Do You Check Your Skepticism At Your Inbox?
The e-mail arrived yesterday, except I'd read it many times before: a breathless accounting of how Microsoft would pay you THOUSANDS!!!!! of dollars if you forwarded the message enough times, all because it was anxious to promote its Web browser. The note had, in fact, been forwarded numerous times, with dozens of other people on the address line by the time it had landed in my inbox.
It was, of course, false; not even Microsoft can justify writing $24,800 checks to prop up the steadily falling market share of Internet Explorer. And yet people were willing to suspend their disbelief and spam their friends and co-workers with this bogus advisory.
On one level, it's all harmless fun. I love a good prankm, especially when it's done with some style. What's the worst that happens when one of these messages goes around? People only lose a little of their time, that's all.
(These e-mails are easy to spot. You can check them at the myth-busting site Snopes.com. Or you can just employ a little skepticism: A message that describes a company acting in some absurd, self-destructive manner and yet fails to link to any third-party sites that verify said conduct is almost always false. The odds of one of these chain-letter e-mails being true also drop as the number of exclamation points in the message increases.)
On another level, though, a lot of dangerous stuff arrives via e-mail--viruses, phishing e-mails, spam and other harmful nonsense--and much of it employs the same basic sales pitch: "Forget what you saw before, this is true and you need to act on it now!"
It worries me when smart, experienced people who have run their own businesses or survived medical school get taken in this way. Will they remember to turn their scam radar back on when an e-mail isn't asking them to forward copies to everybody they know and instead only needs them to do one little thing--verify their account or download a special program?
If you've sent a "forward this to everyone you know!" e-mail to everybody you know, could you tell me why you did it? (Your secret is safe with us.) If you once did but then stopped, what got you out of the habit?
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