Chain Mail – That Could End the World

In the past few decades with the rise of email, the number of outrageous chain letters and hoaxes have reached a fevered pitch.  And so chain-letters have gained a reputation for being dubious.  But of all the chain letters currently in transit throughout the world wide web, few reach proportions that are quite this apocalyptic.  The emails claim if they are not sent in time, the fate of the world itself will hang in the balance.

This is how the world ends, not with a bang but a chain letter.  Email chain letters have been connected to a number of things.  On sites like Youtube from 2007 onward a series of hoaxes claimed that a little girl would claim the lives of anyone who dared read a comment in the comment section displaying her name (which varied widely) and not forward it to several of the friends on their friends’ list.  The meme quickly caught on despite its incredible claims that the girl had gained near omnipotence, being able to see and hear all chain letters as they were passed along in her name.  It was only the latest of a series of chain letters making fantastic and incredible claims.

The logic behind the comments and chain letters was simple.  The source of the claim was dubious, but with the film “The Ring” still in the collective unconscious of film-goers, the dramatization closed an eerie gap between the two.  And it based its success on the same principle shared with another earlier predecessor – the Doomsday email.

Few chain letters make someone feel that the fate of the entire planet rests in their own hands.  And yet a chain letter alleging to have come from prominent antivirus company Symantec claimed that a virus left behind by a disgruntled worker would unleash nuclear devastation if certain emails were opened.  Needless to say such a virus never existed, but it was based partially around fears of the Y2K bug still making headlines around the world.  Additionally, the original source of the email was not an antivirus company.

And while the email was sent in 2002, there have been a number of others cashing in on the latest cultural fears.  In addition to Y2K, there have been a number of other emails claiming outrageous doomsday scenarios (albeit less convincingly) if hapless recipients don’t forward the messages.  One such email claimed that a politician (not thought to be associated with the email) would avert global catastrophe only if they received sufficient donations.

Others have claimed that major disasters were the result of previous failures by recipients to forward their own chain letters.  While the hoaxes are not the end of the world (thankfully) they do betray a level of interest the public increasingly has shown toward the apocalypse in recent years.  Between Global Warming, Nuclear War, and various cultural beliefs in the end of the world these emails receive more attention than was perhaps intended when they were first created.

The emails themselves are more often than not likely intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but their spread may be an expression by a public well aware of the potential dangers our planet faces.