Don’t Forward That Warning!

Old jokes clogging your inbox are bad enough. Stupid “warnings” about the most unlikely hazards are worse: they irritate the smart people and panic the dumb ones. Now and then, when someone forwards an urban legend to a bunch of people, they really pay a big price.

Rarely is that price as large as the one Rose Lambert paid — and is still paying — but as you’ll see, it can happen! From True’s 17 June 2001 issue:

What’s the Harm?

Every morning, Rose Lambert tells herself that she meant well, but she really wishes she had never sent The Email. She passed along a warning message from a colleague that HIV-contaminated hypodermic needles were hidden under gas pump handles, ready to stick and infect the unaware. What lent credence to the tale, headlined “SADLY, THIS IS NOT A JOKE!!!!!!!!!!”, was her signature: she’s an aide to a Fairfax County (Va.) Supervisor, and her government affiliation is included with the warning. Every day she hears from dozens of people from all over the world wanting to know if the story is true. Sadly, it was just a sick joke. “It’s been the bane of my existence, my worst nightmare,” Lambert says of the uproar. “This is now the story of my life. I can’t wait until it’s over. I may have to die first.” (Washington Post) …That would be a great idea, except her death would just make the story that much more believable.

Is This Advice Clear?

Don’t forward urban legends as fact!

If you don’t know whether a warning or other message is real or legend, you shouldn’t be forwarding it! Find out the truth before you make a fool of yourself. The “warning” could well “BE A JOKE” — and the joke will be on you.

Understand your responsibility for stopping myths by reading my extremely popular Spam Primer — especially the page about chain mail.

Related Page: Can spam lead to losing all your money, even your life? Absolutely! Read how — it’s easier than you might think.

Last, if you’re sick of old jokes and dumb hoaxes clogging your inbox, subscribe to This is True and get new entertaining true stories sent once each week by email. Use the form on this page — basic subscriptions are free!

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9 Comments on “Don’t Forward That Warning!

  1. This should be the lead story in your next edition. It is a public service to run the piece over and over and over again. Because I have a reputation… sigh… I am constantly sent junkmail for confirmation. I tell them over and over that I am not etc, et al but to no avail. And I also point out that every time they have to head the piece with, “I don’t know if this is true but you can tell me,” they can just assume it is a hoax. But no, I have to open the nonsense and do their own work for them.’
    So run that piece and your comments frequently. Daily perhaps. Sigh….

  2. Bonnie – stop being a victim. Just reply with the link to to the next one or two requests from your friends. After you have responded to two requests, delete without responding. You choose to do their work for them – you don’t have to.

    If I’m charitable, I’ll reply with the specific snopes link. If I’m not, it’s simply “”. And sure enough, after awhile my friends stop sending me junk! -rc

  3. Depending on just how egregious the offending email is, I sometimes hit “reply all” when I tell the induhvidual who sent it to me to check snopes first. After getting embarrassed in front of (well, electronically, anyway!) all their friends a time or two, they get the message.
    Now… if I can only get my friends Kevin & Steve to start stripping headers off of the stuff they forward to me…

  4. I am often asked to find something out for one of my E-pals, and I don’t mind doing it. When I find it is a hoax, or untrue, is true, i tell her and add the link to snopes or urban legends.
    But when it is something interesting that others on my list might like to know or learn, I simply send on the email, with everything deleted except the subject, and add the snopes link in the message area.
    The most fun is when i get something, pass it on, then get it back from someone that proves it is not true. Do I tell, sometimes. The last time was just last week. I had already sent it on, as I accepted that it was true. And one of my contacts said, nope ’twasn’t true. I never told the others though, as they would not appreciate that it wasn’t true. So far I’ve gotten three E-mails back with positive comments. It really doesn’t matter sometimes.

  5. Bonnie, I myself take pride in being a hoax-buster. It’s my way of fighting this crap. I go as far as to OFFER to check things for people, but I also tell ’em up front that I intend to teach ’em how to do it themselves.
    My motto is “no linky, no truthy”. If the story comes without a link that, when clicked, VERIFIES THE STORY (“verified by Snopes” doesn’t count, neither do links to Snopes that verify that the story IS A HOAX (I’ve seen those, too)), it’s all but guaranteed to be false and should just be deleted. I’ve been watching this stuff since about ’95 (and I tell ’em so) so methinks I know what I’m talking about.

  6. Living in a not-English-speaking country I frequently see the need to educate, but more urgently to do the job myself since many of my friends barely can click by themselves, they are unable to do a good google research.
    Like Mike in Florida I take this personally, in fact I usually “reply to all” with a few words of advice, a couple of links with the proper info, a small tutorial to do it themselves, and my offer to help if they need it. All in a predefined signature I have. 🙂
    Over the years, my old friends have learned to do it themselves and now they just send me an occasional “chain letter” asking for advice.

  7. I can’t count the number of e mails that I’ve returned to people informing them that their e mail was a hoax. I check all of them with before I pass them on. It can save a lot of embarrassment. There are a LOT of hoaxes being forwarded. In fact, I would say that the majority of those warnings are hoaxes. Take the time to check.

    It’s nice you are embarrassed by the thought of sending a hoax along. That’s the problem: few do, and don’t seem to care that they present themselves to their friends and colleagues as total obliviots. -rc


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