley’s particular religion allowed her to opt out of ObamaCare, she cannot afford treatment. Together, we can make sure that Ashley’s work for the Lord will continue. Please forward this e-mail to as many people as you can! Don’t break the chain! Four or five people who deleted this e-mail were poisoned by rat urine on the tops of soda cans!”

  9. Ooh, I wish I had had this post a year or two ago. I managed to insult a couple of relatives enough that they finally kicked me off their email lists (to the dismay of other relatives who would like off those lists as well). My solution was two fold. First, when I got something just wrong (per snopes) I sent the correction to their whole list, since they never bothered to correct themselves (I know because of other family members on that list). Second, whenever they sent a political joke, I sent it right back, changing the political party involved (hey, if it’s funny, it should be funny both ways, right?). Finally they got so mad they took me off the list. I’ve missed a couple of family announcements — grandkids’ births and such — but eventually hear about them through the grapevine. And the sheer joy of not opening those messages more than makes up for it.

  10. SherryH

    Ugh. Yes. I don’t get too many of those, thankfully, but there are plenty to go around. Some are even getting clever and proclaiming, “This is true according to Snopes!” when, if you bother to do your own checking, Snopes declares it completely false and debunked. I guess they figure most people will see that and not do their own checking.

    I especially like your point about these forwards contributing to the overall sadness and anger on the internet. Hadn’t thought about it that way before, but it’s an excellent observation.

  11. Forwards and frantic Facebook postings have made me rethink much of what I do, read, and post, and I wish others would take a moment, too, before sending on or posting the next “urgent” message. Thanks for your post, Donna.

  12. Thank you for this. My dad is one of the worst offenders. I have an inronclad blanket policy: I don’t forward chain letters, alarmist misinformation or political smear emails. Period. I don’t care how much it may prove I love someone or how good a Christian it makes me if I forward that email to ten more people. If I wouldn’t throw trash on the street, why would I throw trash on the internet?

  13. I’m glad I’m not the only one who is an “evil fact checker”. I have a wonderful aunt, who believes forwarding emails keeps the internet from breaking. When I finally reached my boiling point and responded to an email, I may have made her cry (unintentionally). I received fewer forwards immediately afterwards, but they have crept up over time. The thing that floors me is that she sends along things she doesn’t agree with (political bashing, etc).

  14. It’s not just email – these things are all over Facebook too. It’s annoying. I don’t trust anything like that anymore, which is terrible because there’s a slim chance it’s true, but who knows these days.

  15. “I guess you’re into extreme details. …

    That got a face palm and an OMG from me.

  16. Yes, I am into “extreme details”, except I prefer to refer to them as “facts”. Sigh.

    Email forwards like these are a pet peeve of mine. I think your friend acted defensively because she was embarrassed. It was easier for her to forward the misinformation than to take the two minutes to fact check it.

  17. Um, yes, I am into EXTREME details.
    I just delete those emails too but good for you trying to help a friend out.

  18. Bwaahahahahaha, omg I love that! Shouldn’t it be “4 OUT of 5 people” though?

  19. Like everyone else, I am often buried in these silly forwards, Donna. I am most distressed by your friend’s concern that you are “into extreme details”. Facts, details and specifics matter; they are the elements that make up the truth and we should all collectively be caring a great more about them than we do. The circumstance is simply confirmation of historian Richard Hofstadter’s observations of anti-intellectual bias in American culture. Such bias is particularly dangerous in the knowledge based economy of the 21sth century.

  20. Blue Moon

    What does this have to do with “Surviving and Thriving”? I’m looking for useful information and instead I find a boatload of snark and ugly. I don’t know who your ‘friend’ was but I hope for their sake they find friends who don’t mock them in public. Nobody needs the kind of friend you were.

    Looking Elsewhere

    • Donna Freedman

      @Blue Moon: I wasn’t mocking my friend. In fact, I noted that I was sorry to upset her but that I couldn’t ignore the situation.
      And what’s snarky or ugly about asking people not to forward incorrect or outdated information, or to refrain from drowning us in glurge or hateful humor?
      Incidentally, “Surviving and Thriving” is not just about PF. It’s about whatever I feel like writing that day. You, of course, are free to seek information elsewhere — or to come back on a day when I’m writing about frugal hacks.

  21. AMEN sister!

  22. wait, you still read forwarded emails..? j/k – good points and reasoning.

    • Donna Freedman

      @mikeyA: Thanks for your comment. And yeah, I do still read some of them, if only to Snopes ’em.

  23. Thanks for ‘outing’ this issue Donna. My friends and family all know that if they send this sort of thing without Snoping it first and/or any of those silly chain letters, then I put them in email ‘time out’ for 30 days for the first occurence. If they continue, I fling them into the ‘blocked sender’ abyss. Tough, yes, but who wants all of that idiocy clogging up their email. Keep up the good word!

    • Donna Freedman

      @BC: Wow. That’s some tough love, indeed.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  24. Susanne Nielsen

    I have given up trying to explain to some people . . . now I have a standard little ‘note’ I send them that tells them I know how much they’re trying to do the right thing and ‘isn’t it awful how all this stuff just gets hatefully passed around and around the internet’ and ask them to check with snopes before they send stuff on. It seems to have worked pretty good, actually. If you go back to them with an attitude of you’re just a good guy trying to pass on useful information, they oftentimes react a little better – although not all the time, of course. If they’re offended *sigh*, oh well.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Susanne: I send Snopes links all the time. Occasionally it helps. One relative persists in sending stuff without checking, no matter how many “I know you meant well, but please see this explanatory link” notes I send. That’s about all I can do, I guess.

  25. Blue Moon

    :: “I noted that I was sorry to upset her but that I couldn’t ignore the situation.”::

    You say you were sorry to upset her, but you went ahead and posted this publicly rather than just sending her an email. You weren’t sorry enough to not humiliate your friend in public. You also weren’t sorry enough to not join in the “pile on” in the comments.

    ::”I noted that I was sorry to upset her but that I couldn’t ignore the situation.”::

    It’s not what you say it’s how you say it. ‘Not ignoring the situation’ could have been as simple as a return email. Instead you chose to “address the situation” by mocking your ‘friend’ in public – and yes, you were mocking your friend. Personally, I’m feel sorry for your friend that you can’t see this.

    To paraphrase an old saying: “With friends like you, who needs enemies?”

    Once again, Looking Elsewhere

    • Donna Freedman

      @Blue Moon: I did send a return e-mail. I also used this as what educators call “a teachable moment.”
      And again, I did not mock her in public. You’re reading that into this situation.

  26. sentinal_zach

    Thanks to Bluemoonsailor… I’m a (silent) follower of your writing… in your opening paragraph, you received an email from a friend asking FOR PRAYER, you snooped it, found it to be outdated, and emailed your friend in admonition? Is prayer ever wasted? And if you think it is, could it be your delete button is malfunctioning? It was difficult NOT responding to your blogs about the friend who borrowed money from you, because I’m of the school that believes these things are private agreements. YOU chose to loan money. It was tacky to put it out there publicly, because that friend surely knows who he/she is. And now you blog about a friend who forwards an email asking FOR PRAYER? I’ve looked to you as inspiration towards mindful, frugal living in order to get the best out of life on a budget. No doubt, given what you do, you receive a lot of spam mail. Please stick to writing about living well on less money and file the rest into your personal (a.k.a. not anyone else’s business) category of life. If you’re about ‘Surviving and Thriving’, leave out feeling superior for any reason. It’s sad so many have posted responses in admiration. How about some blogs on budget home improvement? Or growing your own produce? Or simply living well on less? Like it used to be?

    • Donna Freedman

      @sentinal_zach: You’ll note that the first thing I said was “all soldiers deserve our prayers.”
      My objection is to misleading e-mails — specifically, to fear- or anger-mongering sentences like “the news does not seem to care.” That’s the kind of thing that adds to collective distrust or despair.
      Whoever wrote the original e-mail was mistaken. Whoever forwards it without checking, even with the kindest of intentions, is not helping.
      My personal blog is just that — personal. While I do like to share money-saving tips and frugal hacks, I also use this as a place to write about things that matter to me. This is one of those things.
      Incidentally: I go to church regularly. The church I attend is not about divisiveness, but about hope and healing. The Christ that I follow would not foment mistrust and bitterness.

  27. A dear friend- a woman in her 80’s!- forwards stuff like this to me all the time. I am so impressed that she is internet savvy that there is NO way I’d ever say a word! I generally just hit “delete” and move on. Or maybe I should forward this article to her??!!!! Nah….:-)

  28. My parents gave their email to a friend they didn’t know well and ended up getting up to 50 emails a day from her of this kind of thing. They finally had to block her. I almost never forward anything.
    And if I do, I use BCC, instead of publicly sending out everyone’s email address. If I have to scroll through more than one screen of lists of email addresses, I often just delete the email. People need to learn to use that feature!

  29. Thanks for writing about this. My boss passed along an email for me to read yesterday, sent to him by one of his buddies relating something that was supposed to reflect badly on the Obama administration. I googled it and found out it was an urban myth – a distortion of something that had happened during the first Bush administration and the email had been circulating since the second Bush administration! I showed this to my boss and he said, “Well, I just thought it was funny.” I guess this is boss-speak for “don’t confuse me with facts ” or “I guess you’re into extreme details….”

  30. Wow. I’m glad to see most people are in my camp. I got my wrist slapped way back in university by someone for sending along a dumb forward, and I’ve been very careful ever since. And I adore Snopes.
    Blue Moon and Sentinal Zach: You have no right to tell Donna what she can and can’t write about – it’s *her* blog. Her point is valid – people shouldn’t be sending around information that is misleading or just plain false.

  31. OMG that the Bill Gates/Ashley story is hysterical. If that were on a shoebox greeting card I would totally send it out. I have a few friends who would get the parody (and the social commentary) without boohooing in their Cheerios (or thinking I was a jerk).

    Oh, and by the way, I would think that being frugal, and/or surviving and thriving in today’s world, would ALSO be about managing your time and mental space wisely. We can all do that by either deleting the junk, or spending a minute or two educating others so they don’t waste their own time or others with unnecessary crap. Their are a lot better ways to spend our time/brain power than forwarding junk that originated from people we don’t even know!

    PS – Snopes is awesome. I’ve used it to train my office mates not believe all the crap that enters their inbox.

    • Donna Freedman

      @JustMe: Good point about managing “time and mental space.” Thanks.

  32. AMEN, sistah!

    I hope most of the people on my contact list read this. So many times I have “snoped” articles that have been forwarded–yet when I reply to the sender with the snopes link, the sender is offended. I am to mindlessly read and forward, but he or she is offended by the truth. Are these people kidding?! It’s as if they don’t want to know the pesky truth and would rather just keep listening to the echo chamber that reinforces their political/world views.

    Thank you for addressing this so eloquently.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Diane: Hey, I know! You can forward the article link to everyone in your address book! 😉
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  33. spiralingsnails

    Amen sista! I get soooo irritated by some of my Facebook friends’ spam posts. Believe it or not, I really don’t want to annoy my entire contact list in order to “prove” that I love Jesus/sisters/friends/puppies/etc.

  34. Sarah L

    That is just why I don’t open those emails, except the rare, rare time. I agree, and love what you said:

    “How much has it added to our collective burden of pain, anger and mistrust?”

    The regular news does that for me too, as well as the ever increasing poorly written newspaper or online news articles that leave out so many of the details that just make you paranoid, and afraid, and etc… those just serve to shock and disturb people, and I’m the sort of person, after so many years of it, I’m turning into a mess. I try my best NOT to read that stuff, though it’s hard. And whenever I do, I really get paranoid about stuff that months later, I find out was really a molehill made into a mountain, and I was anxious for weeks for no reason at all.

  35. Sarah L

    PS…so I just read through a bunch of the comments..wow!! Seriously people…what is snarky about the post? I think most people agree…. FW emails are often just gossip, and gossip, while often has a grain of truth, usually is a seashore full of MIStruth!! do you REALLY want to be that person spreading around all those lies that get others to spread them and etc, good intentioned, or not?

    As for it not all bring frugal stuff…I enjoy this blog, I love that Donna says what she thinks, about everything, and yeah, I do think that this DOES have something to do with surviving, and thriving, nd frugality..how much easier is life WITHOUT 3 down FWDs in your email each day? Takes less time to check email, it’s less clutter in the inbox and brain, and if those things don’t help you survive and thrive during your day…

  36. ImJuniperNow

    People are always sending me emails about terrible things happening to animals. It seems they can’t wait to tell me because I care. And because I care, I DON’T WANT TO KNOW. I have reached a point in my life where I can’t save everyone and everything. And I don’t want the prayer ones, the chain letter ones, or even the cutesie picture ones. I delete them without opening them.

    Now go have a nice day, dammit.

  37. This reminds me of something my dad used to say about situations like this:
    “My mind’s made up – don’t bother me with the facts.”

    Donna, your reporting instincts would never have let something like this go…no matter what your friend (or others) say, it’s always the right thing to mention the truth.

  38. Nicole G

    Good for you Donna!

  39. Margaret

    Thank you for posting this. It definitely needs to be said. Same goes for re-posting absurd things on Facebook. Sometimes I read FB and just get depressed/angry/annoyed.

    “The daily receipt of urban legends, hateful “humor” and misleading bulletins that make the Internet not just spammier, but also a darker, sadder and angrier place.” – SO TRUE!!

  40. Great article Donna. I am sure that there are a lot of other people who feel the same way. I also hate when people post racist jokes/comments or disturbing pics on FB. Recently, I logged on to FB to see my aunt had liked a pic of newborn w/ a horrible medical condition (looked like it had been burned). I guess the original poster was asking for prayers but it was just really distubing pic and IMO inapproptiate to post on the internet.

  41. priskill

    Oh, thanks for this!! I was just dreading going into work and hassling with boss, etc., and you totally made my day, even if it was at the expense of poor little Ashley’s kidneys.

    I just don’t read this stuff – click. And the careful deployment of key words, such as ANGEL, PRAYER, SOLDIER, CANCER do not sway me one bit. I know people feel like they want and need to share their fears and thoughts, but how about just writing me your own words — those I will read. Honestly, Please Pray For seems to be the new Have A Nice Day — a quick, glib way to appear concerned and connected without having to actually be concerned or connected.

    Not my intention to berate belief or prayer, or people’s deep need to feel connected. On a personal level, someone’s request for prayers is deeply felt and responded to, even by a pagan such as I. But anonymous urban legends and barely concealed attempts to impose an orthodoxy of beliefs (prayers, etc.) on people you barely know is just un-American. I’m going afield here, but it touches on the disturbing trend of using religion defensively as a cudgel against non- or different believers. Of course, someone forwarding stuff is probably just responding sincerely to the emotional appeal of such things and intends no harm. But the presumption of shared faith is a dangerous and surely outmoded one in our pluralistic society.

    Oh, Donna — sorry! not trying to open the hell gates here — I did delete a more pointed diatribe since I didn’t want fatwah declared on either of us. This was a GREAT piece, and I hadn’t actually thought about the threat of glurge. Or know the term. Thank you, as always for clear thinking and reporter’s clear eye.

  42. TampaJoe

    I agree with you on this. I have a neighbor who retired early and sends me about 4 emotional/urban legend emails every weekday while her husband is still working. I have learned to check out the stuff she emails me on snopes.com, as she will pass on anything that she agrees with, no matter how old. She is pretty good about accepting criticism when I send her truth as a link to the source, but I wish she would screen these emails herself before she sends them on to her 50+ contacts.

  43. andeejj

    Thanks Donna for this column. I dislike all the crap my friends send me and hate the web is causing more misinformation – isn’t it supposed to do exactly the opposite?

  44. Reta Davis

    Amen, Amen…A-M-E-N!

  45. Truth is an “extreme detail”? Hm. Maybe that explains something about people who keep sending this stuff.

    Actually had a professor of business tell our real estate class that starting in 2013 we’ll all have to pay a 3.8% tax on the sale of our homes to support Obamacare. A little Snopesing proved that wrong…and revealed that the source of his error was one of those forwarded-forwarded-forwarded tales.

    Sometimes I’ll “reply all” with the Snopes link. Not nice…it embarrasses the sender. But don’t they deserve it? At least it does get one off their mailing list. 😉


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