The Good Luck of Flanders letter is a classic example from the 1930s. It promised prosperity to all who copied it and sent it on to four other people within 24 hours, and bad luck to those who "broke the chain" by failing to comply. Virtually all chain letters hold out some sort of reward for reproducing them, be it blessings, good luck, money or simply a clear conscience. On the flip side, there may be threats of calamity for failing to circulate the requisite number of copies, e.g., "One person did not pass this letter along and died a week later."
However preposterous their claims, chain letters always attempt to play on the irrational wishes or fears of their recipients — and often succeed. For those especially vulnerable to psychological manipulation, they seem to exude an aura of mystical or quasi-mystical power.
So, why do they do it ?
Most often Chain mails are started by novice hackers with an aim to bottleneck the internet's email systems. Their true purpose is to provoke fear, and more importantly to spread fear, rather than to inform. Often the texts are mere pranks or hoaxes. People who forward them without validating their content may be credited with naive good intentions, but it's impossible to attribute anything but cynical or self-serving motives to their original — and almost always anonymous — authors.
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Examples: Variations on traditional forms
- Good Luck of Flanders - Standard "good luck" chain letter
- Dave Rhodes Chain Letter - Make money fast!
- Education in the Cumberlands - Charity chain letter
Examples: Email chain letters
- Craig Shergold - Charity chain letter ("send get-well cards to a dying child")
- Jessica Mydek - Charity chain letter ("money will be donated each time this message is forwarded")
- Applebee's Giveaway - Freebie chain letter ("forward this to receive free merchandise or money")
- New Carjacking Scheme - Fearmongering chain letter (criminal activity)
- Bud Frogs Screensaver - Fearmongering chain letter (computer virus)
- Antiperspirants Cause Breast Cancer - Fearmongering chain letter (dangerous product)
- Flesh-Eating Bananas - Fearmongering chain letter (contaminated food}