If you have been using e-mail for any significant length of time, you have undoubtedly received one of those messages that encourage you to forward it to everyone in your address book. Many times, the message looks real enough, and the reasons for forwarding it are significant enough, that you ask yourself, “Should I forward this message?” What many people don’t think about is what happens when they do forward the message on.
I remember the first one of these type of messages I received, back in my early days of e-mail and internet usage. The “Good Times” virus hoax, which dates back to November 1994, found its way into my inbox, and it looked convincing enough to me that I forwarded it on to several other people. It was only after the fact that I discovered it was merely a hoax. The text of this e-mail can be found on several places on the internet – here is one version that is very similar to the one I received:
The FCC released a warning last Wednesday concerning a matter of major importance to any regular user of the InterNet. Apparently, a new computer virus has been engineered by a user of America Online that is unparalleled in its destructive capability. Other, more well-known viruses such as Stoned, Airwolf, and Michaelangelo pale in comparison to the prospects of this newest creation by a warped mentality.
What makes this virus so terrifying, said the FCC, is the fact that no program needs to be exchanged for a new computer to be infected. It can be spread through the existing e-mail systems of the InterNet. Once a computer is infected, one of several things can happen. If the computer contains a hard drive, that will most likely be destroyed. If the program is not stopped, the computer’s processor will be placed in an nth-complexity infinite binary loop – which can severely damage the processor if left running that way too long. Unfortunately, most novice computer users will not realize what is happening until it is far too late.
This information in this e-mail is complete fiction – yet many people, myself included, forwarded the message on.
There are many other messages out there as well, not just ones dealing with “viruses.” You may have seen, for example, an e-mail describing a young boy or girl dying of some disease, who is trying to get a message forwarded to a million different people. You are asked to add your name and/or e-mail address to the list, forward it on to everyone in your e-mail list, and then, if you are a certain number on the list, to also forward it back to the originator. Is there any reason you shouldn’t do this? Yes.
My general rule, which I almost never break, is to NEVER forward on messages to people. The reason for this is because of the way most people forward messages. They click “Forward”, and then type in all of their friends e-mail addresses into either the “To:” box or the “CC:” box. Then they click “Send” and think they’ve done a great thing. Their friends get the message, and do the same thing. Before long, there are dozens, or even hundreds of these messages floating around in cyber-space that originated from this decision to forward, and most of them have hundreds of e-mail addresses attached to them. Then, once these messages end up in the hands of certain unscrupulous folks, your e-mail address, plus the e-mail addresses of all the hundreds of people this was sent to, are in the hands of people who sell them to other people for the purpose of sending out junk e-mail, or spam. The topic of spam is a subject for an entirely different article, but let me end with this: one estimate online states that almost two and quarter million spam e-mails are sent every SECOND around the world. And we wonder sometimes why it seems the internet is running slow?