December 9, 2005 6:08 PM   Subscribe

Miss Mefi Manners: What's the proper way to respond to a relative who has sent you a hoax email?

So my grandma forwarded me an email warning (in giant red letters) that microwaving food in plastic containers will give you cancer. I promptly hit reply-all and sent the relevant snopes link.

Was this proper? I figured a reply all would help cut off this particular strand of the e-mail chain. But now that I think about it, it may have been embarrassing to my grandma to have all her friends know that she forwarded a hoax, and worse, she may not have known why I responded with the snopes link. (The reply I got was "Thanks for your thoughts on the subject.")

Emily Post is a little behind the times on the subject, so I figure I'd poll the audience.
posted by Saucy Intruder to Computers & Internet (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When my father and aunts were sending me those, I generally tried to preface the Snopes link with something like "I read this earlier, thought it might be interesting" or "I had heard that this was a joke; here's more info" or anything to make it sound less like I had specifically set out to debunk the new claim, and I tried to include only those recipients whom I knew personally.

This tactic has made the emails stop, so maybe they're just sending them to other people, but it works for my inbox.
posted by occhiblu at 6:11 PM on December 9, 2005

Send urban myth link. Rinse. Repeat. (I also remind them that I love to hear from them -- but I'd rather read their words.)
posted by Dick Paris at 6:17 PM on December 9, 2005

My mother, when she got more seriously into e-mail, had a tendency to send hoaxes. I would politely reply and refer her to Snopes. It didn't take long for her to start checking before forwarding, and she'll even specifically highlight a Snopes link when forwarding legit items.
posted by VulcanMike at 6:21 PM on December 9, 2005

I used to send off snopes links with a terse response along the lines of "don't believe everything you read" and then at a family gathering a few years ago I heard from several relatives that thought I was an asshole for doing it that way.

So now my replies are gentle and I try to point out the ways they can spot a hoax too (many people forwarded, no specifics on who is saying what exactly, no data to backup claims, etc). And then I add the snopes link and a tutorial on how to search for them (Go to google, put in the title of the email + the word hoax).
posted by mathowie at 6:22 PM on December 9, 2005

When this happens to me, I only reply to sender, never to all. Like you said, I don't want to shame the sender forevermore; also, I feel like I have no responsibility to the recipients. Once I debunk it to the sender, it's the sender's call whether she wants to rescind her previous idiocy by sending out another (reality-based) e-mail.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 6:25 PM on December 9, 2005

I think that reply-all is inappropriate because undoubtedly there are a bunch of people who get the original, delete it because maybe grandma sends them that dumb crap all the time, and then BAM another email debunking the first one comes in. It's basically doubling the number of useless emails from family members.

My method is to email the first person with corroborating evidence that they're forwarding inaccurate information, then remind them that I equate do so with lying, and that there are several resources available if they are interested in finding out the truth rather than just mashing FWD as fast as humanly possible.

In extreme circumstances, when they either ignore such corrections or otherwise indiccate that they're incapable of not doing it, I send them this:

"Stop sending me email fowards."

If that doesn't work then I will send them this: "All of your mail will be forwarded into my trash. If you want to contact me, just call me."

It hasn't gotten to that last point yet.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:27 PM on December 9, 2005

I agree that you have to be gentle with a lot of the people who send this kind of stuff...I've gotten these kinds of emails from my grandparents BUT I always keep in mind that these are the same people who are fooled by those pop-ups that say "Warning: Click Here NOW or Your Computer Will EXPLODE!!". I think a response (to the sender only) that allows them to save face is the best approach...
posted by johnsmith415 at 7:13 PM on December 9, 2005

Given that cluttering up anyone's inbox with hoax emails is akin to spamming, I'd say that replying to the sender with a relevant rebuttal from Snopes or some other reputable source is perfectly acceptable. In your situation, I would have not deigned to even acknowledge the reciept of the email, but simply have deleted it on realizing what it was.

Replying to everyone on her list, however, was a bit much. Your grandmother should decide, upon realizing her error, whether to send out the Snopes link to the rest of her friends.
posted by Lycaste at 7:20 PM on December 9, 2005

A friend of mine is guilty of this in a horrible way. I don't know WHY; she's a hard-headed skeptic otherwise.

I replied a few times with Snopes links, and generally tried to be informative and helpful about it.

The problem suddenly resolved itself in an unrelated way. I mentioned to her, in passing, that stupid chain emails really tick me off. She chided me for being boring, but removed me from her FWD group. When that happened, the hoaxes quit too.

So I'm dreadfully boring. Small price to pay for no more of that "gas station thieves with ether on scratch-and-sniff perfume sample cards!" crap.
posted by cmyk at 7:28 PM on December 9, 2005

I started sending the tragic true story of Billy Evans to the people who would send me hoaxes, along with a little note along the lines of "This is probably the best hoax e-mail I've seen so far!"
The type of humor may not be suitable for all recipients, but most of mine got the joke and took the hint.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:31 PM on December 9, 2005

I either tell the offender in a personal email or just delete and ignore it. I know the latter option doesn't necessarily address the problem, but if people want to believe that there are disease-carrying spiders handing out under Olive Garden toilets, well, that's their problem. I know one time my mom was fooled, and I can't remember if it was me or someone else who clued her in, but she sent a follow-up email saying that it wasn't true. Good to know, but that's just another thing in the inbox. I think chain emails about Jesus and rainbows and teddy bears are far worse than urban myths, but I don't have the heart to tell Grandma to stop sending them. Delete and move on.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 7:45 PM on December 9, 2005

I play stupid and hit "reply all". Yes, it's less than direct, but I'll take helpful over direct most days (especially with grandmas). "Wow, I got this email from my friend earlier this week, but then I looked it up on this site and I'm pretty sure it's not true (here's the link). Whew! I was really worried!" Lots of exclamation points= key.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:54 PM on December 9, 2005

How about you pick up the phone and call her?

Chit chat. Then, ask her what she thinks of your technical knowledge. She'll compliment you, mention you are soooo bright.

And then, let the hammer drop. Mention how crazy of a place the internet is, and that forwraded emails are such bad manners on the internet. And such an email she sent!

Offer to look at anything she sees that's "worrysome"

And while you're at it, explain what Phishing is.

Better yet, go visit her, it's been awhile, hasn't it?
posted by filmgeek at 9:08 PM on December 9, 2005

Delete. Ignore.
posted by davidmsc at 9:52 PM on December 9, 2005

>> a few years ago I heard from several relatives that thought I was an asshole for doing it that way

Screw 'em. Shine the cold, hard light of reality on the cockroaches of ignorance.
posted by frogan at 10:17 PM on December 9, 2005

It is impossible to, effectively, tell someone who forwards you hoax email junk that they have been a fool without them taking it out on you. If you'd like your relationship with them to remain the same, just bin the message. If you don't care that they will think you're an arsehole, you just want the messages to stop, send them a link to snopes. There is no middle ground.
posted by krisjohn at 10:39 PM on December 9, 2005

By pointing out the relative lack of value in their "gift", you're making them lose face. Makes sense
posted by soundslikeobiwan at 11:14 PM on December 9, 2005

The above link is interesting, but I always hit "reply all" with the Snopes link. Sure, it's a case of doing unto others what I'd like done unto me, instead of what they'd prefer. I don't have repeat occurences.
posted by Manjusri at 1:47 AM on December 10, 2005

I reply just to the sender with the snopes link. Has been more or less effective with family. However, one non-familial acquaintance, having clicked on the snopes link and finding, at first glance, a more elaborate version of the text he'd sent me (a warning about vicious online greeting cards), thought that I had tricked him into going to the very website that he had been warning against, i.e. he thought snopes was an evil site trying to destroy his computer. He wrote me back an angry 'Fuck you, you spiteful asshole!!!' Really, what can you do? I just didn't reply.
posted by bingo at 8:55 AM on December 10, 2005

Whether it be a hoax, or a mean spirited diatribe (I got one this morning that bragged that North Dakota got two feet of snow, but they didn't whine to FEMA), or other nonsense, I reply all. My grandma 1) has been asked not to forward to me 2) has been taught to check snopes. Even if I'm seen as a bit of a dick, well, the fam thinks I'm a crackpot anyway.
posted by notsnot at 9:02 AM on December 10, 2005

I also always hit "reply all" with a Snopes link, although I usually try to soften it by making a comment along the "I thought this was true at first too" or "I found this when I was looking for more information about this subject". I certainly appreciate it when people let me know about hoaxes, and I don't see any good reason NOT to point out when hoaxes are hoaxes.
posted by biscotti at 9:29 AM on December 10, 2005

Delete. Ignore.
posted by davidmsc at 9:52 PM PST on December 9

Yeah, that is my tactic when I see "Fwd" in the subject heading. I get cutsie shit from sister-in-law, patriotic shit from mother, bigoted shit from others. It doesn't require a response and no one has ever asked if I read the stuff. I figure if they can click the forward button with no effort, I can click the delete button just as easily.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:34 AM on December 10, 2005

I think reply-all is a bit much for two reasons: one, yes, it's probably a bit embarassing to the sender. Two, why add to the spam? Do you know all the addressees? Did they say they believed it? Why are you lecturing them on what's real and what's fake?

If it was a phishing attack, of course that would be different. But most hoaxes are harmless. Just gently remind the sender that not everything on the internet is true.
posted by Sibrax at 10:00 AM on December 10, 2005

I haven't had a big problem with snopes-bait coming from friends, but I have had other kinds of forwarded e-mail. As soon as a friend establishes a pattern of doing this (say, twice in a month), I send them a polite note explaining that I get a daily avalanche of e-mail, need to be ruthless about managing my in-box and ask to be taken off their joke-forwarding list. This is always effective and hasn't yet caused any hard feelings (AFAIK).

With hoaxes like these, that tactic might not work as well because it's someone trying to provide a public service. In that case, I would send them a link to Snopes, explain what it is, and encourage them to take a look at Snopes whenever they encounter something like the hoax they're about to forward, just to make sure it's real.
posted by adamrice at 10:11 AM on December 10, 2005

First time, polite email just to the sending with snopes like and advice that google/snopes takes 30 seconds and they should waste their own time, not mine.

Second/3+ time, reply-all in snotty tone, specifically mentioning that "This only took me about 30 seconds to find via google..."

(I say google because some people won't have heard of snopes and will mistake it for "your thoughts on the subject.")

That said, there once was a free computer magazine in Ottawa (Canada) that at one time published a full page article called "So, you just got an email address" (or something to that effect). It listed the things you should and should not do, actually explained the use of BCC and Reply-All, and was otherwise very helpful to give/send to newbies and/or people who made this type of mistake. Can't find it now though. I think it also nailed the current (at the time) top 5 chain letters including the bill gates will give you $5 for forwarding this and the one about the kid with cancer, etc. Very useful for educating people.
posted by tiamat at 10:55 AM on December 10, 2005

usually only my girlfriend will send me those types of chainmails. i reply with the normal snopes link and tell her she should forward it to the person that sent it to her. whats funny is how some of these health/medical hoax emails get sent out by people she works with (in that industry).
posted by flipp at 7:57 PM on December 10, 2005

At one point in the past, I sent a nice e-mail to all of my relatives and friends basically saying that when I saw their names in my inbox, I wanted to be excited about hearing from them, not groaning at another forward. I explained that the bulk of forwards were inaccurate and that I could easily find humorous or cutesy e-mail stories if I was in the mood for them. By focusing the response on being interested in hearing from them, I generally got a positive reaction.

If you're going to point out that something's inaccurate, I definitely would do it just as a reply to sender, unless it is something that is dangerous to follow, such as a hoax e-mail that gave people specific instructions to remove a specific file from their Windows directory.

People get a little stubborn about this stuff; I've unfortunately just begun chalking it up as a necessity of life. If your mail client has the ability to filter based on rules, you may just want to have it look for e-mail with a forwarded prefix ("Fwd:", "FW:", "(fwd)", etc.) in the subject and have it shunt those into a separate folder.
posted by WCityMike at 7:58 AM on December 12, 2005

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