We all have them. On Facebook, Twitter, even in email. That friend (or friends) that rebroadcast every hoax from abandoned puppies, abducted little girls or whichever political outrage email is currently en vogue.

How can I educate my friend(s) who continue to do this and keep them as friends?

If it only happened once or twice, I am sure I could just point out the appropriate page on Snopes.com or similar. I am specifically referring to serial offenders that actually think they are providing a service to the world.

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    I'm really tired of the old Reagan jokes, that were recycled into Clinton jokes, then Bush jokes, and now Obama jokes... How many is a Brazillion? Aug 21, 2009 at 21:11
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    To be honest i'll keep my hands off educating anyone who is non-techie. I learned from my experience that educating them is worst mistake. Let them get over these things on their own. That's the best thing you can do in such mild situation.
    – Mahesh
    Dec 9, 2010 at 7:14

12 Answers 12


When it comes to hoaxes and non-techie users, being gentle is really the wrong tactic.

It's only a matter of time before they fall for something that actually harms them, by stealing their information, or something else. They need to learn, and quickly.

Personally I reply all with a link to snopes or elsewhere, explaining that it's a hoax. Then I include this line: "Every email that asks you to forward to all your friends is a hoax, or a joke by somebody that just wants to clog people's email."

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    Linking to Snopes only works if they already believe that it can be trusted. Aug 21, 2009 at 21:28
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    – Kevin L.
    Aug 21, 2009 at 21:29
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    @barry - thats the issue I am running into - snopes is hardly a trustworthy looking site.
    – Rob Allen
    Aug 22, 2009 at 0:46
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    @Kevin, this is the XKCD that was running through my mind as I read the hoax-laden post when it was time to leave the office: xkcd.com/386
    – Rob Allen
    Aug 22, 2009 at 1:03
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    I agree with this advice, but be prepared for your well-meaning friend or relative to get pissed off. My experience is that people find this kind of correction embarrassing, and they will not thank you for it. (And make sure your "reply all" list doesn't include any business associates of the person you're correcting, because it's not OK to embarrass them in front of their colleagues -- let them make those corrections personally.)
    – jeffm
    Sep 20, 2009 at 14:28

I always just direct them to the appropriate debunk on snopes.com. Often I "reply all" so all of his/her other victims get a clue and, I hope, don't forward it on.

I've gotten many fewer of these sorts of messages over the last few years. Either the people who used to send me these things have got a clue, or I just annoyed them enough that they removed me from their e-mail lists. Win for me either way.

  • The over arching goal is to arm this person with a healthy bit of distrust for "omgz you have to send this to as many plz as you can!!!" Not to have them just exclude me.
    – Rob Allen
    Aug 22, 2009 at 0:55
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    That's laudable, but there are some people who aren't going to get it no matter how many times you hit them with the clue bat. Maybe I'm just too old and crotchety.
    – ale
    Aug 23, 2009 at 0:04

I agree with the comments on using Snopes, but since your question asked how to explain the hoax gently, I would often start my reply by something like, "I saw this before and someone told me it's a hoax. Here's a link to an article on Snopes." Depending on the person, I sometimes follow up with a quick explanation of what the Snopes.com site is all about.

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    There is a level of finesse in that suggestion which I like. If I combine it with what @The-How-To-Geek said, I think it will work and not get be perma-banned from cook-outs.
    – Rob Allen
    Aug 22, 2009 at 1:02
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    What I love is getting a hoax email that includes something like "I checked this on Snopes and it's true!" when they (or any of their predecessors) obviously didn't and it's obviously not. Aug 24, 2009 at 18:14
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    I guess there's no such thing as a new low in social engineering tactics. Aug 25, 2009 at 3:25

The first time or two I'll point them a debunking site like snopes. They will either get the hint or not. if they don't I simply delete their e-mails. If it gets too bad I'll add them to my spam filter blacklist.

One more note, while I don't want to start a flame war, in my opinion snopes itself is not always accurate. It is run by a couple who expend a great deal of energy in trying to keep up with all of hoaxes out there, but they do occasionally put their own slant on things. I am somewhat, OK very, skeptical about anything I read on the internet, including snopes. It is still one of the best sites for debunking hoaxes, but I would not consider their views to the final definitive answer on some subjects.

  • I wonder if there's a page on Snopes that debunks your opinion. =P Aug 21, 2009 at 21:03
  • @Jim: re: "skeptical" and @The How-To Geek: re: "I wonder": See snopes.com/lost/kfc.asp and snopes.com/lost/false.asp (In order to prove the point that no one source should be the ultimate authority on truth, Snopes perpetrated a hoax themselves regarding the Commonwealth of Kentucky trademarking it's name.) Aug 24, 2009 at 18:23

As a complement to all the other people who mentioned Snopes: I typically do a Google search for some key words and reply with a few of the top links, as well as a suggestion to repeat the same search. That way, someone who doesn't want to believe something just because they read it on one particular website (Snopes) will still have reason to take my reply seriously.

  • This is a good technique. Paste the subject or first couple sentences of the questionable email into Google and see what comes up. Usually they are sites that debunk the email. Aug 22, 2009 at 7:09

I tend to reply briefly to all, something like this:

Fear not, it's a hoax. see [insert snopes.com link here]

Over time, they either learn to be more skeptical, check snopes.com themselves, or take me off of their junk-mail-forwarding list.

All of which are Good Things.

The rare item that is actually true gets a similar reply-to-all:

oddly enough, this is a true story - and the details 
make it even better, see [insert snopes.com link here]

Once again, to subtly encourage the use of snopes.com.

  • yeah, snopes is nice.
    – cregox
    Mar 4, 2010 at 23:00

I just talk to the person -- separately, away from others, and preferably not over e-mail. I tell them that when they get something, anything like that, the first thing they should do is validate it over on snopes.com. (Something you're already doing for them.)

If I suspect they can't handle that, then I just let it be. I learned a long time ago that some people just don't want to be corrected, even when they're not only wrong, but possibly dangerously so. :)


I just don't make friends with the easily led :) Forwarding a mass email is a fast track to be flagged as a spammer.

  • What, you first ask the question and evaluate people's answers and then based on that, choose your friends ? LOL :)
    – Rook
    Aug 21, 2009 at 21:36
  • What .... you don't? Aug 22, 2009 at 10:29
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    You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family ;¬)
    – pelms
    Aug 23, 2009 at 1:30

No big problem. I just write back to the forwarder, letting them know that it's either a hoax, or a scam or some sort of pyramid scheme. Only rarely do I get any more scam emails from them. Even the dumbest of my friends normally learn after the second one. I haven't had a circular type email for months. As far as I know, my friends are still friends.


I get pretty forceful about it, because sometimes they're just mass forwarded crap that doesn't state facts and therefore there's nothing to debunk (send this annoying joke to 15 friends!). the first time I ask them nicely, the second time I give them a final warning, and the third time I send that message back to them about 25 times or until they call me screaming that I'm clogging up their inbox. I thank them for understanding how it feels now.


As far as the hoax thing is concerned, when it's one of those.. I email the entire list, telling them not to email it on. With an explanation. And I normally get an email from the original sender saying "thank you", though they may be being sarcastic, they get the message.

Also, if it's a hoax one, I really bite their head off..tell them not to dare send me any CC email EVER. In the explanation to their list, I tell them that one wrong person gets the email or a person whose computer has been compromised, and then everybody's email address is very easily in the hands of spammers.

Though in one case, for a CC email not a hoax, and I didn't want to say no to those ones, I gave them another email address to use for me. I tell them about BCC but it doesn't help.

A big problem is religious people getting an email about praying for somebody, they really think the more people get the email the better, and they can't sleep unless the send it to their whole mailing list with intsructions....to send to more.. They leave me out of it now though. And I guess some of those might not be hoaxes!


I explain them nicely and easy (I don't undestand what "gentle" explaining is - I'm not hitting anyone in the process), and then show them a few pages which explain the most famous hoaxes.

If they still think it's the real McCoy, I usually find them a few examples, ... generally, intelligent people don't have a problem with it.

As for the incoming mails, usually a mail saying "stop sending me that" works. If not, and if they still think it's real, I just delete it on my side. Can't say that those 5 seconds per day (time for deleting such stuff) bothers me that much.

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