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Are You Getting Your News From Spam? My Mother Does

Gadi Evron

This is a story about my mother and Obama.

My mother: "Have you heard about Obama? Really impressive guy."
Me: "What about him?"
My mother: "x, y and z."
Me: "Where did you hear about this?"
My mother: "I read email too, you are not the only one who is into technology."

Luckily, my mother bases her opinion on more than just spam messages, being an educated woman. I am not sure about others.

I refused to believe this. I still do. Yet, it is true. More and more people get their news from spam, and worse--Form political opinion based on what they read in it, especially when their friends send it to them in chain letters ("hey, you have to see this!").

Be it political spam targeted to change the minds of voters, or regular malicious spam, catching eyes with political blurbs so that users will open the email messages. These messages reach people, and they read them.

I don't have exact numbers, as I am unaware of research which tried to measure it. I am however, now facing the truth. What made me wake up was my mother.

Speaking with friends, my mother is far from the only person to be influenced by such email messages, though.

By Gadi Evron, Security Strategist
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Related topics: Cybersecurity, Email, Spam
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outrageous Larry Seltzer  –  Oct 12, 2008 8:10 AM PDT

In fact, a lot of what you read in the New York Times and AP or on TV news is full of crap too. Even if it's not false, it can be misleading in any number of ways.

Not to defend spam, but I'm not surprised that people believe what conforms to their preconceptions. Reporters do it too.

i can imagine this is true.. David Windham  –  Oct 12, 2008 12:40 PM PDT

when i used to work with small businesses and individuals, I would ask if they currently get spam.. to which they would always reply no.. and as soon as I sit down to their computer, inevitably I would ask who sent this email and that one.. and they would say.. I don't know.  Seems to me they don't even know what spam is!

Counterattack John Berryhill  –  Oct 14, 2008 1:27 PM PDT

While using spam to sell products of dubious quality is bad enough, using spam to promote rumors and false statements is particularly insidious.  Of the rumors to which you refer, one of them is believed as fact by a significant proportion of the electorate.

Proctor and Gamble had a similar problem years ago with a rumor about symbolism in their corporate logo.  McDonalds also was the subject of an email rumor campaign some years ago.

It was LBJ who is credited with saying something to the effect of "I know it's not true, I just want to hear the bastard deny it" in relation to political whispering campaigns.

The Obama campaign has come up with an interesting tool - the anti-whisper.  Rather than to give broader circulation to scurrilous untruths by making public denials of them, these kinds of emails can be sent to a designated email address.  The email is analyzed to determine whether it is one to which a response with references has already been composed, and a reply email is generated and sent back to the sender.  The recipient can then forward the reply email to the upstream originator and other cc: line hostages.

In fact, a lot of what you John Berryhill  –  Oct 14, 2008 1:30 PM PDT

In fact, a lot of what you read in the New York Times and AP or on TV news is full of crap too.

...but it is heartening to know that most literate and informed folk can identify components of their vast variety of information sources.  Along with literacy, critical thinking is certainly a subject that has become of critical and growing importance.

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