Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On Friendship and Forwarding E-Mails

Got another whopper in my email box today. This turkey came from a Deming acquaintance with whom I have served on the board of a local foundation. It was one of these emails in bold, large letters -- beware of forwarded emails in bold, large letters.

The bold, large letters (some of them in red -- for emphasis, not because they were the words of the Lord) expressed outrage over a recent news report that family members of Congressmen don't have to pay back their government student loans. The font then urged me to pass the message along to 20 people right away in hopes that a campaign may begin to shame those privileged members of Congress and their parasitic families, for taking advantage of this privilege while the needs of service members and veterans go unfulfilled.

In less than one minute, I looked up the claim and confirmed that that this is yet another hoax email that has been in circulation for a long time.

There are two "why" questions here.

The first one is: Why, oh why, can't people be assed to check these things on Snopes, Factcheck, or Politifact before passing them on?

A friend of mine responded to that question as follows:

You really think the people forwarding this stuff care whether it's true? These "facts" are tribal identifiers; they tell them to each other to confirm that they are the True Americans under attack from The Others.

There is some truth to that. And that leads me to the second "why" question: why does this bother me?

Upon reflection, it seems my irritation has to do with what is going on in the relationship. For the most part, emails like this come to me from family members, friends, people with whom I've worked in the community.

Perhaps this is old-fashioned, but lying bothers me, even if the lie is taking place with modern technology. It is more bothersome coming from people I care about. For someone who might expect me to trust them as family or friend, who might rely on my affection and confidence, to show such disregard for truth, to lack even the courtesy of checking when it takes less than one minute, feels like disrespect. At best, it is rumor mongering, and assumes I don't care whether it's true either; at worst, it is flat out lying. Lies depend on confidence or trust.

Which is probably why I still respond to these things, either to thank them for informing me of something that checks out as true, or asking them to cease forwarding something that has been debunked. Lies harm relationships; and with the terrible speed of the internet, they harm the nation's discourse.

Naturally, I have been told I am not playing this game properly. If I "disagree" with the factually incorrect email and its deceitful assertions, I'm supposed to hit delete and forget about it. No discussion, no corrections, no intrusion of fact. This, I am told, is the etiquette.

Really? Is it truly "polite" or "civil" to remain silent in witness to falsehood or slander, sometimes of a malicious nature? That is not an etiquette to which I am ever likely to acquiesce. There is nothing compassionate about permitting your friend to breathe deceits and bigotry into your face to be overheard by the more impressionable, so that you feel obliged to humor them or change the subject, and thus help them legitimize the falsehoods.

This has caused more than one person to cease pretending to be my friend, which is well in the long run.


Kelly said...

Most times I just delete those that implore me to pass them on to everyone in my address book. I use to check facts and let the sender know if they were untrue, but I seldom go to that trouble any more.

Pam said...

I do the same as Kelly. I don't even bother to read them; they just get zapped into my spam file.

At times they become so frequent that I get really irritated.

Pam said...

I do the same as Kelly. I don't even bother to read them; they just get zapped into my spam file.

At times they become so frequent that I get really irritated.

michaelsooz_22 said...

What is also irritating, is when they approach you in a public place and start telling a whopper!
I have also lost many pretend friends by mentioning, I am more concerned about the cost of the war in Afghanastan, than whether Obama is giving Middle Easterm Mosques millions of taxpayer dollars. etc