Monday, March 26, 2012

When You Get Garbage Email

You know how from time to time, we all receive group or chain emails which are sometimes cute but often pretty annoying?  Sometimes it is a harmless fluff piece about friendship (Celebrate Girlfriends!) or a sweet little piece about family relationships (Celebrate our wonderful moms/ dads/ aunts/ uncles/ sons/ daughters!). Often it is an urgent communiqué bursting with homeopathic woo or simple common sense (This secret may save your life! <Drink more water ;)>), but let's be honest:  more often than not, these mass mailings are right-wing rants about the unpatriotic liberal/ commie/ socialist/ godless/ not really American/ OBAMA-monster!

"It" again?!
These screeds don't just clutter up your INBOX.  They don't just stink up mine. They infest email inboxes all over the country - all over the world - and they spread dirty lies.  They are sent via email "trees" to thousands of people who receive them from people they trust. Some of the recipients may just delete these emails without opening them, but many others' attention is snagged by the catchy subject lines, so they open the emails and read the poisonous contents. All too usually, the recipients suspend their disbelief. They suspend all critical thinking skills. They accept these vile messages as gospel truth because it comes to them from a friend or relative. None of us wants to believe that a trusted source like a friend or relative would send us frightening or disgusting lies, and most of us still hold fast to the "where there is smoke, there is fire" folk wisdom. These groups depend on that general tendency to trust; they create the smoke using unconscious and conscious bigotry, photoshop and sheer blatant lies. Then they disseminate the disgusting product throughout the inter web via unsuspecting networks of friends, coworkers and families.

Most progressives simply delete these awful emails and try not to think of them when we see the friends or relatives who sent or forwarded them to us. But is there something more we could or should be doing?  I am inclined to think that yes, we could and, more importantly, we should do something more about this. These emails are not benign.  They are not in the same league as the "Let's celebrate girlfriends!" chain mail, but I think the strategy is to have them fly under the radar pretending to be just as harmless and/or benignly "informative" as those.

No. These emails are like the spreading of a cancer.  Email tree chains quickly spread to thousands and then millions of people. This is a propaganda tool which we have ignored at our peril.  Most of the time, we ignore it because we do not want uncomfortable confrontations with friends or relatives. But here's the thing: the groups spreading this vicious garbage are counting on that.

I think there is at least one way that we can fight back.  One way to counteract this sort of vicious campaign of lies which most progressives can get behind.  Fight the lies with - it's so obvious - the truth!  Of course, if it were that simple, the truth would have worked all along.  Unfortunately, people who are caught up in this sort of chain mailing propaganda - mail coming from trusted friends and relatives remember - are often caught with their guards down, therefore prime targets for lies and smear tactics.

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.George Orwell

Getting people to accept the truth - when it contradicts what trusted friends and relatives are telling them - is a challenge, but it can be done.

 Photo may cause apoplexy
Here is advice I've adapted from the excellent methods shared by Aratina Cage, a blogger and frequent commenter on Pharyngula.  I think it is brilliant.

-Create an anonymous email account (a nice touch - and truthful! - might be to give your new email account a patriotic-sounding moniker. Something like trueblueamerican@? You will have to give the email server your info, but the recipients of the mass emails will just see the patriotic sender's address.  Maintain your usual email for your regular email.

-Generate a new mass emailing to all recipients of the original obnoxious "patriotic" hate email. Include yourself and the sender of the original email.

-Copy and paste the Time cover photo of Obama and Reagan (pictured left).

-Beneath the picture, remind the recipients that President Obama is the current head of state,  and you just know that they are all very interested in his accomplishments.

-Helpfully provide links to political tracking sites such as PolitiFact.  The Obameter there keeps track of the President's accomplishments and his fulfillment of campaign promises. It also keeps track of where he has failed to deliver.

-Encourage the recipients to keep tabs on the President's daily activities via the White House Blog. There, they will be kept informed of news, videos and ideas directly from the administration.

-Last, provide a link to Snopes where you can urge the recipients to fact-check chain emails to be sure that  they are always armed with the truth and can never be fooled by fiction presented as fact.

-Keep everything in a file labeled "nuisance emails" and repeat every time you receive a propaganda email.

Aratina Cage has come up with a great idea and I plan to start using it immediately.  In fact, I now find that I welcome these types of emailings!  With this method, freethinkers and progressives can refute the destructive, fear-mongering false claims of the anti-Obama reactionaries using their own methods.  And for those of us who shy away from confrontation with relatives and friends, it is all anonymous.

These mass emailings spread lies and frighteningly damaging propaganda. It's time to fight fire with water. Or, more appropriately perhaps, we ought to fight filthy garbage with powerful cleansers!

(Courtesy of chigau, Pharyngula commenter) Check out the name on the plumbing truck the white knight is charging towards. Classic:

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