Dear Miss Manners • It often happens these days that I am sent an email from a friend or family member containing a claim or allegation, usually political in nature — e.g. “Candidate So-and-so is actually a lizard alien.” (They are usually not quite so obvious, of course.)
Upon checking credible sources, I find that the claim is false — aka not true, fake news, A Big Fat Lie. I reply (courteously!) to the sender and let them know, including links so they can check for themselves.
Thus far, I have no qualms. However, it often happens that the email I receive has been forwarded several times, without removing previous senders and recipients’ names and email addresses. Therefore, I am 1. aware that many other people have received this false information, and 2. in possession of a way to contact them.
What is my ethical obligation to these people? Should I include them in my reply to the sender? This seems uncomfortable, since I don’t know most of them. On the other hand, false news and rumors are such an enormous problem today that I also feel an ethical obligation to alert people when they’ve received such things.. And of course, I always harbor the hope that alerting them will also make them more careful in the future about what they send on.
What is the correct thing to do here?
Gentle Reader • Although she does not doubt the accuracy of your research, Miss Manners worries that the other recipients may feel about any correction from you the same way you felt about the original: bothered and aggrieved.
Once everyone starts shouting, the neighbors are more interested in restoring silence than in parsing who is correct. She therefore counsels you not to copy others unless your response is short and contains information they need — such as the desire that you be dropped from the thread.
Dear Miss Manners • Whether it’s work or personal email, often the person I’ve messaged has answered a question I didn’t ask, or only answered one in a list of many. How can I politely say, “Go back and actually read the email I just sent you”?
I am having to interact multiple times simply because they have not read the content carefully. I don’t appreciate wasting my time or having to repeat myself, and it is negatively affecting the way I view these people.
Gentle Reader • The frustration of talking to someone who is not listening predates email, as does the solution: repeating yourself until you get a response — with as much patience as you can muster.
Miss Manners realizes this is an imperfect answer, so she appends her own sympathy, and offers a shortcut: copy and paste.
Dear Miss Manners • What is the most polite way to ask about the possibility of returning a gift? Signed, Four Sizes Too Small
Gentle Reader • With the truth plus a bit of sugar: “I just adore it, but of course you didn’t know my size. I’m so sorry to trouble you, but could you please tell me where you got it so I can exchange it?” Miss Manners urges you to assume as much of the burden for effecting the exchange as is practically possible.
Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.
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