Online Lies

man-in-yoga-pose-with-computer-image-from-shutterstockOnline lies: a reader asks…

I have a relative who’s always sending me emails with the most outlandish statements. Some of these are very well made Youtube videos, others are links to ‘news’ articles that state as facts things that I know to be false. I don’t want to cause a rift in family relations, but I’m sick and tired of these emails coming from my relative. Do you have any advice?

You have several options. First, you can just ignore the emails. That’s often the safest course of action. I’m assuming you do occasionally receive emails from this person that you do want to see. So you don’t want to have all their emails automatically routed to spam, and you don’t want to blacklist the person’s email. I would bet that you can tell from the subject line which emails are worth reading and which should just be trashed unseen. Don’t open the emails, it’ll just increase your ire. Your relative need never know that you’re ignoring their emails.

A second option is to patiently explain the errors you find in their email. This takes a bit of research, so here are some sources you can use to look up information about the claims made in the email. Then you can refute them to your relative.

  1. http://www.snopes.com/ – this is one of the most definitive places to get information about online scams, fake news articles, and other misinformation.
  2. http://urbanlegends.about.com/ – handy for dispelling common misconceptions about life in general
  3. http://www.factcheck.org/ – when it comes to politics, this site is great at identifying the lies, misleading statements and shady assertations from candidates and elected officials (USA)
  4. http://www.merriam-webster.com/ – for basic fact-checking on the correct definition of words, along with information on correct (and incorrect) usage of terms

google-spy-image-from-appsglossydotcomIn addition, there’s nothing like performing a six-second research project to get a feeling for whether something is true or not. Here’s what you do: fire up your favorite web browser and do a web search (we like the google search engine but any will do) on some of the most prominent terms in the suspected email, online article or video. Take a fast look down the list of results and see if anything jumps out at you. If something does, you can click on the item and read more about it. An optional but very handy addition to the search terms you type in would be any of these words: scam, fake, hoax, urban legend, con, swindle.

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Once you’ve gathered your research and facts, you can craft a reply to your relative. I’d advise you to use carefully polite language and try to avoid explicitly calling them out. You can gently advise them that they should check their facts before forwarding emails from other sources, but don’t expect that to do any good.

The downsides to this option are that first, it can take quite a bit of work for you to research the subject and craft a reply to your relative. If your relative truly believes what they’re sending you, all the logic and facts in the world probably won’t persuade them, so it can feel like wasted work. But if you do that a few times and give a lengthy rebuttal to their messages, they just might stop sending you those emails. No promises.

Your third option is to directly ask the relative to stop sending you those emails. I put this option last because it has the potential to start an argument or otherwise strain relations. It doesn’t matter how nicely you phrase it, a request to stop will almost always be taken personally, and probably cause a defensive reaction.

sign-do-not-feed-trolls-image-from-shutterstockAlthough you say you’re sick and tired of getting those emails, you have to weigh that against alienating that relative. Which is worse? I can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you that I have some relatives I wouldn’t mind never hearing from again. And others that I’m so distant from, that it amounts to the same. But I prefer the non-confrontational first option above anyway, since that’s pretty easy to do, and is only a minor annoyance. After all, I probably get 800 junk emails daily – my delete key is well-worn! And it’s possible that your relative is engaging in the widely popular internet habit of ‘clickbaiting’ – where they post outlandish things just to troll you and get a reaction. You’ll see this a lot on social media as well as the comments section of just about any article or blog.

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