Netlore - I just can't get enough virus email!

I love urban legends and folklore. Actually, I hate urban legends because they're usually scary and then I can't sleep at night, but I love folklore. I didn't really know what that term meant until I took a humanities class where the professor was obsessed with folklore and told us all to forget Paul Bunyan and Washington's cherry tree and start looking at everyday superstitions and oral traditions. It changed the way I viewed life (I'm not being cheesy, it really did!) and the stories I hear buzzing around me day by day.

The idea for this post popped into my head 3 minutes ago when I was reading an email from my beloved friend who is always so kind to forward me email warnings about the virus that will destroy the Zero Sector of my hard drive and then crawl out and plug my toilet. (That's the best part about folklore, or "netlore" as it's evidently called: the story somehow stays intact throughout a plethora of retellings) The advent of email turned folklore into a tangible, trackable medium of expression - it's not so formal that everyday speech and stories are inappropriate, but it's not as fleeting and fluid as oral communication. Anyway, I'm reading my bud's email and as I read the virus' name ("Olypmic Torch") I think "Wait, this seems very familiar, maybe I got one just like it before..." so I look. Lo and behold, on April 12, 2006 I received not one but two emails titled "Fwd: READ AS SOON AS POSSIBLE" They were followed up on May 26, 2006 by an email from my beloved sister, entitled "FW: Fwd: Fw: Fw: READ AS SOON AS POSSIBLE" Yes, this is a hoax, a piece of netlore that has been circulating since early 2006, spreading panic and higher blood pressure throughout the United States and beyond.

My favorite one, to which I took a considerable amount of time to respond, was sent to me (the first time) on January 20, 2005 under the seductive title of "Fwd: FW: PLEEEEEEASE READ!!!! it was on the news!" It assured me that if I sent this email on to my entire address list, Microsoft and AOL and Toast Masters (something like that) would track it and send me a check for 3 billion dollars. Click here to read the email text

This seemed odd to me, and since if I made a dork out of myself by sending this potentially dangerous email on (who knows, perhaps that email contained the Olympic Torch?) then I wanted my money, I did a quick google search which lead directly to an article called "the Microsoft email tracking hoax" or something like that. It was great. The author was a mathematician and figured that if it were the real deal then Microsoft would be paying out more than the United States national debt. Click here for my reply, which used that guy's equation. I received that email several times over the next few months, including from my dad and brother. Email has greatly expanded the potential of folklore to effect our daily lives, from the jovial/superstitious (if you don't forward this message to 7 people you'll lose love for 7 years!) to the patriotic (Red Shirt Friday) to the down-right scary (like my introduction to netlore in '96, right before I learned to drive: Gang Initiation - Flash Your Headlights and Die!)

I found a decent article in Wikipedia on Folklore, but a simple search on Netlore hasn't revealed any substantial research on the subject of email hoaxes and folklore. I've only found lists of known email hoaxes - no real look at the history of it all and no analysis of netlore as an expression of Internet culture. Is it that no one has pursued the subject, brushing it off as petty emails that go straight in the Junk folder? Or am I just too much of a novice at googling? It makes me want to compile all my old hoax emails and start a wiki article about Netlore, plumbing the depths of where they start and why they're important. I think the type of oral and email traditions we pass around really does reflect the society in which we live. It might not be worth my time, but I know at least one person would appreciate it: my humanities professor.

1 comment:

Triet said...

SNOPES. Every time I get an email like that, I immediately go to snopes and debunk it, then hit "reply all." If I'm gonna get spammed by my family with junk, I might as well spam them back with truth.

My favorite (from the doctor side of me) was the one that said you can get leptospirosis by licking the top of a coke can. Retarded.

travel log
  • 02.13.08 - to the temple with Luan and his mom, good to be back
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release notes v1.0 - FINALLY DONE!
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