Chain emails have netizens in a bind

The internet gives me sleepless nights these days,” confesses 17-year-old Nisha Lakhina, “I’m scared that it could harm my parents, break my relationships and ruin my career.”

No, Nisha isn’t a net addict or paranoid. Ten days ago, she received an email from one of her friends telling her that the soul of a religious guru is waiting to be re-born and to make others aware of his arrival.

So, she should forward the mail to at least 20 people in two hours. If she failed to do so, the mail threatened that her near and dear ones will suffer, her relationship will break and she will face a dark future.

“I didn’t take it seriously then, but it still haunts me at nights,” relents Nisha, “I forwarded the mail later, but what about the twohour deadline?” she asks nervously.

The ‘chain email’ menace engulfing India and a populace that is steeped in religious tradition and prone to superstition, is facing a quandary as to how to deal with it.

From religious reincarnations, friendship day messages and even love quizzes, there seems to be an emotional blackmail undertone to most mails.

Ishita Rane, a computer engineer, says she gets at least 10 such mails in a day. “The worst part is that they are from friends, which makes it impossible to block them.” Ishita fell prey to such messages in the beginning.

“Not because I believed in them, but because I didn’t want to take a risk,” she says. It’s the same story with Anirudh Mehetre. “I don’t believe in this stuff, still I forward the mails, because I love my friends too much,” he says.

Nalini Shah, a housewife, says she doesn’t believe in the threats, but forwards the messages as they keep her ‘in touch’ with her friends. Narendra Shah, her husband and businessman, got a mail that threatened his mother’s death. “However rational I am, I’m touchy about my mother,” he fumes.

“An overload of such mails in an office clogs servers and causes damage,” says Vineet Tamhankar, a computer expert, “But the superstitions these mails spread are even more damaging.” Often, these mails are used as Trojan horses, carrying links and messages from companies.

A K Apte, president, Computer Society of India (CSI), warns people not to fall for the ‘marketing tricks’ of unknown senders. “Senders are mostly interested in getting the name of their company across, which they do for free.”

Unfortunately, Indian cyberlaws don’t have any provisions that can protect netizens from such mails.

Says Rohas Nagpal, Asian School of Cyber Law , “These mails come under the spam category, but as they don’t damage software or hardware, the senders can’t be taken to court.”

“The latest development is now chain SMSs, which are spreading like wild-fire,” says Tamhankar.

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