How to Deal with Relatives' Spam -- or --
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Categories: Advice, Technology

Hi Anna,

My aunt and I primarily "keep in touch" through e-mail, and by that I mean, she sends me chain emails almost every day. Most of these are cute, or mildly funny, but sometimes they are scams or racist diatribes. Can I ask her to stop sending them? I don't want to be rude or disrespectful, but there's only so many death-panels-Bill-Gates-wants-to-give-me-money-flesh-eating-bananas e-mails I can take.

~Family Tied

Well, that's the last time I'll warn YOU about piranha produce. We'll see who's complaining when fruitmageddon rolls around. Hint: me, because you'll most likely be dead.

Chain letters (and their modern equivalents) have been around since the middle ages, when a so-called priest named Prester John requested help from Christian armies to rescue his magical paradise that was overrun by infidels. While this land of milk and honey was never found, some say the chain letters, "profoundly affected the geographical knowledge of Europe by stimulating interest in foreign lands and sparking expeditions outside of Europe." In the 19th century, chain letters were used in Britain to help fund a home for street prostitutes, and also to thwart Jack the Ripper. So, they weren't always an obnoxious medium to spread cute kitten pictures or attempt to pyramid scheme you.
It's difficult to tell our elders to stop spamming us for a few reasons. Why? Because they often mean well. Some older folks are technological masters, but for others, e-mail is as far as they got in web savvy-ness. (And, to be inclusive, younger folks are certainly susceptible to spreading chains and hoaxes, especially on Facebook). Also, in some cases, as in yours, these might be the only communications you get from a distant family member, and you don't want to alienate them entirely. I would draw the line at overtly political or hateful e-mails. If something is blatantly racist or bigoted, you should diplomatically but firmly tell them they are being bitch pigeons.

For most interactions with clueless but caring friends or relatives, here's a way to pull the bandage with minimal hair-ripping. First, if the spamming is mild, it takes very little effort to click the delete button and never think of it again. You have no one but yourself to blame if you scrolled all the way to the bottom of that pictorial irony mass e-mail.

If the e-mailing becomes excessive, then try the "It's not you, it's me approach." Thank them for corresponding:

"Dear Uncle BiblePants, thanks for thinking of me when you sent around that sparkly rainbow unicorn prayer animation. It was uplifting!"

Then, inform them why mass e-mails are a nuisance and shoulder the blame:

"However, I sometimes get 50-100 e-mails a day at work and in my personal account, not to mention Russian bride offers and tips to 'enlarge my pork spear.' It's difficult to sort through all of these, as you can imagine, so if you could limit your e-mails to me to only personal messages, I would be much obliged."

So, there you have it. Also, if you don't forward this post to all your friends, you will die within 24 hours. Consider yourselves warned.

Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @ExhibitionistSF or Facebook

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 While I don't normally condone Reply All, I might have sent a link to Snopes to everyone who was receiving racist spam from one in-law. Maybe he quit sending them, maybe I'm just off his list. Either way, I'm happier, and we still speak at gatherings, so it was a success in my book...


You know, I didsend the polite "Please stop spamming me email" once upon a time. It was written with all of the best intentions - I really didn't want toreceive crap anymore! All it did was put me on the top of their sh*tlist. I got a barely comprehensible reply (think Yahoo! Answers)letting me know exactly how they felt about me. That person saw it asa personal insult that I didn't want to hear about the crap they weresending me. For me, it ended in laugher - and ironically forwarding saidemail to all my friends.

I think you’re better off setting up filters to auto delete spam from thatperson rather than starting a pissing match.


Do you really need a columnists permission to set a boundary with auntie? The real issue here is getting a spine and being able to lovingly and tactfully be able to set boundaries with ANYONE. You do not have to allow nonsense in your life. You should be asking yourself, why do I have a fear of telling the truth. If you really care about your aunt, tell her the truth. If your best friend has a booger hanging from her/his nose, you say something. If you can't, you are either a coward or do not truly care for the feelings of your friend or both. Telling the truth gets easier and practice makes perfect. Not to mention the freedom of getting things that are bugging you off your chest. False guilt is born of the fear of man and manipulation. Don't be it's victim.


I'm forwarding, I'm forwarding. I can't risk death at the hands of a pork spear. Also my uncle spells his name with a hyphen so it is actually Bible-pants.

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