I ordinarily shy away from posting anything remotely political or religious on this site, unless it has a direct tie to something involving tech, and every writer on Gear Diary has been instructed to do the same. I do not need to know how anyone voted in order to decide whether we can break bread together, nor do I need to know a person’s religion (or lack thereof) to be able to tell if they are a good person. But today something happened that made me decide that it was time to break my rule.
I have finally. had. enough.
After receiving what must have been my five thousandth email erroneously spelling out how Barack Obama is not qualified or eligible to be President of the United States because he is a) not an American, b) a Muslim, and c) whatever the latest new discovery about his “murky past” happens to be, I finally felt compelled to say something publicly.
What bothers me is not that people are criticizing Obama (or any other political figure for that matter), because in all honesty – my feeling is that as long as you voted, you have the right to criticize every person in public office, even if (or maybe especially when) he isn’t the guy you voted for. No, what bothers me is the way in which so many people will receive something in their inbox, take it a face value, and just because it sounds like it might be true, like it might have happened, like it might one day happen, or they wish it had or would happen, they mindlessly pass it on. This is an even greater issue in the current climate in which there is SO MUCH vitriol and attempts to character assassinate based on blatant lies. People then take those lies, pass them on, and the lies are repeated so many times that they take on a life of their own. In the process I suspect these mindless forwarders play right into the hands of the lie’s originator!
Passing something on sends an implied endorsement to the person receiving the item: If I forward you something funny, you can imply that I thought it was funny and wanted to share it with you. If I forward you news, you could imply that I thought it was interesting and worth discussing. If I pass on something though-provoking, you can imply that I thought you might get something out of the subject. If I forward something about a conspiracy theory, you could imply that I thought there was something to the author’s findings. In other words, by forwarding something instead of just deleting it and letting it die a natural death in my email trash folder, I can extend the life of a topic – whether it is true or not.
If enough of the people I forward something to think it is worthy of passing on, they will forward it as well, and the people that receive the email from them will do the same. And just like that, the number of people reading the item grows exponentially. This is great when it invovles a sweet touching story or a way to make a difference in the world. When it involves an agenda of personal destruction, however, it is quite another story.
One type of email is the eChain letter. Seemingly well-intentioned friends and family tell me that if I pass on the email good things will happen, or I’ll get money from Bill Gates. These are annoying but innocent enough. I’ve even received emails based on anarticle (a popular satire site) that explained how the Harry Potter books are indoctrinating children in Satanism. That’s just dumb, and it shows the ignorance of the person who passed it on.
And the list goes on and on.
But the one thing that every single one of these emails has in common, no matter what their topic might be, is that obviously not one of the people who mindlessly forwarded it took any time to do even the most basic fact checking.
It blows my mind.
And when the email in question is a blatant lie that has at its heart the goal of personal destruction, then it crosses the line.
Today my mother sent me an email regurgitating all the attacks and accusations regarding the President. Criticize him, please! There is much to say – as there is with any politician. But criticize stuff that is real.. that is true… that isn’t a complete, total, and absolute fabrication.
I replied with one simple question- IS IT TRUE? DOES IT HAVE ANY BASIS IN REALITY? To make answering the question easier, I included a link to a Snopes article debunking the misinformation.
To everyone else on the Obama email chain, and yes – I knew exactly who all of them were, because – of course – not one of them had thought to BCC their friends and protect their identity from a fact-checker like me – I wrote the following:
This is totally false.
Look, I understand that you aren’t happy with this country’s leadership, and you aren’t alone. But it truly bothers me that people have to LIE about Barack Obama when they try to discredit him. It seems like there are plenty of REAL things he is doing that would give reasonable people enough ammunition to dislike or discredit him…but making stuff up does not help these people’s (your?) agenda; spreading this drivel makes the ones doing it look like a bunch of discredited idiots and liars themselves.
All it takes is one person – like me – doing a search to see if there is any merit to the latest inflammatory email, and the house of cards falls. Don’t you get that?
Seriously, if you are going to mindlessly pass on every email that you receive without doing a little bit of research, then you totally deserve to be regarded as the gossip-mongers that you are. Educate yourselves before spreading misinformation; there are enough true things happening that you can talk about which are controversial and that won’t make you look like a fool.
I’m not surprised that there wasn’t a single reply back.
The lies, the attacks, the character assassinations make me sad, and they make me sick to my stomach. The thing is that when we forward such emails… we aren’t any better than the liars who started them.