E-mail etiquette 101: when in doubt, delete

THERE are advantages to being married to a computer guru. Marc has secret superpowers that have not only saved me from complete social and financial ruin, but make me look terribly clever. Without him, I’d probably be just like half the world’s internet-owning population.

I’d forward hoax mails too, before checking the facts. I’d recoil in shock at the “news article” telling me that Michael Jackson isn’t dead, really – he’s just napping.

I’d enter my pin number and hit reply because the e-mail from “my bank” told me that if I didn’t, my account would be closed and used to fund a politician’s seventh wedding.

It wasn’t always this way. I was taken in too. Not by those e-mail chain letters obviously, since everybody knows (I hope) that you’re not going to be struck down by a mortal plague if you don’t pass on this sickly-sweet ode to friendship to at least 20 people within six minutes.

It’s the serious hackers who do the most damage to innocent internet users everywhere.

And it’s become my sworn duty to protect them. Because, let’s face it, women are a soft touch. I know – I’ve been there.

Take the missing/abducted/kidnapped hoaxes that crop up every few months around about your period when you are horribly hormonal and feeling protective.

If something very official-looking arrives in your inbox, with a fancy signature stuck on the end, telling you that a three-year-old was last seen two days ago in the presence of a white van in your neighbourhood, you’d likely want to help.

It’s in our nature. So we dutifully pass it on, providing a host of faceless sickos with even more e-mail addresses, which they supposedly harvest, like so much genetic material in a horror movie, for nefarious (or advertising) purposes.

The reasonably savvy among us know that any letter starting with “Dearly Beloved, I write to you from the outer reaches of Bongolia and want to give you a lot of money” is probably false.

The more seasoned types, like me, also know that, no – a famous cellphone or software company is not, by any stretch of imagination, going to give you a smartphone or spanking new laptop just because you lazily forwarded said e-mail to 1000 of your closest friends.

But still, for every educated step we take forward, a bunch of us take two steps back. Not a week goes by without me receiving, from trusted, friendly sources, those e-mails bleating warnings about poison being leaked into cans of beans from Pretoria to Pofadder, or an “OMG! If you raise your right arm too fast, you will die in 90 seconds! Don’t try this at home! Even though you really want to! This is for real! It is NOT a hoax! A doctor swears by this!”

I know that there really is tragedy out there and that as a global community, we can use the power of our send buttons to make the world a better place. But please, before you copy me in to your campaign, visit www.snopes.com or pay my husband R500 per hour to blow holes in that e-mail about the dinosaur found wandering around Rosebank Mall.

When in doubt, delete.

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