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girlofscience's avatar

Why do people start false chain letters?

Asked by girlofscience (7532points) September 9th, 2008

The few times I do receive ridiculous emails that immediately send me to Snopes, I wonder why exactly someone ever started the false concept. What type of pleasure does the initial creator of a chain letter derive from spamming their friends and families with the tale of a fake child who will receive 7 cents from the Make-a-Wish foundation for any person that forwards the email? And do people get off on stirring panic in their naive aunts and uncles with false claims about highway patrol or gas scams?

I just don’t get it. Why do these things exist? Why do people create them, and why do people believe them? I guess the email forwards about gas scams and the like are slightly more believable, but I’ll never understand why anyone believes that forwarding emails accomplishes donations…

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10 Answers

wenbert's avatar

coz people have nothing better to do… in short, people get bored :P

bodyhead's avatar

It’s because people enjoy manipulating other people. If the chain-mail creator can get people to do something (even if it’s just wasting their time), then it makes the creator feel powerful. I assume that it’s mainly people who feel like they don’t have the power to change their own lives that would get satisfaction from this.

Maybe they have a terrible job but they have to keep it because it pays slightly more then they could get anywhere else. Maybe they are in an awful relationship but can’t imagine life without that other person.

girlofscience's avatar

@wenbert: I don’t think “having nothing better to do” is a sufficient explanation for what kind of sick mind would create the Make-a-Wish chain letters. Maybe for the highway patrol and gas scams, yes, but there’s gotta be something much more fucked-up going on to make the Make-a-Wish chain letters.

@bodyhead: Very interesting assessment of the type of people who may get satisfaction from this!

JackAdams's avatar

Sometimes, the reason for the start of a chain e-mail actually exisits and is valid (in the mind of the original sender), but, by the time it reaches your e-mail account the emergency no longer exists (the person died or was cured or whatever) or it has been proven by others (who used SnopesĀ® or whatever other sources are available) to be false.

Sometimes those, in the act of forwarding something, decide to add to the original (or change it completely) so that the little boy with the dying puppy (after 1,000 forwards), becomes a little girl with two sick horses.

Also, there is the self-aggrandizement factor, and the Baron Munchausen syndrome, where the original composer of the e-mail is trying to elicit sympathy for himself or herself, or to get “praise” from doing some heroic deed.

Lastly, there is the person who believes that s/he can become wealthy from a single e-mail, because it doesn’t take all that long to compose an e-mail that pleads for money, then send it on its way to all kinds of people who just might send money to the person named on the original “woe is me!” e-mail.

Many years ago in Houston, Texas (where I was living at that time), this guy let it be known to friends that he was going to, once and for all time, find out if chain letters sent by snail-mail actually produced financial results, and he pledged to his friends that any money resulting from his scheme would be donated to some charity.

He typed up (and had photocopied) 1,000 letters to every personal friend and relative he knew, and then to strangers, whose names he had purchased from a mailing list label service. Lastly, he got from the USPS, 1,000 pre-stamped envelopes (where the postage alone, at that time, was 25Ā¢ each).

The letters were all mailed simultaneously, of course, and several months later, after he was certain that everyone who was going to “send $1 to the person at the top of your list,” did so, he sent a personal check to the Big Brothers/Big Sisters offices in Houston, Texas, for the staggering amount of ONLY NINE DOLLARS.

flameboi's avatar

boredom? :s

gailcalled's avatar

@flame: see first answer ^^

Insecurity
Feelings of inferiority
Feelings of lack of control
(And as Body head said; feelings of powerlessness)
I am sure that these are connected psychologically.

flameboi's avatar

@gail
thank you

marinelife's avatar

To me the more relevant question is why do people feel compelled to inflict chain letters of any stripe on other people? I HATE them. I never forward them. I often write a fairly nasty message back to the sender saying never send me one of these again.

Capri's avatar

I think people who make up false chain letters (and that would be the vast majority) are either very misguided, misinformed, paranoid about something, or in most cases, in love with themselves, bored, attention-seeking, and they get a kick out of manipulating and bullying massive numbers of people via cyber space forwards. From that sick kid hoax email to Facebook wall hacker hoax chains, to ridiculous religious exploitation, and I think a lot of the religious fanatical sounding chain letters out there may be started by people who are not believers in whatever religion they’re targetting but they want to get some laughs at the expense of easily manipulated and naive people who do believe in sed religion. Women are another big target for chain letters, and there are chain letters specifically designed to target men as well. But you’re more likely to get chain letters aimed at your own gender, and IMO, they’re all junk. The Myspace bulletins that depict guys as cheating shallow jerks and the girls as the poor sad-eyed ones who are always the ones getting hurt, and how you’re supposed to feel sorry for them and show your good heart by forwarding the sappy chain letter is very annoying.Chain letters tend to perpetuate the worst stereotypes, and why it is that people continue to fall for them and forward them along, yet they basically ignore their friends otherwise, is beyond me.

What else is particularly galling is that the hoaxters who make up this crud get away with it. Mostly, nobody knows where these things actually originate, so everyone who pays for forwarding irresponsibility is a victim of the forward somewhere down the line. There are a few hoaxes that can be traced back to their originators, but the two I can think of were hoaxters that ripped off an older hoax. Evan Trembley, and Ashley Flores missing kid hoaxes were taken from the old missing Penny Brown hoax, but with Evan and Ashley’s pictures put in place of the generic little girl pic (no one knows who the girl is in the original Penny Brown hoax I don’t think) It sounds like the Trembley and Flores hoaxes were meant as a joke among the friends of these two people, but because they started on Myspace, the hoax didn’t stay just between the friends, and it spread through friends of friends, who actually thought the missing kid alerts were real. Which goes to show that starting such a joke even as intended to stay among friends is a bad idea because of the potential of it getting out among the general public.

BBQsomeCows's avatar

they want to be first in line when mandatory euthanizing begins

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