Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why smart people forward stupid emails

I receive weekly, sometimes daily emails from friends or family telling me about yet another computer virus, missing child, or lie about our President. Today, I was revisited by the granddaddy of hoax emails - that Microsoft and AOL were going to pay me big bucks for forwarding this email to all my friends. Yes, the person mentioned in the email had already received $24,800!

This email has been circulating since 1997. 13 years folks!!! and a gazillion of tracks back and forth across the airwaves. In fact I'm pretty sure I have received it from the same people 4 or 5 times.

My fascination with this subject is with the instant believability factor. It only takes a minute or two to do a quick Google search to check the validity of the email, but few people ever do that. Why? I think there are three reasons: One, because they want to believe its true - whatever "it" is matches their values. They want to believe Obama is a radical Muslim, or that computer viruses are rampant or there's a chance of winning cash and prizes for doing nothing more than forwarding an email.

The second reason is a combination of mental laziness and an urge to genuinely help people. The act of passing the email on to friends and family in order to help them ranks higher in most people's values food chain than the requirement for validity or fact checking.

The third reason, which is kind of tied to the second reason, is that we don't feel like we have to question it because the email came from someone we know and trust. I trust my friend Paul who trusted his friend John who trusted his sister Kathy who trusted her friend Pam and so on.

So what's the harm in passing these innocent emails along or simply ignoring them when they come in? Maybe nothing in the short term, but after awhile don't we run the risk of becoming sheep, able to be easily herded, cajoled or sold a bill of goods because we're not smart enough or motivated enough to do some homework, check the facts or think for ourselves.

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