Hoaxes and semi-hoaxes

Eveline Goy commented on a previous blog on "When is a hoax not a hoax?", and I thought it was too good a comment to let it lie unnoticed.

Dear Mr Harley

You might be interested to know that the MISSING GIRL email re Rachelle Marie Smith is now being distributed in Australia.
Of course our hearts stop when we think of the anguish of parents whose children go missing, but the email is really not helpful. Rachelle would now be 7 years old and God knows where she might be, if she is still alive.
I do not pass on chain mail, and would not mind if there was more material telling the public about the unhelpful consequences of passing on large chain letters. I found your advice on the web, having googled the missing girl message. Anyone can do it.

Good luck with stopping this crazy trend. Too often I have felt huge pangs of guilt because I "refused to help". I have now come to terms with the idea – the guilt was never mine.
Kind regards
Eveline Goy

At the time, I replied:

Thank you, Eveline. It seems to me that the most pernicious aspect of the “new generation” of chain letters, Facebook hoaxes and so on is that while they aren’t always maliciously intended and in a few rare instances may actually be useful, they almost invariably work by shamelessly exploiting the the emotions of the recipient in ways that are not at all justified. As a parent and grandparent myself, I’m all too aware of the feelings of guilt you mention, but I often “guilt-tripping” used by hoaxers in very different contexts.

I’ll probably return to some of the issues you raise in a new blog in the very near future.

I've now taken the first steps towards executing an idea for reducing the impact of chain l had several years ago, by setting up a blogsite. You'll have to wait for details of the Idea, I'm afraid, but I've christened the site with a couple of blogs and one or two resources.

For a look back at some of the blogs Randy and I have posted here on hoax-related topics, see http://www.eset.com/threat-center/blog/category/hoax; for the paper we wrote for last year's Virus Bulletin, see http://www.eset.com/download/whitepapers/Harley-Abrams-VB2009.pdf. And for the first in a projected series of papers on common hoaxes and chain letters, see http://www.eset.com/download/whitepapers/CommonHoaxes+ChainLetters(May2008).pdf.

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Author David Harley, ESET

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