Sunday, May 16, 2010

Email from a Friend of a Friend: From Urban Legends to Political Smears

Going back for years, anonymous forwarded emails have been a source of urban legends, jokes, and other frivolous but sometimes entertaining stuff.

Now they facilitate the equivalent of old fashioned whispering campaigns, but vastly more powerful, and while that sort of thing mostly happenned on a state level or smaller (it being hard to do it on a difficult scale and not get caught). E.g. the rumor that Ann Richardson was a lesbian in the Texas governor's race, and the one spread in just one state in the 2000 republican primary campaign that McCain had an out of wedlock black child.

But email knows no boundaries. A couple of years ago, I started getting forwarded emails from my Mom, with claims that could generally be shot down easily with 15 minutes of internet research. They seemed to be really affecting my parents' views, and based on what they told me, they were generally believed by most of their friends. But they were quite simply full of provable lies. They would show signs of having been forwarded a half dozen or so times, with visible 'CC' lists giving them a sort of homey look. You receive this sort of thing from a friend who forwarded, and are apt to assume it was written by a friend of that friend, or a friend of a friend of a friend, not that they are being churned out by some sort of under the radar political operator, but that is what I think they are, based partly on consistency of style.

Here are a couple of references:

The New Right-Wing Smear Machine by Christopher Hayes Oct 25, 2007

MyRightWingDad.net: FW: OBAMA DEATH LIST

If the same sort of phenomenon is going on with Liberal or Ultra Liberal sources, I would be very interested to investigate that as well.

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