That Chain E-mail Your Friend Sent to You Is (Likely) Bogus. Seriously.
I’ve noticed that chain e-mails, particularly those about politics, have a lot of things in common: urgent and frightening messages; spelling errors; a tendency to blame mainstream media for not telling the real story; and false, misleading, utterly bogus, and completely off-base claims.
If there was ever a case where readers should apply a guilty-until-proven-innocent standard, this is it. We at FactCheck.org ask the public to be skeptical about politicians’ claims. With these e-mails, outright cynicism is justified. Assume all such messages are wrong, and you'll be right most of the time.
Yes, there are a few chain e-mails floating around the Web that are actually true – but not many. And when it comes to messages about the top presidential contenders, truth in e-mail is an elusive quality. In our Ask FactCheck feature, launched late last year, we've looked into several e-mails our readers have sent to us. We're just getting started, but overwhelmingly they have turned out to be false. Snopes.com has been investigating e-mail and other urban legends since 1995, and the site's founders, Barbara and David Mikkelson, have written articles about 31 e-mails about Barack Obama and Hillary (and Bill) Clinton. Only two e-mails were completely accurate. While a handful had elements of truth in them or couldn’t be verified, the vast majority were flat-out false.
Another writer who debunks rumor and lore is David Emery, author of About.com's Urban Legends page. He lists seven e-mails about Hillary Clinton and five about Barack Obama. His verdict: 12 false and misleading, 0 true.
We have yet to see e-mails about John McCain, and Emery notes a decidedly anti-Democrat tilt to the bulk of the e-mail chatter. But there's still plenty of time before the election. In 2004, a left-leaning e-mail claimed the Bush administration was quietly pushing legislation to reinstate the military draft. The claim was bogus, but the e-mail prompted such paranoia that a GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly voted down a bill to reinstate the draft just to show that it rejected the measure. Snopes has chronicled two claims about McCain – both were true, and one was a positive story...
Often, the message itself includes major red flags that should alert readers that the author is not to be trusted. Here are just a few of what we’ll call Key Characteristics of Bogusness:
- The author is anonymous. Practically all e-mails we see fall into this category, and anytime an author is unnamed, the public should be skeptical. If the story were true, why would the author not put his or her name on it?
- The author is supposedly a famous person. Of course, e-mails that are attributed to legitimate people turn out to be false as well. Those popular messages about a Jay Leno essay and Andy Rooney’s political views are both baloney. And we found that some oft-quoted words attributed to Abraham Lincoln were not his words at all.
- There’s a reference to a legitimate source that completely contradicts the information in the e-mail. Some e-mails will implore readers to check out the claims, even providing a link to a respected source. We're not sure why some people don't click on the link, but we implore you to do so. Go ahead, take the challenge. See if the information you find actually backs up the e-mail. We've examined three such e-mails in which the back-up material clearly debunks the e-mail itself. One message provided a link to the Tax Foundation, but anyone who followed it would have found an article saying the e-mail's figures were all wrong. Another boasted that Snopes.com had verified the e-mail, but Snopes actually said it was false.
- The message is riddled with spelling errors. Ask yourself, why should you trust an author who is not only anonymous but partially illiterate?
- The author just loves using exclamation points. If the author had a truthful point to make, he or she wouldn’t need to put two, three, even five exclamation points after every other sentence. In fact, we're developing another theory here: The more exclamation points used in an e-mail, the less true it actually is. (Ditto for excessive use of capital letters.)
- The message argues that it is NOT false. This tip comes from Emery, who advises skepticism for any message that says, "This is NOT a hoax!"
- There’s math involved. Check it. One message that falsely claimed more soldiers died during Bill Clinton’s term than during George W. Bush’s urged, "You do the Math!" We did. It’s wrong.
This raises the serious question of whether or not, in fact, the basis for popularity of these emails is a problem related to the same folks that managed to squeak George Bush into office twice - being the last gasp and bastion of a massive collection of largely bigoted, hugely ignorant, fundamentally misinformed, nearly misanthropic white anglo-saxon protestants, who's deviant manifestations in the Clu Clux Clan and neo-nazi thinking hold sway in various enclaves around the country but who may have greater sympathy in the populace than any thinking American wants to admit... for the most part because of their collective insecurity and their deep seated, gut level understanding that there is not real future for them the way the world is headed. More significantly, in my case, there is a direct correlation between the number of people who pass me this junk, the amount of it they pass, and their branch of service. Unfortunately the correlation lends creedence to the fact that Army recruits rank at the low end off the intellectual scale, Marine Corps and Navy somewhere in the middle and, Air Force is at the top.
(while we're at it - Want to know how misanthropic you are? Click Here)
Well it's something to consider - but in the meantime, an ounce of skepticism is worth a pound of idiocy.
Have a great day!