Handling inflammatory email forwards?
June 1, 2007 12:39 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to handle inflammatory email forwards? Ignore or respond?

I get inflammatory emails from family members on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Often the emails contain fabrications, and are aimed at some political figure or institution that I actually admire. My first instinct is to ignore the email, but sometimes I want to fire off a rant back at the forwarder...when they might have barely read it before forwarding to everyone in their address book. Has anyone found a good course of action for these?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
To the right of your pipe key or backspace key there is one labeled 'Delete'. Highlight offending email. Press Delete key.
posted by pieoverdone at 12:44 PM on June 1, 2007

Politely tell the sender to remove you from their forwards, and if they do not do so promptly without argument let them know that they wan't to communicate with you they can phone or write you a letter.
posted by Asherah at 12:46 PM on June 1, 2007

If the emails are opinionated screeds about politics, I usually counter them with a URL or two debunking whatever is said.

My mother-in-law is a dyed-in-the-wool Fox News fan and often sends ridiculous junk that paints any democrat as a terrorist, and often in a simple google search I can find ten blogs refuting every detail, so I just send a link or two back saying "actually that email you sent is wrong, here's the whole story you're not getting."

I don't know if I've changed any minds but I feel better doing it. Rarely do I get this kind of email anymore though. :)
posted by mathowie at 12:46 PM on June 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

who cares what they think?
posted by matteo at 12:47 PM on June 1, 2007

You can also respond, "Please don't send me anything more about politics. Thanks." Depending on your relationship.

I guess if you're thinking of responding you must not be that close anyway?
posted by dhartung at 12:47 PM on June 1, 2007

(and I'm not being flippant, especially if the emails contain actual fabrications your admiration for those political figures will and must endure. who cares what they think, just delete the emails or blacklist the sender)
posted by matteo at 12:49 PM on June 1, 2007

goatsex them.
posted by Stynxno at 12:49 PM on June 1, 2007 [4 favorites]

If it's a fabrication, I usually take a minute or two to find a webpage that documents the truth, and email it back (to everyone who received the original email) with a polite note along the lines of:

Dear Joe,

Thanks for sending that information on to me. You know how interested I am in politics! After I received it, I looked for more online and found that the article had several significant errors. I thought you'd want to see this:


It's so hard to get to the truth sometimes these days, isn't it?

Keep in touch!


It's hard for them to complain, because if sending political info via email is a no-no, well, they started it. And by "accidentally" clicking "reply all" they get a little embarrassed and might think twice before doing it again.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:51 PM on June 1, 2007 [13 favorites]

That would depend on my relationship with the family member in question.

If it was someone I'd just as soon tune out, I'd either bozofilter them or request "please don't forward inflammatory e-mail like this to me" and then bozofilter after they kept on doing it.

If it was someone I'd prefer to remain on good terms with, I'd take more time to excerpt some of the most outrageous crap from their mail, find the citations that would disprove it, and write them back a polite message containing these refutations. If it's more matters of opinion than fact, I'd write something along the lines "You and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this. My position is [X]. I'd prefer it if you did not forward me this stuff." (Come to think of it, I've done that). If the exchange deteriorates, I'd let them know that I bozofilter people who forward bullshit like this, and while I'd rather not do it in their case, I will do so if they keep it up. Then I would do so.
posted by adamrice at 12:53 PM on June 1, 2007

I tried the "please don't forward things to everyone in your email address book" to two or three family members that did exactly what you describe. I sent this via a "reply to all" so everyone could see that I was trying to be respectful. The tide continued unabated, so I said the same thing, and respectfully rebutted a few emails point-for-point, with citations. Then I added profanity for three messages or so. Then added ranty goodness Lewis Black style including apopleptics, whereupon some of the other people that had been "reply-to-all"ed thanked me for standing up to the bullshit, and a few others asked that I not include them. I responded to *them* by suggesting they suggest to the original family members that perhaps they shouldn't poke the bear by including me in the original forwards.

I get a lot of "I'll pray for you"s now.
posted by notsnot at 12:55 PM on June 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

I get these from extended family members. I just ignore them. I love my family more than I care about proving my political opinions right.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:56 PM on June 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

(incidentally, my dad is the worst of my personal offenders, and my 84-yar-old grandma - his mom - wrote me to say she loved the rants!)
posted by notsnot at 12:57 PM on June 1, 2007

Here's an idea:

1. setup an email filter. sender = (whoever is doing this), subject contains "Fwd:", mark as read and move directly to trash.
2. tell these people that's where there messages go.

They either stop sending them or they don't, but either way you don't see them any more.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:00 PM on June 1, 2007

I get these from one particular set of relatives. I used to ignore them. At a certain point, however, I decided that it was perfectly fair to respond with polite, fact-based refutations.

Now I even occasionally (2x-3x/year) send forwards of my own. For example, this (which I found on MeFi the other day).

As Pater Aletheias said, if they can dish it out, they should be able to take it. If not, well, maybe at least they will stop dishing it out.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 1:04 PM on June 1, 2007

If the offending email contains outright lies, Snopes will often provide a nice summary refutation.
posted by jjg at 1:10 PM on June 1, 2007

I second Snopes. I'll either send them the Snopes info or just delete the email. Honestly 9 times out of 10, Snopes has debunked the email.
Once, I couldn't take it anymore, and emailed a distant relative and asked that she please stop sending me such things. I think I embarrassed her and she apologized profusely and I've never received another such email.
posted by jdl at 1:16 PM on June 1, 2007

I had a relative that used to do that. I'd get emails with subjects like "FWD: France Sucks!!!" One time I got one during the 2004 election race detailing how completely wealthy and elitist John Kerry is (had a list of properties that he ostensibly owned and their ostensible value). I responded (to all) with a screed describing the wealth of the Bushes (I had recently watched "Bush Family Fortunes) and how seriously sub-average you would have to be to not realize that they were both rich elitists. And ended it with "I have been sent a lot of really poorly-executed propaganda by [relative], but this is the laziest, dumbest thing I have seen yet."

Well, I never heard from her again after that. She ignored an invitation to my wedding that I sent to appease my mother. Her sister and mother came and had a good time, so it didn't cut the family up or anything. And three or four years later I still haven't heard from her. So my life is a little better for it.

You should try that. They'll at least take you off their list if they won't do you the favor of not polluting your environment with their presence. Life's too short to put up with that shit even if you've been conditioned to feel obligated to do it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:17 PM on June 1, 2007

My mother-in-law does this to me all the time. She's a serial forwarder, and having the exact opposite political beliefs as mine likes to send me stuff that ranges from mildly amusing to offensive in the extreme, mixed in with fluff-forwards. I called her on it once, and she threw a fit. Now I just delete her forwarded e-mails and we all stay happy.

If you continue to read the e-mails, though, I third using Snopes to debunk myths.
posted by minda25 at 1:23 PM on June 1, 2007

There was a question on this a long time ago. Going to search to see if I can find it.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:43 PM on June 1, 2007

Found it, although the question was a bit more specific.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:49 PM on June 1, 2007

Coincidentally I just debunked a "telemarketers can pound you via cell phone starting June 1" e-mail for the third year in a row. A calm Snopesing, followed up with another easily Googleable link (in this case, to the FTC) usually buys me a little peace & quiet.
posted by desuetude at 1:52 PM on June 1, 2007

My pop is a Fox watcher too, and I generally reply with a concise critique of the article, and or discussion of a particular point. Sometimes I'll ask if there was a particular feature of the article he found interesting and give him the reality-based take on it. Over time he has actually become a Snopes fan, and is now getting a kick out of using it to reply to some of these chain emails himself. Which has cut down significantly on the ones that make it past him to me.
posted by Manjusri at 1:54 PM on June 1, 2007

I am so glad to read these responses. I was afraid everyone would say things like "ignore it".

Key things to do are yes, to respond, but don't get angry nor insulting, ever. Ever. Don't assume your correspondents are stupid, just misinformed -- misinformation happens so easily, whether through bad news coverage, lame schools, being pushed down for thinking independently when young, whatever.

If they never get a clue, it's fine to give up eventually. If you just don't have time in the moment, that's OK. But thank you so much for trying.
posted by amtho at 2:02 PM on June 1, 2007

My response is generally to reply in the tone of

"Thanks. That was interesting! Didn't quite line up with my understanding though, so I took the liberty of factchecking it for you before you sent it to anyone else. That could have been embarrassing! Turns out, yeah, some of it was.. shall we say.. creative! I hate when people need to lie to make their views look better, I'm sure you do too, so it's a good thing I caught it for you!

((Snopes or whatever link here))

Anyway, happy to help. If you get any more of these, feel free to send them off to me first. I've gotten really good at Googling and can totally check them right out for you and let you know if they are legitimate or not!"

That gets sent Reply to All so everyone sees it. It gets the job done rather well, I think.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 3:02 PM on June 1, 2007

See this old thread, with essentially the same question.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:13 PM on June 1, 2007

In the amount of time you spent reading this sentence, you could have deleted three of them.
posted by 4ster at 3:51 PM on June 1, 2007

Please, please, please, whatever you decide to do, don't follow the advice to become a reply-all person. Forwards are annoying as hell, but reply-all-people are doing exactly the same. Think about it.

This is my personal opinion, no offense meant to forwarders and reply-allers (okay, maybe just a bit). Please don't spam/forward/reply-all me. Thank you for your cooperation and have a nice day.
posted by lioness at 4:36 PM on June 1, 2007

One more reason I heart OSX, is that Mail comes with a bounce feature. After a few polite requests get ignored, click the Bounce button. Their missive is deleted from your mail, plus *they* have to delete the "me@youareidiots.com does not exist blah blah blah" from *their* inbox, and maybe after a while they finally do take you off their craplist. It's worked on several of my in-laws.
posted by mimi at 5:00 PM on June 1, 2007

Forwards are annoying as hell, but reply-all-people are doing exactly the same. Think about it.

If your reply-all was actually written thoughtfully by you, and contains real information, then I fail to see how that is exactly the same as someone sending a veracity-challenged forward of a forward of a forward that a drunk in Possum Squat, Mississippi threw together just to see how far it would go.

The people who get it either (1) agreed with the first email and should have the opportunity to know it was wrong, (2) disagreed with the first email and will appreciate it that someone is correcting the record, (3) ignored the first email and will ignore yours, too, (4) were really annoyed at the first email, but won't blame you for responding or (5) were really annoyed at the first email, and will be just as annoyed at you. Group 5 is all you have to worry about, and I doubt that is 10% of the populace.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:13 PM on June 1, 2007

(6) are friends of the person who sent the original email, but strangers to you, and like getting emails from friends, but don't appreciate getting emails from strangers, regardless of the content.

Don't reply all unless you know all of the people to whom the original email was addressed. Spamming strangers is obnoxious.
posted by decathecting at 6:23 PM on June 1, 2007

I agree with Pater Altheias about the approach and the tone.

A pleasant, relatively impartial tone, plus substantiation, makes you seem like the voice of reason, rather than the opposite number of the hothead know-nothing who sent the intial email.

Snopes tends to be my go-to source for such things.

I tend not to bother to reply at work to the "(imaginary chick) is missing please help!" emails I get from colleagues at work because, well, why bother.

I disagree with decathecting. Once a large group gets an email, you're all part of a little club. "Reply all" is a well-known phenomenon. If people don't want to read the "re: Hillary ate babies because she HATES TEH TROOPS!!!" email, they can delete it without reading it.
posted by ibmcginty at 6:47 PM on June 1, 2007

Usually, they're pretty email/electronic impaired.

"Hi, thanks for the email, I know you're passionate about this sort of stuff.
Usually, people choose to get this sort of stuff, or not.
Now, at some point, perhaps I foolishly gave you the impression that I wanted political/religious emails. Out of respect, I'd like you never to send much such stuff again.

In turn, promise not to sign you up for a number of mailing lists, including the Klan, NAMBLA, and the Communist party.

Have a nice day."

P.S. it's worth doing a little fact checking, I suggest Snopes.com .
posted by filmgeek at 7:17 PM on June 1, 2007

Filtering by the sender's e-mail address into a directory called famspam or something would be a good way of turning down the volume and keeping your Inbox clean. It's also a good way of dealing with it if/when you feel like it, and surprisingly easy to ignore.
posted by ads at 8:05 PM on June 1, 2007

You people are too nice. When my friends forwarded me crap like that, I used "reply to all" to explain, with citations, why it was incorrect. Eventually, my friends stopped forwarding poorly-sourced crap to me.

Just because they're your friends doesn't mean you can't train them to behave.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 8:43 PM on June 1, 2007

In addition to Pater Aletheias and jjg's excellent advice, and the general consensus around Snopes, I'd add in a casual mention of the divisive nature of these emails.

"Don't sweat the little factual errors -- everybody makes mistakes. I just hate to think of someone demonizing half the people in this country who are their fellow Americans on the basis of bad info. Yeah, [topic of email] can really get people debating, but all of us have friends and family and people we love who disagree with us about that, and we know their hearts are in the right place, so why make them feel bad?"

They need to understand the social cost of what they do by sending these emails. If it's more effective, point out that they're antagonizing the people they'd like to persuade -- never a good idea.
posted by anildash at 9:25 PM on June 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I lie and claim that my spam filter is now blocking all of their email, even legitimate personal correspondence, because all of the forwarded crap must have overloaded it. If they care about actually emailing me, they can stop that crap.
posted by mikeh at 6:43 AM on June 2, 2007

I'm writing this because I would like to, with no malice, like to ask you not to send me "forwards" -- appeals for charity or certain causes, personality questionnaires, editorials, virii alerts, free stuff, cute photographs, reminiscences, inspiring stories, urban legends, and so on, and so on.

All my needs in these arenas are being taken care of. I have charitable causes I choose to donate to; I'm already aware of and visit a lot of the free "click" things (breast cancer, rain forest, hunger site, etc.); I hate both getting and filling out personality questionnaires; my Mac doesn't get many virii; *no* corporation gives out free stuff through e-mail forwards; and I can find cute photographs, reminiscences, inspiring stories, and editorials through Google when I'm in the mood to read something like that.

But please, please, don't misunderstand this message. 'Cause here's the most important part: in no way, shape, or form should you interpret this as me saying that I don't want to hear from you. The idea is that I do want to hear from you, but I want to HEAR from YOU. Get the emphasis? :) If you ever are of the mood to write a personal letter to me, that's great. Or if you want to e-mail a bunch of your friends about how your life is going, by all means, put me on THAT list.

However, I would appreciate it if you would respect my wishes and not send me any e-mail forwards any longer. To me, they are a dangerous substitute for real communication, something that allows people to think they're staying in touch when they're really not. And I'd love to ACTUALLY stay in touch! :)

posted by WCityMike at 9:17 AM on June 2, 2007

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