It was the ’60s. I recall my mother sitting at the kitchen table typing out a letter with carbon paper, making multiple copies of something. I remember the words “chain letter,” I never read it, and I don’t know if any money exchanged hands – typical of the so-called “gifting scams – but the point is that these things have been around for a long time.
Back then it was all done by the US Post Office. Then came the advent of the fax machine, and along with the ubiquitous “Nigerian Prince” con, chain letters continued to enjoy popularity.
In 1971, Ray Tomlinson invented and developed electronic mail by creating ARPANET’s networked email system, and by 1976 a full 75% of ARPANET’s traffic was electronic mail. This invention, so useful and so fraught with complications (think Spam), allowed chain mail to come into its full glory.
Now, there are many kinds of chain letters, but the idea of all of them is self-propagation. They are, in a sense, viruses that replicate by the good graces of the receiver and are usually propagated based on the inculcation of guilt. They serve no purpose other than to stroke the ego of some twit who wants attention, and waste internet bandwidth and storage space.
Fully 21 years ago, a valued colleague (thanks, Stephanie) sent me this great send-up of chain letters (by email, of course) and I’ve had it in my files ever since. And it is not lost on me that the fact that I’m sharing it here makes it a chain letter of sorts.
Chain Letter Type 1: The Scroll Down
Make a wish!!!
Really, go on and make one!!!
Oh please… that person will never go out with YOU!!!
Wish something else!!!
Not that, you moron!!!
Something else! Quick!!!
Is your finger getting tired yet?
Wasn’t that fun? Hope you made a great wish.
Now, to make you feel guilty, here’s what I’ll do. First of all, if you
don’t send this to 5,096 people in the next 5 seconds, you will be attacked by a mad goat and then thrown off a high building into a pile of manure. it’s true! Because, you know, THIS letter isn’t like all of those fake ones, THIS one is TRUE!!
Really!!! Here’s how it goes:
• Send this to 1 person: One person will be mad at you for sending them a stupid chain letter.
• Send this to 2- 5 people: 2-5 people will be mad at you for sending them a stupid chain letter.
• 5-10 people: 5-10 people will be mad at you for sending them a stupid chain letter.
• 10-20 people: 10-20 people will be mad at you for sending them a stupid chain letter.
• 20 to 674,951 people: 20 to 674,951 people will be mad at you for sending them a stupid chain letter.
Thanks!!!! Good Luck!!!
Chain Letter Type 2: Starving Little Boy
Hello, and thank you for reading this letter. You see, there is a starving little boy in Baklaliviatatlaglooshen who has no arms, no legs, no parents, and no goats. This little boy’s life could be saved, because for every time you pass this on, a dollar will be donated to the Little Starving Legless Armless Goatless Boy from Baklaliviatatlaglooshen Fund. Remember, we have no way of counting letters sent and this is all bull. So go on, reach out, Send this to 5 people in the next 47 seconds. Oh, and a reminder if you accidentally send this to 4 or 6 people, you will die instantly.
Chain Letter Type 3: The Horror Story
Hi there!! This chain letter has been in existence since 1897. This is absolutely incredible because there was no email then and probably not as many little 8 year olds writing chain letters.
So this is how it works. Pass this on to 15,067 people in the next 7 minutes or something horrible will happen to you like:
Stupid Horror Story #1:
Miranda Pinsley was walking home from school on Saturday. She had recently received this letter and ignored it. She then tripped on a crack in the sidewalk, fell into the sewer, was gushed down a drainpipe in a flood of poopie, and went flying out over a waterfall. Not only did she smell nasty, she died. This Could Happen To You!!!
Stupid Horror Story #2:
Dexter Bip, a 13 year old boy, got a chain letter in his mail and ignored it. Later that day, he was hit by a car and so was his girlfriend. They both died. Their families were so upset that everyone related to them (even by marriage) went crazy and spent the rest of their miserable lives in an institution. This Could Happen To You!!!
Remember, you could end up like Pinsley and Bip did. Just send this letter to all of your loser friends, and everything will be OK.
Chain Letter Type 4: Meaningless Poem
As if you care, here is a poem that I wrote. Send it to every one of your friends.
A friend is someone who is always at your side,
A friend is someone who likes you even though you smell like poop,
A friend is someone who likes you even though you’re disgustingly ugly,
A friend is someone who cleans up for you after you’ve thrown up on yourself,
A friend is someone who stays with you all night while you cry about your loser life,
A friend is someone who pretends they like you when they really think you should be attacked by a mad goat and then thrown in a pile of manure,
A friend is someone who scrubs your toilet and vacuums and then gets the check and leaves and doesn’t speak much English… no, sorry that’s the cleaning lady, A friend is not someone who sends you chain letters because he wants his wish of being rich to come true. Now pass this on! If you don’t, you’ll be eaten by wild goats.
Chain Letter Type 5: Microsoft or Disney
This e mail is wicked cool! It was started by Microsoft to test it’s e mail tracking system because, you know, a big high tech company like Microsoft always sends important new software out over the internet to be available to any moron who can operate a computer, right? Plus, they have formed a secret merger with Disney Corp., who has agreed to give up millions of dollars in revenue by giving everyone who reads this e mail, passes it on, looks at it, knows someone that looked at it, or is related to someone who is a friend of someone who looks at it A FREE, ALL EXPENSES PAID TRIP to Disneyland, Disney World, or Euro Disney! So pass this on to everyone you know that is gullible enough to believe this (or not)!
Even if it’s not true, hey insulting all of your friends by implying that
they are gullible by sending this to them is worth the improbable chance that you could go to Disneyland! Even if you lose all of your friends because they are tired of receiving this kind of junk from you, it’s worth the chance, right?
And just for good measure, if you don’t send this on, Microsoft will send its specially trained attack goats to pilfer your house and eat all of your family, SO SEND IT ON!!!!!
Chain Letter Type 6: Virus Warning
VIRUS WARNING!!! If you receive an email entitled “Badtimes” delete it immediately.
Do not open it. Apparently this one is pretty nasty. It will not only erase everything on your hard drive, but it will also delete anything on disks within 20 feet of your computer.
It demagnetizes the stripes on ALL of your credit cards.
It reprograms your ATM access code, screws up the tracking on your VCR and uses subspace field harmonics to scratch any CD’s you attempt to play.
It will re-calibrate your refrigerator’s coolness settings so all your ice
cream melts and your milk curdles.
It will program your phone AutoDial to call only your mother-in-law’s
So be careful! Forward this to all of your friends, relatives, neighbors, family, enemies, plumbers, garbage men, stock brokers, doctors, and any other acquaintances! It’s for their own good! Thank you.
Chain Letter Type 7: Meaningless Picture
Here is a cute picture I drew.
It is a decapitated angel. Send it on to all of your friends so it will
brighten their day like it did yours! If you don’t, demon possessed goats will move into your house and eat all of your socks, leading you to believe that something is wrong with your washing machine because all of your socks keep disappearing.
Have a nice day!!!
Remember, the moral of the story is, if you get a chain letter, ignore the stupid thing. [Edit for 2020: Especially if it involves sending money or sensitive information to someone you don’t know!]
If it’s a joke or something, send it, sure, but if it’s gonna make people feel guilty (i.e. the goatless boy from Baklaliviatatlaglooshen) or nervous (i.e. Miranda Pinsley who ended up in a waterfall of turds) just delete it.
Do yourself a favor, and everyone else in the world, and say, “DEATH TO CHAIN LETTERS!”
Except this one of course. This one must be sent on to 4,170 people in the next 15 seconds or you’ll be eaten by wild goats.
People have hated chain mail since its inception:
On the other hand, there is an entire subreddit dedicated to the kind of mindless trash that fills your inbox or WhatsApp or Messenger, r/forwardsfromgrandma. To this day there are people in my circles who send me the most idiotic things – political screeds, conspiracy theories, pseudoscientific garbage, or random bits of inane humor – despite my begging them to stop. There’s no getting through to these people. So many of these things could be easily put to bed with a 10-second Google search, but they can’t be bothered.
I can’t count the number of times I have been warned about a program that will “open an olympic torch that will burn the entire hard disc C” of my computer.
For some reason, many people seem resistant to education, so there’s probably no way to stop the flood of self-replicating messages on Facebook and other platforms. But over time I’ve learned a couple of discernable red flags that something you’re being sent is bogus:
- If the message exhorts you to “send this to everyone you know” … just don’t.
- If the message says “Snopes confirms this is true!” the odds are that it is completely bogus. Don’t forward it, trash it. A quick Google search is usually sufficient to confirm that the message is a self-replicating hoax.
- If the information you’re being sent and asked to share outrages you, check it. Many people forward things that make them angry, thinking that they are doing something to mitigate a problem. In most cases, the information being spread is completely false, taken out of context, or badly misrepresented.
If you want to be metal AF, you could respond with something like this, but in today’s environment you had better be able to read your audience or your next visit might be from the FBI.
Knowing humanity, this kind of thing will probably never disappear entirely, but continuing education will serve to reduce the flood to a manageable level.
Share this blog post with everyone you know. ¹
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ That’s a joke, people. Of course I like increased engagement, but you’re not obliged to share anything you read here with anyone, unless you really think it has value.