It's not real, dammit.
June 19, 2008 5:19 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with friends or family sending you (and everyone else in their address book) fake virus warnings and other hoaxes?

Do you tell them to do a &$(#^% simple online search before they send the thing on to everyone they know or is it better to ignore them?

And if you do tell them, do you send the mail back to everyone who was on the list (even the people you don't know), hoping that you might catch another one who was going to make the same mistake (but using the same deplorable mechanism)?

If I send to all I feel like a pedant. If I ignore it I feel like I didn't take the chance to at least stop this branch of the hoax in its tracks (and I do believe that the internet would be a better place if everyone did this because then it wouldn't become a hoax in the first place). And I've tried educating them on the nature of hoaxes, but somehow they seem to lack the "this must be fake" alarm bells that some of us were born with so that doesn't seem to have any effect.

What do you do?
posted by Skyanth to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I always point them to Snopes - and then - after about two years or so, they usually simply stop sending any email ;-)
posted by jkaczor at 5:22 AM on June 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

i'll usually send them (and only them) a short email saying "thanks for the warning, but snopes has verified this as a hoax" with a link to the page at snopes.
posted by noloveforned at 5:22 AM on June 19, 2008

I usually send the appropriate link from either Snopes or Urban Legends to the original poster and ask that they inform the others. I like to put the burden back on my friend who sent it in the first place. I have always been thanked and I've become the go-to person for these sorts of things. At worst, these same friends now send me an email first asking me to verify it. In the end, I don't receive these sorts of things anymore and all is good.
posted by mcarthey at 5:25 AM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by pieoverdone at 5:25 AM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I add the link to Snopes and then send it to everyone on the list in the hope of make more people aware of Snopes.
posted by Ferrari328 at 5:26 AM on June 19, 2008

Previously asked, as well.

(So, am I an ass for pointing this out?) ;)
posted by mcarthey at 5:28 AM on June 19, 2008

Response by poster: mcarthey: Argh. Sorry. I did search before I posted... :(
posted by Skyanth at 5:31 AM on June 19, 2008

posted by electroboy at 5:33 AM on June 19, 2008

Do you tell them to do a &$(#^% simple online search before they send the thing on to everyone they know or is it better to ignore them?

Yes, but usually with a bit more diplomacy

"Wow, that sounded interesting/alarming/surprising, so I did a search and I found out it is a hoax."

[cut and paste a summary paragraph]
[include link to de-bunking]

In cases where the email is smearing someone personally (usually a political email) I might add "If you think something is important enough to forward to everyone you know, it is important enough to do some original research first and make sure it is true"

I don't get many of these emails anymore.
posted by mikepop at 5:40 AM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I tend not to get these kind of emails because when a friend or family member asks me for my email address, I always specifically say something along the lines of "I get a lot of email so please don't forward me any jokes/news stories/etc". If someone does end up sending me one of those I always reply back with something similar, without making any mention of the quality of whatever it is that they sent. I usually only read enough of the email to recognize that it is one of those kinds of forwarded mails, and I never do any research to verify if it is true or not.

And if you do tell them, do you send the mail back to everyone who was on the list (even the people you don't know), hoping that you might catch another one who was going to make the same mistake (but using the same deplorable mechanism)?

This is a bad idea in my opinion, because some/most of the people on the list will already know that the forwarded email is incorrect. Never send an unsolicited email to a group of people if most of the people are going to ignore and delete it, because if you do that you are basically sending spam. You aren't the internet police and you don't have to educate people on why Bill Gates isn't actually going to give everyone who forwards the email $1000. Just try to avoid getting that kind of email in the first place and avoid the issue entirely.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:07 AM on June 19, 2008

Depending on your relationship with the person, say something to them. My parents used to send me a lot of that crap and a firm-but-light conversation put all of it to a stop. Much better than an email.
posted by Diskeater at 6:19 AM on June 19, 2008

In the past I've asked people to stop sending me asinine "Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd" email.

They are the type of (misguided but wonderful) friends you can say those sorts of things to without having to pad it with all sorts of niceties. "Hey, you know, I LOVE to hear from you, but... please stop sending me the crap you and fifty of your closest friends have been passing around for the last two days. In case you haven't noticed, every time you ask me if I've read it the answer is not just no, but hell no!"

"No, really, it's true... you cannot get an LSD high from fake tattoos and there are NO HIV needles stuffed in the coin returns of the payphones!!"

For mailing lists: I include a response that assures the now-frightened masses that it is a verified Urban Legend and the linky to Snopes. (Thankfully not so many mailing lists and/or gullible people in the circles I hang out in these days.)

I am currently on the radar of an acquaintance from school who spams tons of people with these things. When I get the "Fwd:" ad nauseum and I'm one of a million people in the address book (way more offensive than the email itself in my book), I reply to ALL with the Urban Legend factoid and include the linky to the story that debunks it. I think this one may be working for me.
posted by Incognita at 6:22 AM on June 19, 2008

Ditto a Snopes link. I also usually mention that /most/ stories that get passed around like this are fake, and it's best to always check Snopes before passing along to others. Once you've done this once or twice to your friend, they usually get the hint (mine all did).
posted by twiki at 6:26 AM on June 19, 2008

I think I replied-to-all for one, but I can't remember why: it might have been because of the nature of the story itself. If it's from someone I don't know very well I ignore it and mentally reduce my evaluation of their competence at life. If it's someone I'm friends with I send back a link to snopes, with varying levels of polite fluff around it. If it's my sister I send back harsh mocking abuse on reply-all, because I expect better from her, but for some reason she still does it - less and less, though. Just the ones where the potential reward (ie: Bill Gates will give her $1000) is worth the punishment and she has to check :)
posted by jacalata at 6:40 AM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just ignore it. People are generally doing it to be helpful and to maintain contact. Some people just don't know how to write a personal email. Other than a couple seconds of time, costs me nothing to receive these. It makes them feel a little better to have sent it.

If it's something that could put the person in danger, then I correct it by sending a snopes link. Otherwise, I just ignore it.
posted by 26.2 at 6:44 AM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

My sister in law sent me just such a thing earlier this week. I replied with:

"never, ever, ever! send me crap like this. EVER!"

She figured it out. It worked well on one sister in law, now to deploy it on the other one.
posted by a3matrix at 7:11 AM on June 19, 2008

In the past year, the thing has been to mention Snopes, and say, "Snopes even says it's real" even when Snopes says it's fake.

My solution is to respond with a lot of cursewords, like i"m angry for being sent something so asinine. And respond to all. The embarrassment of having a son or grandson that cusses like a sailor with his balls in a bear trap, usually get 'em to stop sending me stuff.
posted by notsnot at 7:11 AM on June 19, 2008

It's a teachable moment. Tell them about the Gullibility Virus
When you get email with hundreds of email addresses visible, recommend Blind Copy
Educate them about staying safe on the Internet, and recommend free anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

These are links I googled up and didn't painstakingly research. Spammers, phishers, conartists, malware writers, etc., keep getting smarter. Many people who are not technical are at risk, or may be unknowingly helping spammers by having a bot installed. Educating your family about effective ways to be secure is a really good thing to do. And thank them for their concern, even though they are gullible. They're trying to do the right thing.
posted by theora55 at 7:16 AM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

The first time this happens, I respond to the sender only, with a kind note about it being false, and the link to whatever site debunks it. The second time, I do the same (benefit of the doubt - maybe my first response didn't go through). The third time, I reply all with just the Snopes link. The fourth time, I reply all, include the Snopes link, and a mildly-worded request to check facts first.

The fifth time, I set up a rule to auto-delete everything from that email address. I have patience, but not that much. After a few weeks of never receiving responses from me, my mom and my mother-in-law both inquired why. I told them the truth, they were properly contrite, I removed the auto-delete rule. Anyone else on auto-delete hasn't asked why yet, which means all their emails are forwards, and belong in the trash.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:21 AM on June 19, 2008

Ditto Snopes.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:32 AM on June 19, 2008

Add them to my spam filter.

Then when they say that I don't respond to their emails any more, I explain that my email program has flagged them as a spammer due to the types of emails they were once sending me.

That usually stop them.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:07 AM on June 19, 2008

If it's virus warnings, I usually let it slide. Even if that particular virus warning is fake, the friends and relatives who don't realize it's fake are exactly the people who should be encouraged to fear online threats. Because they're the ones who, in their ignorance, are most at risk. The last thing I need is Grandpa thinking "Oh, vytae always says these virus threats aren't real, so I won't worry about it."

If it's a hoax that could actually hurt somebody, like some kind of make-money-quick scam, then I will quickly point out the trouble. I usually link to a Snopes article and specifically point out that Snopes is a great place to research anything you get in email. Most non-savvy users don't make the connection between "oops, here's a page that disproves that email I forwarded" and "here's a site that can prove or disprove ANY email I might forward." I try to make it crystal clear for them that they should bookmark snopes for future reference.

As with most types of communication, you have to ask yourself what your goal is. Is it strictly to get them to stop sending the crap to YOU? Then maybe swearing in a reply-to-all is your best bet. Is it to educate them so they don't forward this crap on to anyone at all? Then a polite explanation is more effective. Do you just want to feel superior to people who don't know as much about the internet as you do? Perhaps you'd prefer a snarkily smug response to the original sender. Or maybe you simply need to express your frustration with the world in general? I hear craigslist has a section for rants.
posted by vytae at 8:55 AM on June 19, 2008

Just delete.
posted by gyusan at 9:28 AM on June 19, 2008

I've had very good responses with a simple, considerate email explaining that it's a hoax, and how to look them up in the future. There's no need to be impolite.
posted by YoungAmerican at 10:00 AM on June 19, 2008

I tend to reply with pertinent links to Snopes, as well as Thanks. No.
posted by emelenjr at 11:11 AM on June 19, 2008

It's happened a few times. Call it spam. Seem a little ungrateful. Sign off with a Thank-you. Invariably, they don't think it's crap! But since it clearly is, they send it to me no more. I like to think they start deleting it every now and then too. What important, helpful, special or life changing information ever comes via email (for starters) with a bunch of addresses at the top!!
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 12:11 PM on June 19, 2008

You could explain to them that many chain emails are used to harvest addresses for spam.

Forwarding them is a good way to wind up with 1,000+ spam messages daily like my mom does.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:21 PM on June 19, 2008

I usually either send an email back to everyone on the list saying, "Everyone, please join me in welcoming to the internet!" or I just send them this email. Either way works and eventually people have stopped sending them!
posted by Deflagro at 12:48 PM on June 19, 2008

Be gentle, at least the first time. Just explain what snopes is, and why we need it.

But if they keep sending you crap, I'd ask to be ignored. There are a couple of fools in my hospital who send out the same crap all the time. Their emails go into a special folder!
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 2:54 PM on June 19, 2008

Response by poster: Right, thanks everyone. Even though this thread has probably lived its life I'd just like to add that I was wondering about the etiquette, not about how to stop people from sending things to me specifically. And I certainly don't swear in my reply, that was just to express my feelings towards this kind of thing.

I was really asking the exact same question as the poster of the thread linked to by mcarthey: I sent out a (polite) reply to all with a link that exposed the hoax, then started to think about it and wondered if it was a bitchy thing to do, even though my intentions were good.

In the end I followed up with an email to the original sender to apologise for any embarrassment and explain my intention. No biggie. But after reading your replies I've decided to just let it go in the future.
posted by Skyanth at 1:00 AM on June 20, 2008

I usually write back to the person who's sent me such a message, thank them for their concern, point out (with a link) that the item's a scam/hoax/threat/whatever, and ask them in future to test the veracity of similar messages before sending them to everyone they know.

Only this week, a message was sent out on my alma mater's intranet, supposedly with the blessing of the IT department, warning 'female students' about rapists lurking in cars in petrol stations. The message purported to be from an unspecified police force. When I wrote to the IT department about it, their initial response to me indicated that 'Crimes of this nature have actually happened and all [local] council staff are warned off this'. A few hours later, presumably after checking it out properly, they posted a message on the intranet saying that the earlier message had been a hoax.
posted by davemack at 11:25 AM on June 20, 2008

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