If the definition of spam is unwanted email sent in bulk, a lot of my friends and relatives are spammers, although they would be shocked at the suggestion. I’m talking, of course, about all those messages I get every day with CCs to a dozen or more people I don’t know.
Some of them are jokes I’ve heard a hundred times before, some of them are inspirational ditties complete with pictures, animations and fancy fonts, and some are links to cool (or not so cool) web sites. What they all have in common is a paragraph or two at the bottom, urging me to send the message to 5 or 15 or 25 of my own friends, i.e., trying to convince me to become a spammer, too.
Some go beyond urging and border on threatening. I’m sure you’ve gotten such messages that imply that if you don’t forward the message, 1) something dire will happen to you, 2) something dire will happen to someone else, or 3) you’re a selfish person who doesn’t care about the person who sent you the spam.
Just today, I received another of these “please send this to everyone you know” messages. This one was a warning about the dangers of hand sanitizers in bathrooms – it seems there have been a handful of cases of children ingesting these products, which contain a high level of alcohol, and essentially getting drunk. Okay, that’s interesting information, I guess, but then at the bottom there’s the kicker – urging me to distribute it further and implying that if I don’t, I’m somehow responsible for the next kid who falls victim to the evil soap. Grrr. I don’t like it when people try to make me do something by laying a guilt trip on me. I like it even less when it’s someone I’ve never met.
Messages like this, in their previous, paper incarnation, used to be called chain letters. In some jurisdictions, they were illegal. In most segments of society, people who sent them were considered, at best, annoying and naïve.
I love getting email, probably more than most people. I don’t even mind getting email from strangers, if it contains something interesting or genuinely funny or useful. But I don’t want to get email that tries to reproduce itself by insisting that I send it to others I know. If it’s good enough to pass on, I will. If you try to threaten or shame me into sending it on, I most certainly won’t.
How do you feel about such messages? Do you ever follow the directions and dutifully send them to the 10 friends as requested? If not, do you ever feel guilty for “breaking the chain?” Have you ever written back to the friends who send them and asked them not to do so? (I have – not that it does much good). Should emailed chain letters be illegal, even if they aren’t trying to sell anything or soliciting money? Or should we just sigh and hit the delete button and not make a big deal about it?
Deb Shinder, MVP