Monday, October 1, 2007

Sweetly Poisoned Information

Recently a coworker asked me about an email forward that she received. The email, entitled "Sweet Poison (A MUST READ)," was little different than most junk that's forwarded around. In my response I included the process I use to discredit, and very occasionally verify, the factuality of chain mail. It's pretty simple and I suggest everyone who's confronted with these things adopt a similar solution.

As I'm fond of saying, the best way to fight misinformation is with truth. My reply is as follows:

In this case it appears that the information contained is disputed at best. Also, this appears to be a grassroots marketing campaign. If you search for “Sweet Poison” you’ll find that it’s a book written about “exposing aspartame dangers.”

As for debunking, there’s a process I use:
  1. Anything, and I mean anything, written in 20 point green fonts, interspersed with varying paragraphs of other font colors, faces, and sizes, is likely junk. 99.999% of the time this holds up to be true. I’ve never found any reliable information contained within an email like this.
  2. The mere fact that several AOL users have forwarded this around is a sign that the content isn’t worth reading.
  3. Once we’ve established that it’s likely worthless we can take two courses of action:
    1. Delete the email
    2. Reply with information proving it worthless:
      1. Pick a phrase from the email or subject and paste it into the google search input. Usually the subject itself or the first sentence or two works, just make sure it’s somewhat unique.
      2. Search for it. Look through the first page or two of results. If you see,, etc. then click on the link.
      3. Unless you already know what the link says, read it. It’s best to be informed.
      4. Send an email back to the sender. Ask them to forward the truth around to everyone who they sent the original email to, as well as the person who sent it to them.
      5. Be prepared for an argument. Forwarded emails are often successful because it’s easier to accept the lie than it is to swallow the truth. People confronted with the truth will often get defensive of the falsity that they propagated and will resort to tactics such as attacking you for wanting to be right.

No comments: