Posts Tagged ‘gullibility’

This has come up several times in different ways the past week. Whether it’s carcinogenic water bottles, some nonsense about child murderers being released from prison (long after they were already let out on licence and one returned to jail) or quotes that were never said… we appear to be in the season of gullibility again.

It never fails to astonish me how gullible people are. What is it that makes otherwise intelligently sceptical people completely gullible fools when it comes to email hoax notifications?

I’m sure there have been studies and theses and quite possibly more than one parliamentary inquiry, but gullibility survives in such large amounts that you’d think it was a new element on the Periodic Table. It seems that right up there with hydrogen and stupidity, as the most common elements, come gullibility and self-delusion.

Whether it’s the
– ‘get rich quick’ schemes,
– the ‘Bill Gates will pay you $1,000 if you forward this email to 100 people’ stupidity, or
– the ‘there’s a new virus going around – delete this file’ daftness that led thousands of people to delete a perfectly harmless part of the Windows Operating System…

…it seems as if because the notification comes by email, and likely as not, comes from a friend, then it has to be genuine.

Note that, it’s not come from an address that’s been spoofed… it’s come from a friend. A genuine email, from someone you trust to have the judgement not to be an idiot.

So, some ground rules:

  1. If there was a new virus discovered by Microsoft or IBM, they wouldn’t spread the news by email. Like so many other viruses (virii?) there would be news stories in the media.
  2. No bank, government department, tax office, financial institution or ISP will ask you to send membership details, credit card information or anything like that by email. Never, as in ‘not ever.
  3. If you open attachments without knowing in advance what they are, wrap up your computer/tablet/phone, etc., take it back to the store and tell them that you’re too stupid to be allowed to keep it.
  4. Bill Gates has never heard of you, and he didn’t get to be a billionaire by giving his money away to people who are that gullible.
  5. If you don’t have anti-virus protection on your email, do me a favour: don’t send me any email.
  6. If an offer by email looks too good to be true, it is. Always.
  7. If you’re unsure whether or not something is genuine, and you have a friend that knows more about computers than you do, write and email and ask him or her whether he/she knows anything about the virus.
  8. If you get an email and it’s from a friend but you’re not sure about it… drop them an email and ask them whether they just sent you an email or not… (seriously, cannot recommend this one enough; have done it on several occasions, and it’s never ever been objected to.)
  9. Check Snopes.com before spreading inspirational stories, warnings, and “true stories” via email. It’s the best of similar sites: Hoaxbusters and Urban Legends and Folklore just to name a couple. Other sites are available – pick your favourite.
  10. Don’t forward something forwarded to you. Chances are anyone you’ll send it to is going to get it any number of times anyway.
  11. No-one, but no-one, wants you to pay an amount in advance to claim anything.
  12. You’re not attractive enough for a modelling agency to contact you in advance and ask you to pay a photographic fee in advance. Sorry.
  13. Neither have you won the Euro lottery. Sorry again.
  14. Forwarding mails won’t make you rich. Or attractive. And it won’t help you avoid a terrible fate.
  15. And, terribly disappointingly, I know… but you’re not related to anyone that just died and happened to have two hundred and thirty million dollars that they’ll send you 10% of…

If you have any other tips, let me know and I’ll update the list.

I know that an apocryphal tale has Einstein commenting that the two most common elements are Hydrogen and Stupidity, but in my opinion, right up there among the nominees are Gullibility and Self-Delusion.

There have been studies and theses, and quite possibly more than one parliamentary enquiry, but gullibility survives and moreover thrives. No matter how often people are warned, I never understand what makes otherwise intelligently sceptical people completely gullible fools when it comes to the Internet.

(I had planned another post today on the synomity or otherwise of “like” and “want”, but this came up on the phone with a friend, so that post can wait for another time. )

Whether it’s the

  • ‘get rich quick’ schemes
  • the ‘Bill Gates will pay you $1,000 if you forward this email to 100 people’ stupidity, or
  • the ‘there’s a new virus going around – delete this file’ daftness that led thousands of people to delete a perfectly harmless part of the Windows Operating System…

…it seems as if because the notification comes by email, and likely as not, comes from a friend, then it has to be genuine. Note that, it’s not come from an address that’s been spoofed… it’s come from a friend. A genuine email, from someone you trust to have the judgement not to be an idiot.

So, some ground rules:

  1. If there was a new virus discovered by Microsoft or IBM, they wouldn’t spread the news by email. Like so many other viruses (virii?) there would be news stories in the media.
  2. No bank, financial institution or ISP will ask you to send membership details, credit card information or anything like that by email. Never, as in ‘not ever’.
  3. If you open attachments without knowing in advance what they are, wrap up your computer, take it back to the store and tell them that you’re too stupid to be allowed to keep it.
  4. If you get an email suggesting that an entirely unknown blog contains information about you, good or bad, erm, no they haven’t; it’s a scam.
  5. Bill Gates has never heard of you, and he didn’t get to be a billionaire by giving his money away to people who are that gullible.
  6. If you don’t have anti-virus protection on your email, do me a favour: don’t send me any email.
  7. If an offer by email looks too good to be true, it is.
  8. If you’re unsure whether or not something is genuine, and you have a friend that knows more about computers than you do, write and email and ask him or her whether he/she knows anything about the virus.
  9. Forwarding an mail to five people will not make your wish come true; forwarding this mail to ten people will not make you rich; not forwarding this mail to anyone will not bring you ten years bad luck
  10. If you get an email and it’s from a friend but you’re not sure about it… drop them an email and ask them whether they just sent you an email or not…
  11. Check Snopes.com before spreading inspirational stories, warnings, and “true stories” via email. It’s the best of similar sites: Hoaxbusters and Urban Legends and Folklore just to name a couple.
  12. Don’t forward something forwarded to you. Chances are anyone you’ll send it to is going to get it any number of times anyway.
  13. No-one, but no-one, wants you to pay an amount in advance to claim anything.
  14. You’re not attractive enough for a modelling agency to contact you in advance and ask you to pay a photographic fee in advance. Sorry.
  15. Neither have you won the Euro lottery. Sorry again.
  16. And, terribly disappointingly, I know… but you’re not related to anyone that just died and happened to have two hundred and thirty million dollars that they’ll send you 10% of…


If you have any other tips, let me know and I’ll update the list.

The thing is, even if you do break some of the rules and send me an email, if it’s an obvious hoax, I’ll often as likely respond with the correct information as not, linking to snopes.com.

I recently received, in a single 24 hour period, one email suggesting that the attack on Pearl Harbour was captured on a Box Brownie camera that somehow survived, (erm, no, it wasn’t), another showing pictures of Robert Mugabe’s house (erm, no, it isn’t), a further one complaining about the upcoming release from prison of the two children (now young men) who murdered James Bulger, (erm, they were released in June 2001), and yet another one listing the etymology of phrases from the 1500s (erm, no.)

That’s leaving aside the notification from a friend that Honda have created a diplomatic incident with a tv ad suggesting that you should buy hybrid cars because then “less money goes to terror”. (They didn’t.)

And yet, if you do receive an email like that, and reply with a correction either in writing or by reference to a site with the correct facts, I can guarantee that maybe, maybe, if you’re lucky, one in ten people may say thanks for the correction. And maybe one in ten of those will forward the correct information to everyone on their original circulation list.

Instead, what you get are comments such as:

“So what, it’s only a bit of fun…”


or

“Killjoy!”


or

“I didn’t write it, I only forwarded it…”


or

“Why take everything so seriously? Relax…”


or, in the case of the Honda ad,

“I don’t care, it makes a good point!”


So as well as the rules above, a two-fold plea: If you like me, don’t forward me such emails! And secondly, if you do forward wrong, inaccurate, spam-like or hoax emails, don’t be surprised if I write back with the correct information. If you’re going to get pissed off by my response, don’t send me it in the first place.