Don’t forward that e-mail!

“And why not?” you ask.  It only takes a few seconds.  My friends might want to read it.  It might even be important if it’s true!  The story is so touching (or sad, or inspiring, or frightening, etc.).  What’s the harm?

I’m glad you asked!  Forwarding emails has reached epidemic proportions exceeded only by the thriving SPAM emails.  You no doubt receive at least some of them.  Perhaps you even send them, but so what?  If someone doesn’t want them they can just delete them, right?  Or they can email you and let you know they don’t want them!  Well, yes, but is that a good application of the Golden Rule?  Besides, I know from experience that even the kindest request for removal from someone’s forwarding list risks alienating them forever.  Don’t believe me?  Just give it a try sometime, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!  Now to be honest, not everyone responds negatively, but certainly some do.  But c’mon...surely it shouldn’t be necessary in the first place.  What we need are some simple courtesies when it comes to forwarding emails.

Emails that get forwarded to multiple recipients who then are encouraged to forward them on again are often called chain emails.  They’re the modern equivalent of the old (and often illegal) chain letters of yesteryear.  Often there are encouragements within the email message to pass it on to others, or even a promise of blessings if you do and curses if you don’t.  Of course it’s all a lot of nonsense, but hey, why take a chance!  At least that’s what the perpetrator hopes you’ll think.  But there is potential harm.  Here are some guidelines along with the rationale behind them:

  • Ask first - If you want to frequently forward messages, ask the would-be recipients if they want to be included on your mailing list.  Don’t put the burden on them to risk a friendship just to get rid of unwanted email, put the burden on yourself.  Also ask permission to forward something they send to you.  This is a matter of respect.
  • Don’t forward “pass-it-on” emails - The instructions that implore the recipient to forward the email imply that he or she is not able to decide without help how to handle the message.  I’m sure you think more of your friends than that!
  • Build real friendships - It’s great to send personal emails about you and your family to keep in personal touch and build friendships.  Forwarded emails, regardless of how touching or thought-provoking, are impersonal and everyone knows it.  They do not help build relationships.
  • Use blind carbon copy feature - Most email programs have a blind carbon copy (BCC) feature that can be used to keep the email addresses of multiple recipients private from each other.  Learn how to use this feature that leaves control of who has their email addresses where it belongs, and to keep SPAM and additional email forwards from ending up in your friends’ email accounts because of your indiscretion.
  • Don’t trust email messages for news - There are no controls on emails to ensure they are valid and reliable.  You are well-advised to only trust information from trusted sources or that includes easily verifiable references.  And if you shouldn’t trust it yourself, don’t send it to anyone else, not even just in case!
  • Clean it up - If you’re determined to forward something, at least have the courtesy to clean it up!  Remove the silly little “>>“ characters that tell you what part was forwarded, and only forward the bit that you really like, not the whole thing.  And of course remove any email addresses or names that are in the forwarded email header.  No one wants their email addresses forwarded all over the place.
  • Beware of old news - Most messages about sick or dying children, wives, husbands, etc., are outdated or hoaxes.  Even if you know the people involved personally, don’t ask that the message be forwarded since it will soon be outdated and become yet another urban legend.

These are just a few basic guidelines.  The key here is courtesy.  There are all kinds of stories out there about the harm that has come from forwarded emails, including people losing their jobs, but even without these more extreme possibilities we owe it to our friends to take these few simple steps.  Keep in mind that most chronic email forwarders are really nice people who don’t understand the harm they may be doing.  Play it safe!

By the way, there are several websites that specialize in cataloging hoax email and urban legends.  A couple that I’ve used are and  You can use these sites to check out messages you receive and certainly to ensure you don’t send out a hoax email.  Your credibility is at stake!

Posted by Dan Baldwin on 01/12/2005 at 10:48 PM in Miscellaneous
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