There's a pretty good chance you got here because you Googled "moose logging," "1954 home computer," "Ashley Flores," or something like that. You probably learned about one of these phenomena from an email forwarded to you by a friend. You think your kid would get a kick out of it too—and you're thinking about forwarding it. Before you press that Forward button, read this quick guide. You may save yourself a lot of embarrassment.
As your Internet-savvy children could tell you, just because it came from the internet doesn't mean it's true. If a story in the forwarded email looks fishy, check it out. If the person who forwarded the email to you has an address that ends in @aol.com, @msn.com, or @yahoo.com, double check.
Editor's note: It's even easier to search Snopes using Google. Searching Google for "snopes do-not-call", for instance, returns the relevant Snopes article as the first result.
Your email might have a picture in it—but these days, even pictures can be misleading. There are computer programs, like "Photoshop" and "GIMP" (which is like Photoshop, but for communists) that allow skilled computer hackers like 13-year-olds to modify pictures. You can sometimes tell that an image has been manipulated because shadows are missing or certain parts of the picture are identical to or mirror images of other parts. However, it is easier to search Snopes or Google. Somebody else has probably already looked at it.
To save you time, Congress has not passed a bill that will give your cellphone number to telemarketers unless you register it on the do-not-call list.
The internet is full of funny things. There are great humor sites on the internet, including The Onion and SatireWire, not to mention Marco.org. Comedy Central has its own website, which has some very funny video clips on it. And if somebody has made a humorous video in the past fifty years, somebody else has uploaded it to YouTube. If Susie has an Internet connection, Susie has access to a whole lot of funny things.
Your email might be a list of jokes, one or two of which might be marginally funny. There is a decent chance that your child has already seen the list. Rather than forwarding the entire list, you could simply edit out all the jokes that weren't funny. Alternatively, you could not forward the email and tell the funny jokes next time Susie is at home.
Often, emails you consider forwarding to your children are about viruses or other dangers that come from the internet. There you may have heard that your children are using MySpace or The YouTube—and this email might protect them TROLLS, CAMPERS, and all sorts of CYBERBULLIES. And even if you're not sure what all these words mean, you wouldn't want your child to be CYBERFRAGGED in the N00B. The Internets are a scary place.
Perhaps you shouldn't worry. Your kid might know more about computers than you do—and if that is the case, your advice will really get in the way. To determine whether your kid knows more than you do about computers, ask these two simple questions:
You are probably familiar with traditional chain letters. You know there are currently no documented letter-transmitted curses. You also know that just because a letter says to forward it to everybody you love does not mean you should listen to it. Since you are old enough to have children, you are old enough to know better than to pass these on.
The Internet has spawned a variety of new types of chain letters. For example, one might say that as part of a grand experiment on the speed of information, you should forward this email to everybody you know. The email is not part of a grand experiment; it is part of a STUPID experiment. So you know, the speed of information is VERY FAST. A variation on this email might say that Bill Gates will give a puppy to everybody who forwards the email. Bill Gates, however, does not know who forwarded the email, and does not care. Similarly, the email petition is worthless. How exactly will it get to the person being petitioned? Will every 50th or hundredth person send it in to a specific email address? There will be hundreds of 50th persons, though. The address will be clogged and the "petition" will be useless. If you care about the issue, just write a letter. Generally speaking, if an email asks you to forward it, you should not forward it.
A final type of chain letter is the type that claims to do something good. For example, it might be a plea from a desperate family to help them find their lost child. Who could be heartless enough not to forward this to all their children? Steel yourself—this might be hard. First, frequently there is not actually a lost child. If the email has no contact information for anybody who does find the child, it probably is a hoax. If the email does have a reference—probably to a website set up to try to find the child—make sure the child hasn't already been found. Most likely, continuing to forward the email will just spread some poor kid's image all over the Internet.
There are a few things you can forward to your children. These are things that might provide them with information they would actually want. For example, you might forward a letter written by a relative or family friend that contains interesting news your children would otherwise not hear. You might forward a link to an article in a local paper that addresses something important to your children. If you know where the email started, you can likely pass it on.
If you're lucky, your children will think it is quaint and possibly adorable that their parents keep forwarding ridiculous emails. It might remind them of the time you tried to play a video game and had to keep looking down at the controller to see which button was A or the time you put a DVD into the VCR. They might not think of as culturally relevant—but at least they can be reassured by their parents technological incompetency as an immutable force in an otherwise tumultuous world. If you're even luckier, they might call you to berate you for forwarding a hoax. You'll act embarrassed and apologetic, but secretly you'll know you tricked them into calling home.
Of course, worse things could happen—and this happened to a friend of mine named Anna. She forwarded a bunch of emails to her children and they decided she was getting soft in the head. They thought maybe she was a bit senile and that it wasn't safe for her to live at home anymore. They made her quit her job as a doctor and put her into a nursing home. She didn't have a lot of money left because she'd sent it all to some Nigerian guy selling puppies, so they put her in a really cheap nursing home where they only serve Ramen noodles, so most of the patients get scurvy. And the doctors the nursing home brought in don't wash their hands, so her only friend in the nursing home contracted ebola and died. Now Anna's sole wish is that people will tell the world her story by forwarding emails to their loved ones. To make sure that this does not happen to anybody you care about, you should mail a link to this article to everybody you know.