Today 625 million people
in the world are using internet and one user will have at least one email
address. 417million users have joined at least one social networking website and
in order to register with a social networking website, a valid email address is
Thus if someone can create
a mechanism to send an email to everyone who is in cyberspace that person will
be able to communicate with 417million to 625million (500million approx)
individuals! Getting access to around 500million people can be very important to
many such as governments, politicians, social workers, business entities, NGOs,
criminals, plotters… etc.
Have you ever received an
email with a message which requests you to forward this particular email to your
friends after reading it? Some emails might just be simply requesting you to
forward the email to your friends while another email might threaten you to
forward it reminding you of consequences if you do not forward it. This is
called a chain email. This is a mechanism which can communicate with around
500million users in cyberspace.
A typical chain mail
consists of a message that attempts to induce the recipient to make a number of
copies of the letter and then forward them on to as many recipients as possible.
Common methods used in chain mails include emotionally manipulative stories,
get-rich-quick pyramid schemes, and the exploitation of superstition to threaten
the recipient with bad luck or even physical violence or death if he or she
"breaks the chain" and refuses to adhere to the conditions set out in the mail.
Even though we receive
electronic emails such as this, the origin of chain mails goes back to early
1900. One good example is the chain letter started in 1935 from Denver,
Colorado, USA called "Send-a-Dime letter". Chain letters and chain mails are
illegal in some instances but is a nuisance in many instances. Many schools and
military bases screen out chain mail or chain letters as there are regulations
passed to authorize the screening of chain mail.
Few famous and commonly
seen chain mails (emails) in Sri Lanka are "Bill Gates email"; which states that
by forwarding the mail the user will be rewarded by Bill Gates or the Microsoft
Corporation, "Katu Lata Kulu email"; which states that the user who breaks the
chain will be killed by the spirit, "Hotmail email"; which states that if the
mail not forwarded by the hotmail user to other hotmail users the users email
account will be disabled. One famous instance of chain mail effecting cyberspace
is the Mickey Mouse email which says that if not forwarded to 25 users, the
homicidal Mickey Mouse will intrude the domain and kill the user. One user
believed this email and took it seriously and ended up taking counseling.
Chain mails have invaded
the social networking sites as well. MySpace, Facebook users receive many
messages requesting them to forward it to their friends. Even marketing
companies carry out their campaigns in such manner especially in social
networking sites. Some people even request users to set their FaceBook status to
a particular message requesting their friends also to do so. YouTube also has a
lot of chain mails in video format.
So now chain mails have
become a public nuisance and many people consider this as harassment. Some
people consider people who forward emails in such manner to be jobless no matter
how close that friend is to us. In many forms chain letters can be illegal.
Especially when it comes to chain mails which involve financial aspect, it is
considered illegal. For an example in United States it is illegal to send chain
mail that involves Pyramid Schemes or other such financial inducements under
Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute.
So next time when you
forward a chain mail, just think twice why you are doing it. You may be a victim
of a financial fraud or can be a victim who is manipulated emotionally or people
might consider you to be jobless!
Rangamini employed at the Bandaranaike Centre for
International Studies (BCIS). He holds a Bachelor Science degree in Information
Technology (BSc-IT) from the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT)
and he is a Member of the British Computer Society (MBCS), the Chartered
Institute of IT.
He is a columnist and a freelance journalist who contributes to national
newspapers and he is the author of the book “Cyber Security: 01 Byte from the
Cyberspace”; ISBN: 978-955-658-253-6.