I’ve written in the past about unwanted email forwards and how they are more hilarious than irritating. Recently I received an email about ‘Do not open this mail, it contains a dangerous virus.’ The one thing that comes to my mind is that people who actually need such instructions would have already opened such mails and downloaded the virus, and people who do not need such warnings would be well off even without the forwards.

The surprising thing about email forwards is that no one is immune to sending them, even if the person has decades of experience in an IT company. Indeed most of the forwards are sent by techies having nothing better to do than to keep checking their inbox every 10 minutes. If only they would be so proactive in their coding.

The logic used by the people who chain-forward is that it is better to be safe than sorry, or why take chances when it is free of cost. Agreed, that forwarding an email doesn’t cost a dime, but no one keeps track of the time wasted on forwards and checking such emails. But the problem is that people (at least here in India) are gullible about most things on the Internet and most of them fail to do a simple background check before clicking that Forward button and spamming contacts with unwanted emails. Combine that by inserting a religious theme – Lord Ganesha will be furious, or Shani maharaj will do unwanted stuff to you in the future etc. and you have all the elements of a blockbuster chain email. I have yet to see what the situation is in more ‘developed’ countries. Still I’ve seen such chain messages even in YouTube comments so I’m not too confident about the situation being otherwise there too.

I divide email forwards into three categories:-

1) Totally useless/harmful – These are the kind of mails which do not provide any value add whatsoever. Most of them include a scary warning about relatives dying, or god cursing the receiver of the email if he or she doesn’t forward the email to 25 people in the next 4 hours or so.

2) Well intentioned but inaccurate – Out of the three types, these seem to be the largest group of email forwards which make the rounds. They consist of a seemingly useful piece of information which has been twisted, turned, exaggerated to make it seem more dangerous and urgent to act upon. Most of the time, it is all the handiwork of an idle person. These would include the rumours of plastics in Kurkure (read the clarification here), or the Coke-mentos story. Probably the Kurkure email was started by some over enthusiastic parent wanting to dissuade children from eating junk food. One of the most famous series of this category is the ones where Microsoft or Yahoo claims to donate 1$ every time a particular email is forwarded. Agreed, Bill Gates is philantrophic but if he decides to donate his money based on chain emails, his net worth would plummet to zero before you can say sub-prime.

3) Useful forwards – These are the very rare emails which pop up in your inbox once in a blue moon. One such example I saw was the ICE campaign where people were encouraged to store a particular contact number under the universal name ICE (In Case of Emergency). If nothing else, this could prove useful at times. Another types would include email forwards exhorting people to vote etc. But such forwards are very rare and you would consider yourself lucky if your contacts send you forwards of this category more than others.

I’ve purposely excluded spam mails from this classification because they are sent directly by the spammers and to a certain extent you can block them from sending such mails again. Email forwards on the other hand are sent by people in your contact books and there is no foolproof way to block such emails from them without affecting the flow of normal mails (if they send any)

All in all, chain mails are a source of humour for me and a quick test of the sender’s intelligence and common sense. Previously I used to reply to such mails and indirectly let the sender know that all he is doing is clogging other people’s inbox. But I realized that this won’t stop people from sending chain mails anyway, so why try. Now I just smile and delete such emails while praying for the sender to get some more self-control in sending such mails.

PS. Forward this link to 25 people in the next 30 minutes or else the following will happen:-

1) The ghost of the sub-prime crisis will haunt you forever

2) Your gmail account will be deleted as Google’s servers are getting very slow

3) There will be an attack of aliens from outerspace who will get into your brain and eat all your grey matter (if they find any left).

4) North Korea will attack South Korea which will prove to be the precursor to WW III.

Useful links