Chain mail has been around for a long time. You may have been first introduced to them when you first received an email telling you that if you didn’t forward it to at least 5 people, something bad would happen. Or if you did forward it to at least 50 people, something good would happen. The more gullible people were, the more viral the email.
I still get emails from people I know and love, emails that weren’t written by them, or even someone they know, or even by some recognizable person or group, but have been forwarded from person to person, and somehow end up in my inbox, telling me what’s happening in the world, and what I should think about it.
Chain emails, aside from other forms of manipulation, spread easily by asking people to forward them to multiple people, typically as many as possible. Chain emails have become famous for containing viruses or spam. But these emails can also be crafted to spread false rumors very quickly and to a mass audience. Anyone can sit at a computer and slop down a series of rumors, maybe based on news, combined with emotionally driven lines that reinforce a certain viewpoint. Then they hit send, and if enough gullible people receive it, the message will spread.
So what are some ways you can tell that the endlessly forwarded email about this or that political controversy is fake? How do you know if it’s a rumor? There are a number of tell-tale signs:
- No Author/False Author
A lot of chain emails simply have no author. If you ever see an email claiming to tell you news, but there’s no author, assume it’s false. Authors need to be attached to news pieces. This is one major way we hold news sources accountable. If there’s not a person to confront if the story is false, the original creator of the story can’t be criticized. If I write for a newspaper, and my story turns out false, my personal reputation as a journalist is on the line. If I send a fake story out through email to thousands of people, I can more easily hide my anonimity.
*In addition, sometimes these articles have a false author. They might begin with “Denzel Washington speaks out” or “New York Times journalist _______ exposes the liars with this big reveal.” Double check the author. If they said it, you’ll find it online somewhere. If there’s no record of it online, assume they never said it.
- No Source
As with an author, a source name really helps determine accuracy. News journals have a reputation at stake. The more false information they peddle, the more they risk losing readers. If the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases false information and is investigated, they can be embarrassed or penalized. If a private organization puts refuted claims on their website or in their mass emails, they can be made a mockery and lose funding.
But if the body of that email claims to have come from that news source, it’s better to read it in that news source, just in case someone merely copied and pasted it, then changed it up. That’s common too. Changing one word of an original article can change the tone or integrity of the entire piece.
*Also, many news and information sources are deemed credible because there is a peer review process. University publications, government bureaus, newspapers, and private organizations all tend to have methods of using multiple people review what each person writes. If you write for a newspaper, you want your coworkers to be as accountable as you. If you belong to a non-profit, you might want to take a peek at that gathered data before it’s published. If one quack doctor tries to publish a study, the not so quack doctors will outnumber him. It’s never a foolproof system, but peer review is known to decrease the chances of information being poor. (One exception is when all the peers in a source share an agenda that thwarts the truth. But forwarded emails bring no solution to this problem.)
- No Date
The very definition of news is that it is new. Knowing when a story came out is important, to the day, sometimes to the hour and minute. I’ve received countless emails that are bringing me a “news” story, only to find that the email’s been circulating for 15 years. Some stories were true in the last, but aren’t happening now, and the story is therefore misleading. You can tell when someone along the line has edited the content to update to current times. Which brings me to number 4:
- FreAky FoNts
For readers with short attention spans, emails can be exciting to READ when they have TEXT WRITTEN IN LARGE, bold fonts, colorful fonts, paragraphs that change size or font mode from one paragraph to the next, and—my favorite—include
The thing is, no serious news or information source publishes this way. It’s unprofessional, it’s distracting, and it confuses the presentation of information, as well as the line between information and opinion. Unnecessarily odd formatting is a serious sign that the “news” in your email was either a)written by some random person on their computer, b)written by someone with some authority but then tampered with by some random person, and/or c)written by someone with no regard for standards of objectivity in journalism or research. Changing fonts and using excessive exclamation marks are ways of stirring emotion and distracting from the actual information presented.
- Questionable Quotations and Quotients
Any time someone is quoted in one of these emails, the writer just gave you an easy to way to fact-check it. If the only place you can find that quote is the email (or funny-looking sites with other weird stuff), odds are very high it’s fake. The same goes for statistics. You can copy and paste those percentages given into google and see what comes up. If it’s from a site like The Boston Tribune (fake) or InfoWars (conspiracy theorist), you know it’s fake.
- If it comes from one of the following websites:
Daily Buzz Live
United Media Publishing
World News Daily Report
The Stately Harold
When in doubt, delete. Trash isn’t worth your time. You’re better than that. Don’t let the enemy of Truth influence you with rumors and conspiracy theories.