Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I've written the following as a general explanation of what is wrong with the idea of blindly forwarding emails (many of which end up being false).

If you're not sure if something is true, verify it! You're using one of the largest information resources ever created... the Internet. Verifying an email is a very easy thing to do. Grab a 4-5 word quote from the email and any proper nouns (English class refresher: specific people, places, things). Drop it into Google and click search. Likely, you'll end up finding Snopes in the first few links. When you click on that link, you'll be taken to a page that will detail the results of the investigation that was undertaken to determine how true (or false) the email actually was).

Please, stop the false information from getting passed along and ruining our legacy left for future historians.
Presenting false information in the form of incorrect attribution, particularly if the incorrect attribution can be considered to be harmful to either the correct or incorrect author, could be considered libelous.

Email is a form of publication. You are a publisher to the world now. You need to fact check just like all the other publishers throughout this world. If you've done the best you can and still end up making an error when you publish... you are legally obligated to do the right thing and issue a retraction.

My comments in this reply stem not from the notions in the forwarded email themselves (or even the idea of forwarding them to people) but from the general lack of effort that people in general put into making sure that information is complete and correct in the "Information Age." Truth is more important than knowledge, for without truth, what is left of the knowledge we have gained?

Many people that I've called out on mis-informed emails over the last 12 years have felt persecuted... even singled-out. Keep in mind that I send out an email along these lines about once a week. My response here is not a response specifically to you, but to anybody that forwards information without checking the facts. Unfortunately, you are not alone in forwarding incorrect statements in email. Usually the notions that are being conveyed as "true" are more harmful than simple incorrect attribution of a piece of text.

Also, keep in mind that as this piece of text was a creative work by somebody in our modern age... it would also fall under copyright law. The redistribution of that work could be the subject of your prosecution in civil court due to a question of violating copyright law. Unless somebody has specifically said that you can redistribute (re-publish) a work, you are violating their rights and they can sue you for damages. Personally, I believe copyright law is a sad thing. I wish it would go away as I don't agree with the idea that we need a government-granted monopoly on a creative work to derive monetary value from it. However, in the meantime, its the law until we can get some members of congress to fix the archaic intellectual property disasters that are Title 17 and Title 35 of the US Code.

No love lost, I hope...

PS: If you want to forward this, you can do so (with the portion that I have written), in its entirety, with correct attribution for non-commercial purposes. I'm releasing this under a creative commons license (with attribution, non-commercial, no derivative works).


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