When It’s Time to Stop Moving Forward

I’ve been dealing with email before most people ever heard of email, computer networks, or even the Internet. I remember getting emails about the government considering modem taxes before most people knew what a modem was and while some tech people were still making fun of me for using a modem and connecting to networks. Many of the people I know through the Internet are techies. They tend to respond to emails the way I do, with interspersed comments, no HTML formatting or anything else at all fancy. I also have friends I’ve met through the Internet that barely know more than to log on to their computer don’t understand where their computer ends and the Internet starts.

There have been times when I’ve made a friend and within a day after I get a forwarded email that ends with, “Forward this to 200 people within the next 5 minutes and you’ll have great luck, the war in Iraq will end, and global warming will cease. If you do not forward it, then you’ll hit and kill 12 squirels while driving tomorrow and you’ll be in misery for the rest of your life.” If it’s not that, then it’s an email about how the Roswell UFO incident was exactly 9 months before Hillary Clinton was born.

That’s untrue, by the way. However, approximately 9 months after the Roswell incident, Al Gore, Wolf Blitzer, Rhea Perlman, John DeLancie, Andrew Lloyd weber, and Stevie Nicks were born. Does that mean anything? Does anyone care — that is, unless they’re so desparate to trash Al Gore and make their candidate look good that they’ll go to any lengths to trash him.

And that’s part of my point. Many emails I get that are forwarded to me are often full of hate and invective. Recently I got one about Barack Obama and I am so used to people using these emails to trash people that I just assumed the woman sending it to me was doing so with the intent of making Obama look bad. The truth is she was fed up with the same kind of slander and lies that gets forwarded for no good reason, just like I was.

There are problems with forwarded email. The least of the problems is with emails asking to be forwarded to others to bring some kind of good will. Many don’t see how they can be a problem. They are. If I forwarded every such piece of email that arrived in my inbox, I would have soon done nothing other than forward emails. Soon a number of people in my address book would never want to read a single email of mine again.

Email is for communication. It’s so I can tell my friends what is going on, so we can joke back and forth, so we can discuss serious issues, or for other forms of communication. When that channel of communication is needed for clarity and it gets blocked up by many “feel good” emails, people don’t hear what needs to be communicated. I have a policy, hard and fast, that I use with any such email. Any time I get a “warm fuzzy” email from someone that asks to be forwarded, I return it to them and say, “I do not forward emails to other people. I do not return emails that ask to be returned. No exceptions. If you do feel this needs to be forwarded, I’ll forward it to you 20 times.”

I’ve never had to do this more than 2-3 times before I stopped getting “warm fuzzy” emails from a person. I’ve never seen any indication it’s hurt a relationship with a person, but people do seem to get the message. The plain truth is that before I started doing that, I got so many warm fuzzies asking to be forwarded I couldn’t keep up with them.

For some people, such emails may serve a purpose. They’re a way to let others know they’re thinking of them, but when you add the burden of forcing someone to forward it to more people, it becomes, as I said, a burden. It’s just not right and not fair.

The other situation is worse. I’ve gotten, literally, hundreds of emails about political candidates and personalities telling me that they did this and said that. Whenever I get one, I think of Socrates and his three filter test.

A man came up to Socrates and said, “I have something to tell you about one of your friends,” and Socrates said, “Is it good?” And the man said it was not, then Socrates asked, “Is it true?” and the man said he didn’t know if it was. Then Socrates asked, “Is it information I can use?” and again, the man said, “No.” Then Socrates asked, “Why do you want to tell me something about someone if you don’t know if it’s true, it’s not good, and it’s not useful?” His three filters are if something is true, good, or useful.

I’m not trying to insult or slam anyone. I am making a point about forwarded emails. People get an email from a friend and think, “I know this person, so it must be true,” then they forward it without checking it, not realizing their friend probably did the same thing, and so on, through a good 20-30 people.

Isn’t this even worse than gossip? It is spreading information that is often negative and hurtful without even making sure it is true, or even just assuming it is true without checking on it.

When I get email like this from someone, I look up the key words on one of two sites:


There used to be one great one, UrbanLegends.com (or .org?) but it seems to now have most of it’s data on snopes.com.

If I find that the data being forwarded is false, I reply to the email with a link to the page verifying it is false on one of these two sites (or another if I use Google). Most of my friends have gotten the point: Don’t forward something until you have checked on whether or not it’s true. Some even send me emails they’re unsure of so I can check it out for them.

The bottom line is that many people forward emails, over and over, to others without ever checking if those emails are true. Many times these emails contain nasty rumors that make others look bad. Forwarding them amounts to lying about people and spreading lies to make others look bad. It’s not nice, it’s inappropriate for pretty much any religion, and it’s just plain wrong.

If you want to forward an email, please use Socrates’ three filter test to see if it’s worth sending and please check to see if it’s easy to prove true or false first.


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