Tag Archive for: Urban Legends

Explaining the Spread of Urban Legends

Did you know syringes have been found in the ball pits at McDonalds? I knew I should have taken the kids to Burger King…except that Burger King guy on those commercials is really creepy!
URGENT PRAYER REQUEST: for a friend of a friend of a friend…Kayala Scott’s 22-month old son shot himself in the chest with a nail gun…I guess that means no more family outings to Home Depot or Lowes.Mr. Rogers was a Marine sharpshooter with numerous kills in Vietnam! No wonder it was a beautiful day in his neighborhood…everyone was scared to death of him!I hope you know none of the above is true. They’re all urban legends; stories that spread spontaneously in various forms. While they’re almost always false far too many people believe them to be true and that’s part of the reason why they live on.You might be reading this with some embarrassment because you’ve passed on one or more of these stories in days gone by to others via email. I’ll make you feel a little better and ‘fess up that I forwarded some of these types of email in the early days of the Internet. I’d like to take a moment to explain some of the psychology about why these stories live on.
First, consider who typically sends these to you – someone you know. If your best friend, neighbor or a relative sends you and email with this kind of news the principle of liking is engaged. We tend to trust those we know and like so when a friend sends you a story, no matter how far out is sounds, most people immediately give them the benefit of the doubt and believe there’s some truth to it. And when a friend asks you to pray and pass along a well meaning email to others the liking principle compels many people to help the cause.It doesn’t take too many forwarded emails to keep it going either. If you get an email and pass it along to a couple dozen friends and only four pass it to another couple dozen and four of those people forward it…by the time that goes through seven iterations it could be passed along to more than 16,000 people!Seeing all those names on an email triggers another psychological principle of influence — consensus. Sometimes known as social proof, consensus tells us people look to others for cues on how to act in certain situations. When you see all those email addresses because the email has been forwarded multiple times it’s natural to assume there’s some validity to what’s being shared. All those names prompt people to continue the behavior.I’m sure many of you reading this are thinking to yourself, “I don’t pass that stuff along anymore.” Good for you but it’s undeniable that others still do and, as I shared earlier, if just four people out of two dozen keep it going it can spread faster than the flu virus through your office or your kid’s school.How can you slow down these kinds of unwanted emails? It’s pretty simple actually. Visit a site to see if what you just got has any validity. Here are just a few sites that can help you. Once you get to a site just do a search on some key words from the email.
Snopes.com UrbanLegends.com Scambusters.org If you find out it’s a hoax hit the Reply All button and politely let your friend know what they shared isn’t true and give the website where you found out. Let them know you got drawn into something similar before and don’t want to see them make the same mistake.A word of caution: whatever you do, don’t lay the person to waste! Once when I passed along a well meaning email about a prayer need someone fired back at me in a pretty harsh way. There’s no place for that, particularly when the email was well intended. Approach the person as you’d like to be approached and as Dale Carnegie encouraged, allow the other person to save face. Do that and you’ll slow the spread of unwanted email and preserve a friendship.Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.