Think before you forward that email

We often speak of software, hardware, and modifications you can make to customize your computer. In this article I would like to discuss email. More accurately the forwarding of email. Well, actually what to do and what not to do with your email and maybe even a little of the technological reasoning behind the recommendations.

Think before you act!

The idea behind this article has been rumbling around my mind for the past several months. As I watched my inbox I began noticing several patterns and they were not necessarily positive. What became increasingly apparent is most “problem” email was forwarded and most people put little thought into the act of forwarding email!

Many of the forwarded emails I receive are of political or religious views that I don’t share with the forwarder. Quite a few contained important information that I should forward to everyone I know! Others were obviously life saving – and I know because the subject line said so. Several were nothing more than made up stories without an ounce of fact, and others contained such large attachments that a person with a dialup connection would have spent hours downloading each single email. Of course, I can’t leave out the ones that beg the reader to “keep it going” or promise “you’ll get $5 for everyone you forward this to”!

I think a short list of questions to ask yourself before forwarding any email would be a good idea…

  1. Is it really necessary for me to forward this to my friends?
  2. Does the person I’m forwarding this email to share my political views?
  3. Does the person I’m forwarding this email to share my religious views?
  4. Have I forwarded this same email before?
  5. Is the content of the email true? Have you searched Snopes and/or Urban Legends to verify?
  6. Does the email contain a plea or statement compelling me to forward to others?
  7. Is the size of the email going to present a problem for the person I’m sending it to?
  8. Is there a real need for me to send this to more than a few people?

Seems pretty basic, but let’s look at each point individually

  • Is it really necessary for me to forward this to my friends? – It is a good idea to have conversations with your friends about the type of emails they do, and do not, like to read. There are some people who literally forward every email they receive. These are the people who’s email I delete without reading, which means they wasted time sending it and I wasted time deleting it. You don’t want to be this person!
  • Does the person I’m forwarding this email to share my political views? – No matter where you live people hold their political views in high regard. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, not everyone shares your political view and the chances of you changing the mind of those who don’t is very slim. Sending email with a political viewpoint that your friends or associates don’t share is a sure way to rub them the wrong way and waste everyone’s time.
  • Does the person I’m forwarding this email to share my religious views? – This follows the same pattern as emails with a political viewpoint. Not everyone shares your religious views and your chances of changing the mind of those who don’t is slim. Your chances of alienating them are much higher!
  • Have I forwarded this same email before? – I can’t count the number of times I received the exact same email from the exact same person. I’ve taken my time to read it once and there won’t be a second time. This puts you much closer to being the person who’s emails are deleted upon receipt.
  • Is the content of the email true? – I can’t count the number of emails I’ve received that were completely false – Cook County Jail pictures, kidney theft, unlock a car with a cell phone, and many more. Be absolutely sure any claims in the email are true before you decide to forward so you don’t fan the fire with falsehoods!
  • Does the email contain a plea or statement compelling me to forward to others? – If the email offers you a compelling reason to forward it it probably isn’t in need of forwarding. Examples are anything warning of eminent danger if you don’t forward, “Keep it going”, and little Johnny is missing type emails.
  • Is the size of the email going to present a problem for the person I’m sending it to? – Just because you have a fast internet connection don’t assume everyone does. In fact as much as 40% have no access to broadband – 4 out of 10 of your friends and family could be struck using a very slow dialup connection. If you forward emails with lots of big pictures, or a video, it could make their computer almost unusable for quite some time while it downloads. That picture you are sure they must see might take a minute (or more) to download. That video you saved from the web could take an hour! I’m sure they are saying nice things about you while they wait!
  • Is there a real need for me to send this to more than a few people? – Even if an email does meet the above litmus testa and you decide it does need to be forwarded you do not have to forward to everyone you know. It’s bad forum plain and simple. If you are forwarding to everyone in your address book the chances the email violates rules 2,3, and 6 above are great. Rethink and recheck before you click Send!

A Real World Example and Some Technology Explained

Below I’ve included an email I received last summer. I’ve kept it around for just such an occasion!

Attachment Size

This email contains a 4MB attachment and a recipient with a dialup connection would take at least 10 minutes to download this – assuming their connection was reliable and performing at its’ maximum potential.

Number of Recipients

You will see this email was forwarded to quite a few people. I’ve seen worse (much worse) cases with hundreds and hundreds of email addresses included in the message body!

I’ve mentioned limiting the number of recipients 3 times now. Are you wondering why? Well often times people hit the Forward button blindly which results in the previous email addresses included in the original email to appear in the body of the new email. Add several forwards with each user adding everyone in their address book to the list and an innocent email can contain hundreds (or more) email addresses. So what! Who cares? Well, you are basically sharing everyone’s email with everyone else the email is addressed to. You are violating the privacy of everyone in your address book, and everyone else listed throughout the email!

So what? You’re not a big fan of privacy anyway, so why should you care? Well not only have you compromised the privacy of the owner of every email address in the email, but you have also opened every one of them (and yourself) up to spam, phishing emails, and possible infection!

When bad things happen to good emails

There are nasty virus’, spyware, and malware that specificly target email. They scan address books and emails in search of any email address they can find. Any found addresses are harvested and collected so they can be used to perform one, or all, of the following:

  • Forge the From field of an email – any nasty email they send would appear to come from you.
  • Add the email addresses to SPAM lists which are sold, and resold, to spammers.
  • Use the email addresses to send phishing emails – attempting to steal bank and other login information from the recipient.
  • Use the email addresses to send emails containing a virus, spyware, or malware – collect even more addresses.

If the email you send is received by just one person who is infected you not only put yourself at risk, but everyone else who’s email address is included in the email. As the number of recipients increase so do the odds that one will be infected. Not good!

What you should do

Use common sense and think before hitting the Send button. Ask yourself the questions above. If you can justify forwarding the email copy the contents (without the previous forwards and email addresses) into a new email. Use a quality AntiVirus program. If you receive an email with dozens of email addresses listed simply reply to the sender, nicely explain to them the dangers of bulk forwarding email, and refer them to this article!

2 thoughts on “Think before you forward that email”

  1. Mario Lambour

    Yo estoy completmente de acuerdo en la forma de mandar un forward, a la que Uds. proponen, sin embargo la mayoría de veces no lo estimamos por cuestiones de tiempo o no consideramos que vamos a hacer daño a nadie con lo que enviamos. En raras oportunidades me han reprochado esto. Yo creo que uno conoce no solo a quien enviar tal o cual información sino especificamente a quien enviar bromas, religiosos, académicos, o de otras intenciones. Pocediendo así, jamás he tenido problemas. Los forwards simpliflican las cosas. No las tenés que repetir. No hay que se tan CUIDADOSISISISISMO. Muchs veces uno también recibe cosas absurdas o de procedencia extraña, Mas allá de cosas que no importan a nadie. Muchas veces ni siquiera a ti. Pero vamos la tolerancia en el Internet es excelente, además de todas sus deficiencias, >>> Si no te gusta o no te llega >>> simplemente “DELETE” y continua durmiendo. Nada va a pasar por esto. NADA


    Mario R. Lambour E.
    Guatemala C.A.

    1. Mario,
      For those of use that do not speak spanish (most of the readers) here is the comment in English…

      I completely agree on how to send a forward, which you propose, but most times we esteemed him not because of time or we do not consider that to hurt anyone with what we send. On rare occasions, I have criticized this. I think you know not only who to send this or that information, but specifically who to send jokes, religious, academic, or other intentions. Pocediendo well, I have never had any problems. The forwards simpliflican things. Do not you have to repeat. There is so CUIDADOSISISISISMO. Sometimes you also get MUCHS absurd or strange origin, Beyond things that do not matter to anyone. Sometimes even to you. But let the tolerance on the Internet is excellent, plus all its shortcomings,>>> If you do not like or do not come>>> just “DELETE” and continue sleeping. Nothing will get through this. NOTHING

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