Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts.

Is it my imagination or has the number of urban legend emails increased lately? I’ve pretty much eliminated the emails touting products to enhance a body part I don’t have and am working on getting the Nigerians to stop telling me they have a million dollars for me if I’ll just send them some money first.

We don’t discuss politics or religion on this blog, and I won’t break the pattern. But suffice to say most of the annoying emails I’ve been receiving involve one or the other or both.

Why do people pass these on? What gives them such credibility that intelligent folks feel the urge to click the “Forward” button and send it further into cyberspace?

I did a little research and learned that these type of emails generally play on general fears such as harm to the family or community. Many times they also challenge religious beliefs or attempt to portray someone or something in an unpatriotic light. The recipient reacts emotionally, and while most folks are too smart to fall for a typical April Fool’s joke, they’ll forward an urban legend because they want to be helpful. I mean, wouldn’t you want to keep your friends’ kids and dogs safe from a deadly Swiffer? * Of course, every once in a while one of these emails is true and heaven forbid we fail to inform everyone we know that boxes of aluminum foil usually have lock tabs on the end to hold the roll in place. **

When the email comes from a friend or family member, most people take it at face value. That extends some degree of credibility when they in turn forward it to more family and friends. And thus the viral quality of the legend begins.

Several tip-offs that the email from Aunt Tilly might be an urban legend are that the originator is usually a friend of a friend, the message tugs at your emotions (fear, empathy, religion, politics, family or country) and you are urged to pass the message on to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

If the email you received this morning contains any of the clues above, you may want to hop over to my favorite urban legend buster website and check it out. has been around since 1995 and is generally considered to be the best source for the truth. A quick search from their home page will quickly let you know that Madalyn Murray O’Hair not only hasn’t been granted a hearing by the FCC to stop religious programming, but that she’s probably been dead since she disappeared in 1995 though her body wasn't found until 2001. This particular urban legend has been around on the Internet since at least 1996 and as early as 1975 the FCC was receiving letters from concerned citizens. Sadly it seems to resurface every few years thanks to folks who don't check their facts.

You can also find out that the email with the online petition you’re to forward to Washington once it gets 1000 signatures is a waste of time. Petitions must contain real signatures to be valid. Proctor & Gamble’s logo is not satanic, In God We Trust does appear on the new dollar coins and Nike won’t send you a free pair of shoes in exchange for your old ones. California law does not require citizens to obtain a hunting license in order to set mouse traps in their homes, "Puff the Magic Dragon" isn't a song about marijuana and the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, a favorite amongst the Playfriends, does not contain formaldehyde. And last but certainly not least, Microsoft won't send you a check for forwarding an email.

So the next time you receive an email with questionable content and a request to forward it, please check Snopes and act responsibly.

What’s YOUR email pet peeve?

P.S. Even the title of my blog is an urban legend. Jack Webb, who played Sgt. Joe Friday on the popular television series Dragnet never said “Just the facts, ma’am” when questioning female witnesses. What he usually said was “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” You can read the whole story at – where else? – Snopes!

* Swiffer myth debunked

** A nifty tip about aluminum foil


PM's Mother said...

Thanks for the tip about the end lock on the aluminum foil box.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

ROFL!!!! I can't tell you how many of these dang things I get from the well-meaning people on Hubby's side of the family. If you want them to believe it, just write it in an email and send it to them. Then they will tell all their friends, etc.

I hate these emails. But I finally stopped sending them the Snopes link because it just doesn't work. They won't click it, or they will, but the next time the SAME email rolls around next week, they forward it like it's critical. I get tired of telling them what's true and what isn't.

Smarty Pants said...

I pretty much loathe email forwards to begin with (I do like the friend quizzes, though) but the ones that are just perpetuating crap really annoy me. People won't take the trouble to check one little thing before they send it on. I especially hate it when it has a religious or political theme that attempts to shame me into forwarding it by implying if I don't, I don't love God or my country or whatever.

I did a chain letter once back in college that said if I sent it to 10 people, I would forever be immune to the bad luck of future chain letters. I forwarded that one, just to cover my bases, and now I'm good.

And for the record, no - when you forward that email, a little animation will not pop up and do a dance on the screen or whatever. Technological impossibility. But by then, you've already sent the stupid thing to everyone you know.

Problem Child said...

What bugs me most is the "forward to everyone you know" bit. Most folks forward to everyone in their address book. Now, I might forward a funny or a joke to a select few who I think might enjoy it, but there's a difference.

For instance, the Playfriends stayed at a B&B one weekend for a planning session. I made our reservations by email. In no time, I was on this person's distribution list--mostly political and religious messages that I DO NOT agree with. Um, we had a business transaction. What on earth made these people think that meant I shared any of their beliefs? Very unprofessional.

Ten years ago, when Snopes was small, I could understand why so many ULs ran about unchecked. But it only takes a minute to check these days. They even have a "What's New" and "Top 25" page --if you check there first, that thing that just landed in your email is most likely there.

Instigator said...

I love

Thanks for the info about the aluminum foil! I never knew that.


Playground Monitor said...

My plastic wrap box has the end lock tabs too.

SP, I sent on that chain one too and the dog didn't dance on the screen. Never did that again.

PC, I've people automatically put me on their distribution list for junk too. That takes some nerve as far as I'm concerned.

The most touching email I got recently was from a man who thought he had finally found his long-lost son. The son's name is Monty, so my email address made sense. I had to tell him I wasn't his son, but it turns out this man was related. His father was the DH's grandfather's brother.


BethRe said...

Email pet peeves when people type all in caps, I don't think they realize this is considered yelling.
I do try to check out or snopes before I send anything and now the ones that are sent to me I check it and send it back to them with the link from snopes or truthorfiction

Playground Monitor said...

BethRe, I sent one back with the link to Snopes about a month ago (did a "reply all" since it was a particularly heinous lie) and got a vile response from one of the women who proceeded to tell me why my thinking was all off. She was still focusing on the misinformation in the email. I thought and thought and thought and finally emailed her back and told her my response wasn't about politics, it was about telling the truth. My mama taught me to always tell the truth and wouldn't her favorite candidate want her to tell the truth too?

Kathy said...

I've never been to

I hate chain letters and won't respond. Sad to say, even when they're about recipes. Chain letters = evil. :)

My mom sends me FWD's all the time and I just hit "delete". I don't even open them anymore.

I've gotten better about answering the phone too. When I see the number is from a telemarketer, I don't pick up the phone. Imagine that? I mean, what an amazing step forward.

Are these urban legends? Forwards about keeping women from getting raped in parking lots, dialing 77 or 47 or what is it that will get you straight to the police while you're driving when there's an emergency?

Playground Monitor said...

I'm not trying to be snotty, but Kathy, why not visit Snopes and type "dialing 77" into the search box (upper right on the home page. That way you'll not only get the answer but it will familiarize you with the Snopes site, which is absolutely one of my favorite websites in all of cyberspace.

Speaking of chain letters... the DH actually got a snail mail one where you're supposed to send $1 to the person at the top of the list and then send the letter on to a dozen or two friends. And of course it emphasized over and over that it wasn't illegal. Uh, hello! It's as illegal as it gets. I've done the recipe one and the Little Golden Book one when my kids were little. I'd do my part but it fell apart after me and I never got many recipes or Golden Books.

catslady said...

Just wanted to say I use snopes all the time - my best friend and my uncle are constantly sending me stuff that isn't true - and personally it doesn't even sound true to me - I always go to snopes and then send them a copy since they are too lazy to do it themselves lol. Problem is they send it to tons of people and never send them my article from snopes. arghhhh.

Playground Monitor said...

Problem is they send it to tons of people and never send them my article from snopes. arghhhh.

That's where the "reply all" button comes in handy. It gets the truth back to everyone, though I did have one ignoramus email all his friends (and me) and tell them I'd hacked into his email account and stolen his address book. Someone explained the "reply all" function to him. My suggestion would have been to take away his internet access since he seemed too stupid to live much less be allowed access to cyberspace.

Problem Child said...

You can hack into people's email accounts, PM?

You're good.

Anonymous said...

My hated email would be where I have won a cool $1 million and attorney so&so would like me to contact him. Yeah, right, who is he kidding???? I have never heard of Snopes, I will have to check this out.

Playground Monitor said...

No, hacking into people's email accounts is for silly college students. ;-)

Angel said...

Wow! I missed a lively discussion today. I totally concur with all this. The only forwards I care for are the friend quizzes and something funny. And those I only send out to people I think would be interested.

Loving, which PC turned me onto.


Jen said...

SNOPES is the bomb!

catslady said...

I never had the nerve to hit the reply all but maybe next time I'll do it lol.