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If my time on Facebook (or anywhere else people comment online) has taught me anything, it’s that people behind the screen can be a lot like people behind the wheel: total sociopaths. What’s more, there is something about turning 41 that has left me less likely to sit back quietly when others are being obnoxious.

In light of the Arizona shootings and some of the uglier conversations that have taken place in its wake, civility was especially present in my mind last week. This is the backdrop to a small story about email.

A little over a week ago, I opened my inbox and saw a message from someone I volunteer with. This person, whom I will call Connie, is one of the nicest people I know. We volunteer together, and she’s one of my mother-in-law’s best friends. She’s also a woman of a certain age, and like many (but by no means all!) women in her cohort, she is not particularly tech savvy. She forwarded along a warning about a “here it is” email virus.

My first thought upon seeing this was that it was likely a hoax and that after I investigated it, I would gently and privately alert Connie and tell her how to verify such information. However, another person on her mailing list beat me to it. And he was neither gentle nor private. His email, using “reply all” read as follows:

“This is a commonly known hoax that dates to 2002.  It took me all of 90 seconds to confirm that with google [sic]. The act of forwarding the hoaxes is a sort of virus of it’s [sic] own.”

Then he listed a few links, including Wikipedia.

Nasty, eh? I thought the “90 seconds” bit was especially dismissive. So I hemmed and hawed and then did a little research myself in preparation for writing Connie. And you know what I found out? Mr. 90 seconds had oversimplified things a bit.

There was, indeed, a “Here it is” virus in September and October of 2010. Reputable sources including McAfee Security and PC Magazine reported on it, and the virus was considered contained later in the fall. In the meantime, some folks took that story, conflated it with details of an earlier hoax, and that is what ended up in Connie’s inbox.

I sent off my note to Connie, but still felt like something more important had been left unsaid. So I wrote Mr. 90 Seconds himself:

“Hi XXX,

The “Here it is” virus was real enough in September, even if it did not work exactly as Connie described in her email.[Then I listed a bunch of links, all more authoritative than Wikipedia.] The current risk is deemed to be low, as most AV engines have adapted to it, but it was more than a hoax from 2002.”

I was just about to hit “send” when I had an “I’m 41 and not sitting back while others are unnecessarily rude” moment. So I added two little lines:

“Connie is one of the best people I know. A little kindness wouldn’t have been too much to ask.”

And then I hit “send”. I have no idea who Mr. 90 Seconds is. I hope to God he’s not her son-in-law! But I do know that among the various strategies for dealing with non-tech savvy people, better options exist than public rebuke. Ignore it. Teach the person. Create a filter so you never see anything he or she forwards. I’d also point out the irony of advertising a 90-second research project when it produces results of dubious merit (to say nothing of questionable grammar), but that would be…

… Uncivil.

2 Responses to “Civility”

  1. christine says:

    Connie’s lucky to have you on her side!

  2. blg says:

    If only there was a LIKE button here.

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