My aunt used to distribute a lot of urban legend emails, mostly conservative political and religious crap. And every time, I would look up the myth on, and send out a reply-to-all email explaining that this particular email is an urban legend, and pleading with people to do some minimal amount of research before forwarding on such emails to everyone you know.
Now, some researchers believe such counter-efforts may not help as much as I thought:

The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.
This phenomenon may help explain why large numbers of Americans incorrectly think that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in planning the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi. While these beliefs likely arose because Bush administration officials have repeatedly tried to connect Iraq with Sept. 11, the experiments suggest that intelligence reports and other efforts to debunk this account may in fact help keep it alive.

How depressing.
Oh, and I no longer receive such emails from my aunt. I hope, though don’t really believe, that my efforts caused her to stop sending them. Most likely, she just removed me from the recipient list. I’m surprised I stayed on her list so long.

Categories: Intellectual