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Communications Networking

NSF Research Reveals Chain Letter Travel Patterns 60

alphadogg writes to tell us that the NSF is researching chain letters and how they travel. The results aren't quite what one might expect, showing a pattern of more selective and circuitous travel. "One surprising finding was that messages often took meandering routes between people who knew each other, often through as many as 100 intermediaries. Many email users also received copies from multiple social groups. The researchers concluded that because messages come from many directions, there's ample opportunity for the messages to be edited along the way."
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NSF Research Reveals Chain Letter Travel Patterns

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  • ac (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 17, 2008 @12:42AM (#23443596)

    One surprising finding was that first posts often took meandering routes between people who knew each other
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      One surprising finding was that first posts often took meandering routes between people who knew each other

    • Although it's amazing how many begin at that Nigerian prince who still owes me my damn money!
  • What? (Score:3, Funny)

    by omeomi ( 675045 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @12:42AM (#23443600) Homepage
    What? African or European?
  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @12:46AM (#23443616)

    I'd be interested in how some of these patterns reveal themselves, especially for the Rovian whisper campaigns we see a lot of nowadays. While a liberal myself, I have a ton of conservative friends from disparate social circles who get the same types of "stupid liberals...tell your friends" chain letters that they always pass on to me lol.

    The timing seems impeccable at times as well. After 9/11, they all passed on a "Palestinians did it" letter around the same time. Same with the "Obama is a Muslim" letter. Of course, geography might be an issue since they all live relatively close to me.

    • by omeomi ( 675045 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @12:49AM (#23443632) Homepage
      I have a ton of conservative friends from disparate social circles who get the same types of "stupid liberals...tell your friends"

      Those are fun. I used to get those from one particular friend until I started sending point-by-point responses with links to government websites that actually gave the real facts behind the conservative hype. He stopped sending them to me. Either he got the point, or didn't want facts to get in the way of hype. I don't know which.
      • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @01:00AM (#23443686)

        I started sending point-by-point responses with links to government websites that actually gave the real facts.
        Indeed. I get all my "real facts" from government websites...
        • by Chmcginn ( 201645 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @01:41AM (#23443844) Journal

          Indeed. I get all my "real facts" from government websites...
          It depends what it is. If it's one of those moronic 'heh it's easy to fix the federal government by cutting x & y, and we'll have all the money we want to wage war forever' chain letters, a few links to the actual federal budget is a good STFU.

          Course, if it's something more scientific in nature, you might have to go to a major research university website... Oh, wait, half of those are technically government websites, too. Hmm.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by zappepcs ( 820751 )
        roflmao... you really get facts from the government? really????

        I do know what you mean though, when I get chain letters I always reply to all with links to information that debunks it if any exists. At the bottom of such emails I always send links to snopes, and several other places... intimating that they could check their facts before believing or forwarding Internet junk to anyone else. Nothing like being shown that you are wrong in front of your whole email list LOLOL
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by omeomi ( 675045 )
          roflmao... you really get facts from the government? really????

          Oh, come on, there's plenty of government websites that just present basic factual information on various bills going through congress or existing laws or whatever. But yes, government websites, reputable news sources, Snopes, all of those.
          • by NoobixCube ( 1133473 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @01:39AM (#23443840) Journal
            Any basic, factual information can have a slight twist to its presentation. Something as simple as positioning two unrelated statistics next to each other without ever specifically linking them can tint someone's view. Or, if it's graphed, and you want to hide or exaggerate the increase in something like a crime rate, then you increase or decrease the increment on either axis. Sure, when you read it, you know what you're actually looking at, but a steep curve means more to your subconscious than any numbers ever could. I'm not attacking any specific government or agency in this. Just pointing out that facts are rarely just facts.
            • by omeomi ( 675045 )
              Fine, then if all information is suspect, go ahead and debunk the government websites, reputable news sources, and Snopes.com with crazy right-wing propaganda emails.
          • by IntlHarvester ( 11985 ) * on Saturday May 17, 2008 @03:49AM (#23444194) Journal
            Interestingly, the latest political chainmail tactic is to include a link to Snopes.

            Snopes, of course, says just the opposite of what the letter implies, but apparently most people will take the link alone at face value
            • I've gotten one such email (about Obama's wife writing an essay in college about how the black power movement needs to rise up against their white masters or some such nonsense) With a link to Snopes.com The homepage, not the actual article.
      • by value_added ( 719364 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @03:41AM (#23444178)
        I used to get those from one particular friend until I started sending point-by-point responses with links to government websites that actually gave the real facts behind the conservative hype.

        And liberal hype?

        To the extent it's meaningful or productive, I could categorise myself as leaning left, but I won't. Idealogues of any type are embarrassing, even when you sympathise with some of their views.

        In the past I've had a number of seemingly intelligent, well-mannered, and good-intentioned friends include me in their distribution lists, thinking I'd be receptive to their advocacy-message-of-the-day. I tolerated it with an occasional chuckle for a while until I discovered my name was being add to the distributions lists of other seemingly intelligent, well-mannered and good-intentioned people, people who were complete strangers.

        The situation wasn't unlike sending a mail to subscriber-only mailing lists and have someone reply using an attribution style that includes the full name and mail address of the person they're quoting. Now the concept of the routinely putting everyone's name and email address in the body of an email may not cause any lightbulbs to turn on for the average person, but correlating having one's email address published all over the web with an increased level of SPAM, should. At least one would hope so.

        To make a long story short, I did eventually (after much effort) get my name removed from all these bulk mailings, but not before I was deluged with SPAM and forced into abandoning my email account. Now I think twice before giving anyone my email address, seemingly intelligent, good-intentioned friends especially. It's a shame, really. What gets passed around by email by groups of people may not be interesting in itself, but seeing what people are doing with their spare time can be a hoot.

        • by omeomi ( 675045 )
          And liberal hype?

          Should be fact-checked before forwarding, just like conservative hype.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Skater ( 41976 )
        I used to get religious chain letters. Those were annoying because they usually contained all kinds of tripe about how the phrase "under God" in the US Pledge of Allegiance was a good thing or similar idiotic issues. The most annoying part of them was that they usually ended with something like, "If you don't agree, just delete this," which basically says that it's okay for them to share their opinion with me, but they don't want to hear mine back.

        I, of course, would gladly send my opinion back to the per
      • Yeah, that works when liberals send their shit too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Wait, you actually read your chain mail? Mine goes straight to the trash...
    • I'm more interested in knowing why, when they plotted the path of the chainmail it looked like suit of, well, chainmail. This is a clear indication of the fractal nature of reality, such that our terminology for spam actually infects the upper layers of reality to the point where even couch potatos are zombified into following this ancient topology.
    • Because we all know, liberals never spam their friends with chain letters with lists of stupid things Bush has said, or comparing the conservative agenda to things Jesus said in the Bible, or asking you to sign petitions to impeach Bush.
      • Of course, given that the conservative agenda often invokes the Bible and supposedly "Christian" values, I'd say comparing them to Jesus' sayings is actually pretty pertinent. Chain letters as a rule are not a positive thing, but I'd rather see that than outright lies (of the "Obama is a Muslim extremist!" variety, for example)
        • Who cares if the information in a chain letter is accurate or not? What makes them egregious isn't the fact that people are forwarding you inaccurate information -- it's that they're filling your mailbox with crap you don't care about. The fact that it's a chain letter makes the sender an idiot. If you want to compare the conservative agenda to the Bible, get a blog so people can choose whether to read it or not -- don't spam your friends.
    • by ignavus ( 213578 )
      "Of course, geography might be an issue since they all live relatively close to me."

      On the internet we all live relatively close to one another.

      (PS: I live in the southern hemisphere.)
  • Oh My Gosh! (Score:5, Funny)

    by JayTech ( 935793 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @01:01AM (#23443690)
    Oh my gosh! That email about an email tracker is TRUE!! Chain letters DO get tracked! And guess what? If you send this information to 10 people, you'll get a $100 GIFT CERTIFICATE!

    // jokes, obviously
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      >Oh my gosh! That email about an email tracker is
      >TRUE!! Chain letters DO get tracked! And guess
      >what? If you send this information to 10 people,
      >you'll get a $100 GIFT CERTIFICATE!

      • by Phyrexicaid ( 1176935 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @02:32AM (#23443984)
        Hai guys! dont kno if thisll work but its worth a shot!!!

        >>Oh my gosh! That email
        about an email tracker is
        >>TRUE!! Chain letters DO
        get tracked! And guess
        >>what? If you send
        this information to 10 people,
        >>you'll get a $100
        GIFT CERTIFICATE!
        • Hai guys! dont kno if thisll work but its worth a shot!!!

          >>Oh my gosh! That email

          about an email tracker is

          >>TRUE!! Chain letters DO

          get tracked! And guess

          >>what? If you send

          this information to 10 people,

          >>you'll get a $100

          GIFT CERTIFICATE!

          Yeah, it works. I earned about $2000/day, last month, just by letting people know about it. Click that reply button to get more information.

  • Logical Conclusion: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NoobixCube ( 1133473 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @01:24AM (#23443786) Journal
    Some people send chain mail, others don't. Others still, don't want their friends to know they're chain mail sending idiots, thus explaining the "meandering routes".
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dbcad7 ( 771464 )
      What I do, is I look at the CC info... Then I reply to everyone on the list telling them there is good news, and bad news.. the good news is that I chanted an incantation and waved my mouse 3 times over my head breaking the spell on their chain letter forever !.. The bad news is that if they send me chain letters again, I'll have to block them, as I only have so much magic available.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by dotancohen ( 1015143 )

        The bad news is that if they send me chain letters again, I'll have to block them, as I only have so much magic available.
        I swear if you do it one more time I'm gonna report your ISP and say you were sending me kiddie porn you f*ck up.
    • Some people send chain mail, others don't. Others still, don't want their friends to know they're chain mail sending idiots, thus explaining the "meandering routes".
      Sadly, the chain mail sending idiots don't know they are chain mail sending idiots.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 17, 2008 @01:27AM (#23443800)
    it doesn't matter what the pattern is.. they all end up in my moms mailbox
  • by beadfulthings ( 975812 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @01:43AM (#23443848) Journal
    That for the interval covered by the (Bill) Clinton administration, my inbox was full of conservative (and Republican) generated "pass it on" emails vilifying him and anybody else connected with his administration. I probably got two or three a day. For the past eight years we've had a Republican in office, and I don't remember even a single liberal (or Democratic) generated email vilifying the Republicans. I'd almost have to say that if you observed my inbox, Republicans and conservatives love to send these out and liberals and Democrats don't.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by elnico ( 1290430 )
      That for the interval covered by the (George W.) Bush administration, my browser was full of liberal (and Democratic) generated blogs vilifying him and anybody else connected with his administration. There probably were two or three thousand entries a day. For the prior eight years we had a Democrat in office, and I don't remember even a single conservative (or Republican) generated blog vilifying the Democrats. I'd almost have to say that if you observed my browser, Democrats and liberals love to blog and
      • That for the interval covered by the (George W.) Bush administration, my browser was full of liberal (and Democratic) generated blogs vilifying him and anybody else connected with his administration. There probably were two or three thousand entries a day. For the prior eight years we had a Democrat in office, and I don't remember even a single conservative (or Republican) generated blog vilifying the Democrats. I'd almost have to say that if you observed my browser, Democrats and liberals love to blog and conservatives and Republicans don't.

        Yes, that's true, but I can easily choose not to read these blogs. On the other hand, I have no choice in regards to the reception of chain mails.

      • The really cool campaign tricks are the false additions/amendments submitted to Wikipedia from government ip's.

        Getting back on point, I think this chainmail study should be filed under the NSS category (No Sh** Sherlock). Some people's friends know friends of their friends? You're kidding!

        "Say, are you on MyFace?"

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 17, 2008 @03:50AM (#23444198)
      Your observations are supported by research. FactCheck.org posted commentary recently that "notes a decidedly anti-Democrat tilt to the bulk of the e-mail chatter." http://www.factcheck.org/specialreports/that_chain_e-mail_your_friend_sent_to.html
      • Uh, he's (David Emery) talking about the current election, not historic trends as you infer from the GP (For the past eight years). The article you pulled a partial quote from also says "there's still plenty of time before the election."

        Your post sounds like a liberal e-mail.
    • by TummyX ( 84871 )
      No, they just make documentaries or post on slashdot instead.
    • Just wonder who your friends are? I did not see many political chain email while Mr Clinton was in office. But I have been getting a boat load now that Mr Bush is there. Oh my Father-in-law makes sure I see them.

      Some how I after reading a few I wanted to defend Mr Bush, so I stopped reading them. :-)
    • For the past year I have had a hard-core right-winger as a guest in my house. I can tell you that there is no lack of right-wing blogs, they just spew hatred and rarely include any fact-checking. My guess is that these blogs are a primary source of venom for the serpentine email networks.

      Oh, and mod parent funny!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It is well documented that forgeign customers of the African Development Bank have a 110% chance of dying, with all family and next of kin, in a plane crash, leaving behind, on average, 40 million dollars in unclaimed accounts. This will invariably result in hundreds of unscupulous bank employees attempting to recruit only slightly less unscrupulous partners to transfer these funds out of the country before the accounts are turned over to the government.

    In an attempt to curb this illegal activity, the Offi
  • by SpaceLifeForm ( 228190 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @02:30AM (#23443974)
    Someone stole one of your articles.
  • duh?
  • "One surprising finding was that messages often took meandering routes between people who knew each other, often through as many as 100 intermediaries."

    That means that after 100 steps the mail came back to somebody who knew the original sender? After, you know, having been sent to everybody in one's address book?

    NO SH!T SHERLOCK!

    I thought everybody was connected to everybody via at most 6 links or so.
  • on iPhone here, no copy/paste, so google:

    "chain letter" Scientific American

    for the article "Chain Letters and Evolutionary Histories"

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