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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Chain Emails: Check Your Facts!

Published 09/29/08
By Jessica Stout, Office Generalist

My family and friends are obsessed with chain emails. You know the kind. “Read this poem and send to 7 friends or you will get bad luck.” Or “Funny story; you’ve got to read this.” I have to say, I only actually open about 1% of those emails — the rest are deleted promptly. I see them as more of a nuisance than fun. The ones that particularly drive me crazy, though, are the emails that spread the word about something as though it were fact. And worse is when that email continues to be passed around.

I remember one particular email that was passed around that depicted a small child from the Middle East (the exact location varied from email to email), and the letter-writer scathed about the treatment of children in that particular country. It showed the child being forced to have his arm run over, by a vehicle, as a form of punishment for some petty crime that he committed (again, the details of his crime varied in each email). In the end, it turned out to be a street stunt that was done for money. Given the timing of this email, it only served to further stereotypes, fear, and hate for several countries toward which our entire nation was feeling hostile.

I have seen the same thing happen time and time again with calls to action for animals. I get an email from a friend or relative that screams of injustices to some sort of animal, somewhere in the world, and urges me to pass the information along. And I have to tell you, I rarely do. Of course I do not want to see animals suffer, but I have to be careful about what I pass on because, a) I need to make sure that it is a legitimate cause that has a verifiable action plan around the issue, and, b) I need to make sure that it is an accurate issue. Blindly passing along a good “story” because it aroused upset in me runs the risk of my losing credibility within the realm of animal rescue.

The problem with these emails is that we are overloaded with them every day; and pretty soon we start to get the “little boy who cried wolf” syndrome, and just stop listening. Or, we simply get overloaded and are in a state of hyper-arousal from anger, fear, or sadness, every time we open our email box. The problem that these junk emails create is that we are moving toward an audience that is not responsive in a manner that is conducive to helping. How many times do we get an email about a missing child, a cat that torched by some neighborhood kids, or some kind of political atrocity, that makes us flash with anger, so that we send it on to someone else, and then forget about it? This is not action; this is perpetuating the cycle of too much information — information that may in fact, not even be true.

I ask that you start taking responsibility with the information that you send on to others. Fact check what you read; make sure it really sounds logical in your head before sending it on. These emails are like that game of “telephone” that we all played as kids, but the end result of these emails is not a funny phrase that was manipulated through not hearing the phrase properly. The end result is information overload and inaccurate information that could simply serve to create non-action and misinformation. This does not help the animals (or kids, or whatever cause is close to you), it only serves to hurt them further.

Blogging off,

Jessica

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