Friday, January 22, 2010

In the Land of Viral Emails

The email describes a 44” snowstorm in northern Michigan with 90 MPH winds that cut power to tens of thousands and stranded hundreds of motorists.

The email snorts that Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Hollywood’s elite, and FEMA didn’t offer assistance and that victims didn’t demanded $2,000 debit cards or FEMA trailers. It brags, We did not wait for some affirmative action government,” or “ a welfare program that trades votes for 'sittin at home' checks.”

Though I got the email last week it’s nearly word for word identical to an email sent in 2005 about a supposed North Dakota blizzard. In other words, it’s a viral email masquerading as truth, manufactured to make a political point.

The comparisons to Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and the racial overtones (ala, we white people take responsibility and don’t whine) are obvious, but did it occur to any who got and resent this email that snow up to your eaves and rushing water up to your eaves are not the same? One is a temporary inconvenience and the other destroys your home, your neighborhood, and the place where you work.

But we live in an era of digital germ warfare when mass viral emails are sent and resent, acting as the gossip mill for smear campaigns.

Remember the, “Obama is a Muslim,” and, “Obama won’t wear a flag lapel pin,” and, “Obama wasn’t born in the U.S,” emails that were easily proven false? I still encounter people who believe all three – who in fact get angry as hell that you don’t believe. Why do they believe? Because they got the emails and they want to believe.

Maybe you got the Dr. Starner Jones email. This one’s real, but disturbingly narrow-minded.

Dr. Jones complains about a Medicaid patient with a new gold tooth, expensive tennis shoes and an R&B ringtone on her phone (again, note the racial overtones). He writes, She smokes more than one costly pack of cigarettes every day and, somehow, still has money to buy beer.

And our Congress expects me to pay for this woman's health care?”

Defining health care reform as a giveaway to the lazy is an immoral oversimplification. Some facts:

1) The majority of families living below the poverty line have an adult working full time.

2) Half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical bills and over two thirds of those happen to middleclass people with health insurance.

3) Health insurance premiums paid to America’s largest insurers by middle class families have increased 87% since 2002.

4) During the same period those top 10 insurance companies’ profits rose 428%.

And Dr. Jones suggests health care reform is about buying insurance for lazy welfare queens?

Where are the angry emails about those bankruptcies, insurance premiums and insurance company profits? Kinda makes you wonder who actually authors and distributes these emails.

Another viral email is titled, “An Actual Commercial From the 50s.” In it, black & white footage shows people listening to a recording of a Ronald Reagan speech. You hear Reagan warn against the evils of socialized medicine and it’s slippery slope towards communism.

If you watch that footage and truly believe it’s an actual commercial from the ‘50s, I’ve got some magic beans to trade for your cow.

While the audio is a real Reagan recording, it’s heavily edited and from the early ‘60s. Reagan was talking about Medicare, but the email never mentions this. In the full speech he claimed that if Medicare passed, people in the future (the 1970s, '80s, & '90s presumably) would look back wistfully at what life was like in America back when people were free, before Medicare took our freedoms away.

As it turns out, Reagan was entirely wrong. Medicare did nothing he said it would do.

Our doctors are not socialized. The government has not seized our hospitals and clinics nor nationalized the drug companies. America is not a communist country and is in no danger of becoming one. And there's nothing about current health care reform that would do that either.

Of course, health care reform is what the email is really trying to effect.

Medicare is a remarkably popular and effective government program. If it's so bad, will the elderly who oppose health care reform renounce their single-payer, socialized, government Medicare and pay out of pocket - the free enterprise way?


The Reagan address was not a wise and dire warning from the past, it was a prediction that history has proven wrong. Still, the viral email’s impression is made and it’s transmitted from person to person like germs on a doorknob.

I haven’t even mentioned the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant emails I’ve gotten from Conservatives lately and I don’t have space for the ridiculous emails that compare America today with Austria and Germany just before the Nazis took over.

I’ve come to believe that few of these emails originate with regular Joe’s concerned for their country. Instead I’d be willing to bet most are authored by lobbying firms, paid political strategists, and corporate public relations departments. Send them to a couple hundred of the faithful, then wait and watch while the germ spreads across the country, sent and resent by people ready and willing to believe anything that reinforces their fears or confirms their prejudices.

It’s interesting that I don’t get these kinds of emails from liberals attacking conservative beliefs. And I’m a liberal with plenty of liberal friends. Oh, I got a couple humorous email jabs at Bush during his 8 years, but they were obvious jokes. I get at least two of these half true conservative-leaning emails a week.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, these viral emails are here to stay. Why? A study conducted recently by Elmhurst College in Illinois found that they’re very effective in shaping people’s beliefs.

No comments:

Post a Comment