Chain letter

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A chain letter is a message that is now mostly distributed via social networks (mostly WhatsApp , less often Facebook , Twitter , Instagram (Direct), Kik Messenger ), less often e-mail and, as an almost extinct variant, post. You will be asked to copy the letter and send it to several other recipients. Sometimes there are threats with obscure or dramatic consequences if you do not forward the mail and thus break the chain. However, those who forward such letters are often promised great rewards. Sometimes recipients are also put under subtle moral pressure to forward the message.

Chain letters serve different purposes:

Taking into account the previous points and the enormous number of variants, the following classification for chain letters can be proposed. The same structure is deepened in the study Copy and Paste :

  • Magical-religious chain letters (heavenly letters and religious chain letters) (pp. 59–85)
  • Profane chain letters (Swiss Solidarity Letters, Money Chain Letters, Political Chain Letters, Chain Letters of Pity) (pp. 86–106)
  • Criticism, prohibition, parody - parodic, humorous and ludative chain letters ( joke chain letters, anti-chain letters , phishing and spam mails , including lucky bread, etc.) (pp. 107–130)

Before the Internet age, chain letters were mostly sent through the mail. Complaints about chain letters were published as early as 1926. In the age of the Internet, most of the sending is done via social network (see introduction) or e-mail. In principle, any medium is suitable for the distribution of chain letters if there is a sender, a recipient and the possibility of sending messages to several other people. For example, chain mails have also been observed in communities . For this reason, the decisive factor for the definition of the chain letter is less its transmission medium than the content of the message.

Chain letters can typically be identified by a direct or indirect request in the message to forward them to multiple recipients, usually in connection with promises, pitiful stories or threats.

Chain letters use the mode of action of the pyramid scheme to spread. Many, often inexperienced users, hope for the promised profits or results by sending a chain letter. This is especially true if the dissemination is connected with the request to send money or gifts. For example, chain letters sent by post had a list of addresses attached. The recipient should then send a certain amount of money to the first of these addresses, cross it off before retransmission, and instead add their own address to the end of the list. This raised the hope that in the course of time one's own address would come first and thus the amount of money in question, multiplied by the distribution of the chain letter, would benefit the disseminator himself.

Chain letters can also be used indirectly to harass people. Here, a request for help, such as a telephone number, is usually given in the chain letter. The victims behind this phone number then receive dozens of phone calls daily from recipients of the chain letter.

The exponentially increasing mass of messages (e-mails) puts a heavy load on communication systems. If, for example, a user receives a chain letter and forwards it to ten other people, who in turn forward it to ten people, then after the fifth recipient a theoretical message volume of 100,000 messages has been reached. Network operators therefore generally strongly recommend not to forward a chain letter message and not to contact any named contact persons, even if at first glance it appears to be a “good thing” (e.g. appeal for donations).

The so-called hoax is a special form of the chain letter as e-mail with alleged warnings, for example of computer viruses .

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge circulated around the middle of 2014, which is a special variant of a chain letter due to the invitation (“nomination”) to imitate it.

Web links

Wiktionary: chain letter  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : chain letters  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Rauchegger, Andreas: Copy and Paste. Heavenly letters and chain letters as writing and copying rituals in transition. Saarbrücken 2010.
  2. "Stupidity" in The Sunday Messenger. Weekly for the Catholic people of the Diocese of Silesia . No. 9, vol. 2, 1926 ( [accessed on November 16, 2018]).