Sunday, August 9, 2009

Fight the Fear

Ever get those chain-letter emails making some inflammatory, wild-eye claim about government, politics or pop culture?

Wait - why am I bothering to ask? Of course you have!

So, do you roll your eyes and click "delete"? I hope not.

There will always be some segment of the populace predisposed to believe in conspiracy theories and ridiculous rumors. I suspect it has something to do with genes or personality types, honestly.

But I think it is our responsibility not to just shrug and shake our heads when we get misinformation - particularly not during this time when fear-mongering seems to be reaching a peak (perhaps I should say "a nadir") in this country.

For example: I opened an email recently from a neighbor I've always liked. Our kids have grown up together and are good friends. She's a tireless community volunteer and her husband is a good guy involved in local politics.

So I was truly shocked to see that she'd forwarded me a wildly inaccurate chain email clearly designed to elicit panic in religious individuals. Worse, she'd included me in a long list of people who got the email, many of whom I recognize as active in our schools and community.

What to Do: There's a terrific web resource you should know about called It investigates and debunks urban legends and email rumors.

It took me less than two minutes to find Snopes' take on the email my friend had sent - which was actually a compilation of two urban legends. Both were exhaustively and ruthlessly dismantled and ruled "FALSE" by Snopes.

Be Honest: I wrote back to my friend, hitting "reply all," and told the group about Snopes, including links to the pages that showed the material in the chain email was false. I was honest when I said I was disappointed that she'd pass on any chain letter (I hate the things) - let alone one so inflammatory - without checking on its accuracy.

I hope everyone makes it a point to be responsible, fair and accurate online. And don't just roll your eyes when you get bad information.


  1. I have replied to nutty emails with a Snopes link many, many times.

    However, I still roll my eyes and mutter about those chain emails.

  2. So funny, that's exactly what my husband does!
    I admire you all intent upon educating the populace--

  3. I appreciate the labor you have put in developing this blog. Nice and informative.

  4. Paula - nothing wrong with eye-rolling, as long as it's accompanied by positive action.

    Des - well, good for him! You might tell him that our approach was validated by none other than Randy Cohen, the New York Times' ethicist columnist - something I just noticed last night:

    My husband’s sister e-mailed him and others a story filled with misinformation about the N.F.L. quarterback Kurt Warner. My husband responded with a short note and a link to the Web site, which amends this widely circulated tale, true in its broad outline but false in its details. The problem is that he replied not only to her but also to all her original recipients. I say that’s unkind and embarrasses her; he says those who received misinformation deserve to know. Who is right? T.N., NEW YORK

    He is. Reply All is as annoying an online innovation as anything since emoticons, but it has its uses. If someone discloses a list of recipients rather than using BCC, that is tantamount to saying that all are available for a reply under the proper circumstances. (If that’s not so, the fault lies with the sender for failing to use BCC.) Thwarting the dissemination of egregious error constitutes such circumstances. Nobody’s privacy is violated. Nobody’s computer bursts into flames. At worst, the recipients are briefly inconvenienced.

    To stifle a falsehood is estimable. It is only when someone — gently, courteously — corrects a factual error that we can revise our thinking.

    Kaka - thank you! I hope you'll continue reading.

    By the way, the neighbor in question was very appreciative that I dug up the proper information and apologized to me and her email address for her error.