Email forwarding – the disease of the information age
Once again I find myself having to reply to Mrs Mediary who has sent me an email forward for verification.
The last time I received one about Jessica Mydek (or someone similar) I sent a scathing reply back to her aunt (who does this kind of this regularly) highlighting the reasons that you should always check such things before forwarding them on. In the case of the cancer/leukemia emails, the best reason is because uncontrolled spam like this has actually caused resources to be diverted from the very people the emailer is hoping to help.
In this case the email forward is about a parcel delivery / premium rate phoneline scam. I would normally delete such a thing, but I’m determined to fight back against this culture of automatic email forwarding, so I scan through for 5 seconds and follow the link.
It takes me to a website which tells me:
PhonepayPlus – Regulating to build consumer trust in phone-paid services
PhonepayPlus is the new name for ICSTIS.
Please click here to be redirected to our new website http://www.phonepayplus.org.uk/
So I already know that some of the information is out of date. Sure enough, the home page shows the following in the middle of the page:
Current postal scam warnings:
If you receive a copy of an email warning you about an alleged scam associated with the number 0906 661 1911, please do NOT forward it to others.
This service was shut down by us in December 2005 and is no longer running. Please download this statement from PhonepayPlus for more information.
That would be sufficient for me, but I check the statement anyway. Now I imagine this is probably the process that most geeks like me go through on receiving forwarded email, alternative methods of verification would be Googling for some of the content, or checking Snopes.com to see if this was a hoax or not. Sometimes it just requires a tiny bit of thinking, like the alternative emergency number that went round after the July 2005 London bombings.
Workplace behavioural causes
But why is this behaviour still happening? I don’t think it’s a generation gap, with younger people having grown up with technology through schools and later excessive texting. Workplace email has been common in most areas for over a decade, and these are people with responsibility in their organisation, with years of experience behind them.
This particular email appears to originate from a Finance and Administration Director of an independent school, although he may have received it from someone else, stripped out the superfluous emails and forwarded it on. If so, why didn’t he check the information first? It’s not even like he prepared this a long time ago, this was sent out on Friday – 4 days ago.
I suspect that we’ve become so used to scanning emails that unless there is something that physically requires us to do something, we’ll forward it on to people who we think may make more use of it. So why isn’t there an epedemic of people forwarding incorrect, dangerous or company sensetive information?
Well probably because most of the emails we receive come from the same people and cover the same problems. We’re used to their particular email styles, and can quickly scan for the information that is relevant to us. We’re used to the context of the information and can establish if something needs to be corrected verified. We have a trust relationship with these people and know how reliable that information is. And we’ll respond to these much more readily in order to either to get what we want or to cover our behinds.
When I started this article I wasn’t sure what the solution was. But it’s the same as a colleague sending you incorrect information. You have to go back and highlight what is wrong. Show them how to find the right references or sources. By doing that you can build up that trust relationship again.
I can finally remove email@example.com from my spam list.