Why Chain Letters Are So Bad Part 1: What Are They And Who Starts Them?

Go to part 2.

Go to part 3.

Go to part 4.

It happened to Weird Al Yankovic, who wrote a song about it.

It happened to Jason Dole, who finally got so sick of it that he wrote out the Billy Smiley Evans Burlap Sack Boy satire and explains how it has been changed by forwarders.

and it has probably happened to you too.

Chain Mail!

You may have been subjected to, and even given in to virality.

You start your email program, go to your favourite web communities and social networks. There, you are bombarded with messages from strangers, internet newbies and friends alike. You may even get notifications that friends have tagged you on their blog or social network or have posted something to your Facebook wall etc.

Some of these are normally very sensible people, and some friends are people you rarely hear from, so it's exciting to know they were thinking of you and decided to get in touch again, right?

Think again!

Just as happened two months ago, and six months before that, these "friends" who supposedly were thinking of you, did not send anything they wrote, other than a little excuse and maybe a sigline at the top of the email or post.

Instead of an actual letter, they sent or posted yet another meme that urgently tells, sappily pleads, perkily cajoles, blackmails/guilt-trips or uses some other manipulation, or any combination of the above, tactic to get you to do the most important thing in your life!...SPREAD THAT MEME!

So What possible harm could that non-threatening, fun-promising chain letter do?

More than a lot of people think.

There are no annual Stella Awards and the "cases" in these chain letters are bogus.

There are too many false and/or out of date stats in this chain letter list about South Africa, which this article corrects.

Nasa didn't discover a missing day that corresponds to a story in the Bible. That chain email and nonsense book came from Harold hill who claimed to be a Nasa worker and wasn't. Gah, I hate chain letters that try to prop up anything from the Bible with lies! Adding a couple of insults to injury is when such chain letters end up on hoax-busting sites, which is really embarrassing. Then comes the real insidious part. Such hoax-busting sites actually change into something they aren't supposed to be, disgustingly biased political sites.

That Lincoln Kennedy connection chain letter is full of useless bits of trivia and a lot of it is only partly true, some is all out false, and the few true statements really aren't so amazing after all. Here is a great smash of this Kennedy/Lincoln bollox.

Chain letters, as this site points out, are full of false information, including false quotes supposedly made by some famous person but were not, or they were embellished and/or used in the wrong context to perpetuate a viral.

Forwards, whether via email, reblog, retweet, FB or web forum post, are not only annoying as all heck to keep seeing replicated, many are also scams and spam.

The problem is not only with email etiquette. It may be that your friends and their friends further up the chain, some of which may not even realize it is a chain letter, were duped by something started by complete strangers.

What is chain mail?

It is a broad term for chain letters that spread through both snailmail and via online messages from email to texts to social network, web forum and blog posts. In other words, anything viral. They used to go by snailmail, and some still do, or get passed on directly from person to person. The online chain letters are a lot more common however, and they have migrated from email to web forums, blogs, and social networks.

Many people think chain letters are only the MLM pyramid scheme, envelope-stuffing snailmail or "Pass it on and good luck will come to you. Don't pass it on and you'll get cursed." variety. An example of these is the Media Cat chain letter dreamed up by Fish in a drunken stupor.

But chain letters aren't just passed on via snailmail or delivered in person like the Hermon Cakes or Holloween Boo-bag/ghosting. They run rampant on the internet via email, and web posts, on forums, blogs and social networks.

Chain letters are 'sharing' schemes, and they use every emotional angle imaginable, and come in a vast array of subjects. Some don't even tell you in a direct way to pass them on, and others urge the recipient to read carefully, as if they're about to take in the most important thing in their lives, and then, hit them with a "Pass this on or else" right at the end.

Chain letters even come in the form of viral videos, trivia, jokes and incomplete stories that tell you to pass on the laughter or send to x number of people to receive more of the story. While the joke forwards may indeed give some recipients a laugh, others not so much, and the incomplete story forwards are all out false. The forward or share buttons do only one thing, make more copies of the same message already there for others to see.

So the good news is, you know what a viral video is, it is a video turned into a chain letter. The bad news is, everybody wants their videos going viral.

Signs It Is A Chain Letter gives tips on how to spot one, but basically, if it's viral, it is a chain letter.'

Power of suggestion is often used by chain letters to manipulate people into doing their bidding. "This is not a joke." "This is not a chain letter." "This was on the news." Statements like that are used to get people thinking the chain letter is something real and true that actually works. Such statements are bald-faced lies.

Chain letters use different terminology as well, trying to keep people from spotting the fact they are chain letters. "prayer wheels" "friendship balls" "blog awards" "tag this" "share this" and all manner of cute pictures and sayings you are told or encouraged to pass on to others. all chain letters.

Here's a cute little entry"> about how chain letters have mostly migrated from email to social networks, but other types of advertising spam still assault email.

Some people erroneously think group-email consisting of people replying to all in an ongoing email conversation among many is chain mail or chain email.

Examples of people making this mistake:

"How To Escape Chain Mail" from m.economictimes.com is not actually talking about chain mail, but how to mute conversation email threads in Gmail.

Question on Yahoo Answers also confuses an email conversation or thread with "chain email". So does this Fast Company article.

This is erroneous unless the exchange goes viral.

If I send out a personally typed note to a number of people, and several reply-all, with each one contributing their own ideas, opinions, suggestions etc. this is not a chain letter, AKA chain mail. It would, however, become a chain mail if the email exchange made its way out of the circle of initial people involved in the communication to circulate all over the internet.

Case in point, The recruiter row.

Chain mail is always a viral scheme, campaign or item. That includes these annoying posts and emails people send out, begging for people to vote for their design, or their pet or whatever, to win some online contest.

Chain letters often include stories, or can even be part of a story, in the case of an interesting old Korean legend about a message from a crow.

Some chain letters are more of an oddity than anything else, circulating through very specific communities of people, unknown to most everyone else. The Light Bat is a good example of this.

Online, chain letters, AKA chain mail, virals, forwards, fwds, chain posts, chain statuses, chain notes, shares, reposts, flash mobs, astroturfing, memes, started via email, web forums and usenet newsgroups, then spread from there to blogs and web forums, then to text messages and social media. So far, they've managed to junk up every new and popular online medium and will probably continue turning up replicating like roaches in the future, because people just can't help themselves. If it's a meme, it's a chain letter.

In late 2013, the net was overtaken by the US government shutdown meme, and way too much was made over the "Breaking Bad" show, turning that into an irritating meme.

the chain letter addiction has become such a problem at the workplace that some companies such as Ferarri have finally put their foot down trying to combat it.

Sometimes people don't mean for a post to become a chain letter at all, but others get hold of it and make it go viral to serve their own agendas, or out of the same innocent concern the original author had.

This is what happened to Genie Stowers when she sent an email to a few family and friends out of concern about the possibility of more earthquakes hitting the area around Berkeley.

Unfortunately for her, some recipient(s) of that initial email spread it further, and it went viral from there.

It was never Ms. Stowers's intention to start a chain letter or rumor, and she issued an apology.

This article is about someone whose picture of his son and caption went viral. He never planned on it.

An article on Mumbai Junction about a man who got caught under a moving train may or may not be true, since no specific details were given, names, dates etc, but things like this can and do happen. This story went viral.

Chain letters often contain falsely attributed and mangled quotes said to have been made by some famous people. Sometimes it's all a result of going viral by accident where subsequent forwarders misunderstand or change something in the original post. Other times, it's a deliberate hoax.

So, Why do people start chain letters? what do they get out of it?

Sometimes various content just goes viral simply because it was so unbelievable or outrageous for people to keep to themselves once they've seen it. This is true especially when it is posted to a site like Youtube or Redit.

Case in point, the Walmart employees who stupidly broke store merchandise and took video of themselves doing it.

They were deservedly sacked when their crime was discovered.

People who start chain letters:

A. At best, didn't have that as their intention, but it got away on them.

B. Honestly do have the best intention in the world for their effort, but are unaware that chain letter campaigns are not a good way to get things done and may continue circulating long after a goal is reached or a campaign has stopped. Here's an example..

Families and friends of missing or sick relatives may start chain letters in an outreach attempt to get more help. There are examples of these currently true as well as once true and now outdated chains archived on TruthOrFiction..

The trouble is, however good the intention might be for a campaign, chain letters are always a lousy method of trying to get help. First, when a campaign ends, you'd pretty much need to issue another chain letter blast making note of it and hope it spreads far and aide as the initial plea for help. Otherwise, whether the situation ended happily or tragically, the outdated plea for help chain just keeps circulating needlessly.

In addition, once they've joined the viral realm, they need to be checked out as true by discerning individuals who refuse to simply pass along something without thinking. For every viral that contains something completely true and inspirational, there are dozens more that are absolutely phoney.

So it is not the honestly meant, well-intended chain letters from relatives and friends of real sick or missing people who are at fault. To any whose efforts are currently ongoing, they are wished all the best. All one can say about outdated chain letters of this sort that were once true, is that they are now outdated, the situation has been resolved one way or another.

These viral efforts are not just limited to the online world. Pay-it-forward schemes mostly of the "random acts of kindness" variety (I just wince at that term, never liked it,) have been done at various coffee shops and diners, where people get their meal or coffee or ice cream paid for and then they have to pay for the next customer's.

The problem with this scheme is that it isn't real kindness. It's an effort at forcing people to keep paying for the next person's meal as they get theirs paid for. What's the difference? You're still paying for a meal. I'd rather just pay for my own and not get trapped into this obligation-packed chain of show-off "kindness" that really doesn't accomplish anything. Hurrah for the guy who broke the Tim Horton's coffee chain. He probably never asked to get dragged into that scheme in the first place.

So not much more needs to be said about people who innocently and with good intentions, have, intentionally or not, started virals.

It is the hoaxers and "satirists", trolls and other miscreants who are the problem and behind the vast majority of chain letters out there. This brings us to the other not-so-innocent viral starters..

C. Are satire or spoof writers, or even pranksters who may not have intended for their work to take on a life of its own as a full-blown chain letter.

D. Are satirists or pranksters, or just people who think it would be fun to get a chain letter going to see how many people will do it. Charlotte's chain letter video falls under this category.

e. At worst, and very often the case, chain letters come from hoaxters and extremely misguided people.

These are the ones who spread terrible rumors and false accusations, and make up your basic "Forward this or else!" luck/love/death promise/threat chain letters. and celebrity death hoaxes. Dilbert even has a cartoon that illustrates perfectly what goes on in the mind of a chain letter originator.

These are the trolls such as jacquelyn, who admitted in a Yahoo Answer to knowing chain letters were hoaxes but forwarding them on anyway because she loves scaring people.

The Abraham Lincoln social network hoax that claimed abraham Lincoln pioneered the first social network, was perpetrated by a man from Milwaukee, Nate ST. Pierre. He admitted he did it as a gag and to stir things up.

Remziez Intends to originate an annoying email chain letter!

A chain-letter filled article called Just Saying was posted 10:35:00 AM, July 5, 2012, by Tom Sadowski from Lincolnville, email sadowski@tidewater.net and the opening question asks if you have wanted to start a chain letter. It is followed immediately by his admission of yes, he has always wanted to start one. He does a tiny attempt of a smash on the Money Bags 31 day every 823 years hoax, but it doesn't count since his admission cancels it out. He takes things further and actually starts a chain letter in the rest of the column.

The Money Bags hoax is properly smashed here.

This article discusses the notorious sms rumor meme chain that fooled people into fleeing their homes in fear of Muslims after Ramadan, and of course, the birther meme…

Then, another hoax about Muslims and fake flag-hoisting went barging around India's section of Cyberspace. Good on the Hindu newspaper online for straightening the story out. We desperately need a lot more Christian publications doing likewise whenever some religious far-right hoax chain blasts around America, Europe, Australia etc.

On GameFAQS, NCPwn posted, wanting to start a chain letter, wondering if he/she would get banned. His/her intent is bad, wanting to start a typical bad luck/death chain to clog servers.

Here is an article that had to be published in order to debunk a widespread hoax about some sort of traffic fines.

This claim to fear of dying on a Yahoo Question seems too gullible to be believed. Trolls do like pretending to be scared when spreading chain letters to convince young kids they are scary and get away with deliberately spreading hoaxes.

Then there are jerks who post stupid requests like this to try getting people junking up the net with hoaxes. the added request of "no links please" is only them trying to prevent people from debunking this crap and allowing these hoaxes to continue spreading. It is another form of troll. If these people want to be scared, they'd be better off watching horror movies.

Any bored brat can make up a chain letter. On this Yahoo question, someone was freaked out by a sacrilegious chain letter lie that was written about Mary (Not Bloody Mary, but Mary mother of Jesus) and stuck it somewhere in a church. The questioner found it and was freaked out by it. The hoaxer probably won't get caught unless someone sees him/her writing and slipping notes during church. Even if this is brought to the attention of adults, and I think it should, it's hard to say if the brat would come clean after a meeting with those in charge and all the youth about the problem.

Chain letters do not belong in church!

They don't belong anywhere, but as long as they exist, they need to be debunked, discouraged, smashed, and stopped wherever whenever possible.

That's why there are sites like smashers for both debunking chain letters as well as sounding off about them, and sites for archiving, debunking and providing information on them:

Hoaxters, particularly those who make up sick kid messages and phony people to pray for, and phoney prayers, are manipulative, power-tripping ego-freaks and bullies, spammers that love to get a huge laugh at the emotional expense of others.

Charity hoaxes are particularly deplorable. They play on sympathy and the desire of good people to help out the less fortunate, using our best intentions against us to get us spreading false messages and wasting valuable resources and time for these charities. This actually causes harm by slowing up the efforts of charities to do what they are supposed to do. The sick and missing kid hoaxes are prime examples of this. So is the India Child Help Line leftover food hoax.

Internet newbies and your friends alike, get duped every time they fall for and pass along a hoax message.

Who really knows an actual chain letter originator?

Sometimes they can be traced back to a specific person who started them, but many times they can't, and those who intentionally start hoaxes wish to keep it that way.

Hoaxters are the people who:

- Make up dumb personality tests that consist of nothing but nonsense, and then claim the Dalai Lama or Dr. Phil wrote it, and took it along with Oprah.

- cite and appear to have a link to a hoax-busting site included in them - especially Snopes, which used to be a legitimate resource before it turned political. This is a trick to make the chain letter appear valid so the reader will just forward without question, because after all, if the forward has a link to a site believed trustworthy by a lot of people, then it must absolutely be true! Right?


The link the chain contains could turn out to be a debunk of the very forward that included it, or worse, it could be a masked link that looks like a resource but if you click on it, it could turn out to be a malware/Phishing site.

- Make up sob stories and then call you every name in the book for deleting instead of forwarding their nonsense.

- Take a person's writing, strip the author of the credit that belongs to them, and instead, pass it off as their own or in the case of the "Slow Dance" poem, strip David L Weatherford of credit as it's real author, and claim it was written by a dying child that in actuality, never existed, let alone wrote anything.

- Make up stories about missing or dying kids just to get people forwarding madly - only to turn out to be the child or adult her/himself who isn't really missing or sick at all, except in the head for their desperate and disgusting attempt at attention-seeking and manipulation of the masses.

Make up "Forward or die" hoaxes but use the names and stories of a real people who died in a sick bid for credibility.

- Make up appalling lies to damage someone or company's reputation and write junk and then claim some famous person said it.

Maya Angelou did not write an ugly poem called Clothes accusing Timberland of being owned by the KKK as well as accuse Tommy Hilfiger falsely of racism. No one knows which racist coward wrote that chain letter or others like it.

In fact, Tommy Hilfiger is victimized by at least three chain letters that dole out malicious false accusations of racism against him.

And to think this was posted on a blog that also contained an entry that also contained a repost that warned against spreading this kind of trash. *Facepalm!*

The Blacks Don't Read chain letter is a pile of unmitigated racist rot that weaves the terrible rumor against Mr. Hilfiger into itself, along with so much other junk, that if ever there was one meme to turn anyone off the re-sharing habit, this one ought to be it.

This editor and other sites that deal with this particular forward are far too kind toward it.

Such memes commit the following to coerce people into re-sharing:

- Imply that you must be a racist if you don't pass on a bogus email petition.

- Try to convince you that your religion, gender, ethnicity whatever, is being severely threatened and that you can pull it out of the fire by spamming the net with a canned message full of malarkey disguised as news, advice, a boycott/petition, etc.

- Say you're not a good Christian and God will be ashamed of you if you don't pass on that chain letter upon which the entire world absolutely needs to save it!

- Some take things further still, telling you to email or even snailmail certain people or organizations, mailbombing them with the chain letter plus whatever additional comments you have been manipulated into adding to it. This is often a means of info-collecting, or may even be someone's idea of revenge against another person. What better way to get revenge on the net than create a hoax involving an email address and perhaps a certain name, and urge recipients to mailbom the unfortunate person's address?

- Make any kind of judgement against you by way of debasing your character if you don't re-share, or praises and promises you good things for re-sharing their junk...All to get us under their control so that we blindly or with very little second thought, pass it on.

People who start hoaxes like that are getting very sick kicks at others' expense! It's manipulative, attention-seeking behavior on a level that is so low and disgusting because people are getting jerked around just so a few amoral louts can get their haw-haws.

those who start snowball memes, hug-a-war memes, friendship balls, prayer wheels, (they call it a ball or a wheel in order to get people not to think of it as a chain letter) are often anonymous, so, could be the same as those who create dying kid and false religious rumors for all anyone knows. They manage to dupe internet users into thinking they are being good friends to their contacts by re-sharing this junk.

Where the missing and dying child hoaxers try to make you feel bad enough to re-share, the people who start feel-good memes aren't necessarily interested in making you feel good, they don't know you. All they care about is getting you to distribute far and wide something they started. Their emotional angle is just a bit less dirty, but every bit as fake. You may not realize this if you've been hit in the heart by one of these things and are thinking they are something so warm and special. "Friendship" chain letters are phoney. They are passed around and around, sometimes with slightly different poems, stories and sayings, and some are falsely attributed to famous people in order to sound much more profound and real than they actually are.

Hoax originators don't care about dying children, the Titanic, 9/11, hurricanes, tsunamis, racism injustice or any other grave situation, religion, our health, our reputations, our friendship, well-being, etc.

But they are counting on us to care, so they can use our emotions against us so we will keep the memes going. If they can con you via fear of false death threats into giving them your info and money, the better they like it.

For the hoaxers, it's about power, controlling the masses by email and web postings while hiding behind the anonymity the internet affords them!

This is what helps them get away with insulting and guilt-tripping you with "You are heartless if you delete this and don't forward it to 10,000 people within the hour!" then laughing at those they have managed to sucker.

Go to part 2.

Go to part 3.

Go to part 4.


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