Vox Populi

The Methods: viral e-mails: Health Care example

In buying elections, Get the Ca$h, ideology on December 2, 2009 at 7:02 pm
viral happens
Image by Will Lion via Flickr

One effective means of distributing ones agenda is to have random people do the distribution for you.  With the web 2.0’s social nature, a document, screed or set of talking points can easily “go viral” in that one person sends it to their friends and family, a sub-set of which sends it to theirs…on and on until an exponential distribution has been made, for free.

One such example landed in my inbox this morning.  An unnamed member of my family sent what was purported to be a letter from a doctor to his congressman outlining the deficiencies in the debated health care overhaul bill.  By ascribing the author as an authority on the matter (a physician, one assumes, would know the business of healthcare), the e-mail carries as much implied weight as an editorial (see yesterday’s note).  By presenting the note as a template, there is the implied, if not outright desire, for the recipient to copy/paste the letter to her congressman.

However, the problem/trick/tool (depending on your use of this method) is that the information provided in the viral e-mail may not be accurate.  In fact, viral e-mails are often ideological talking points that pass themselves off as “fact” or, in this case, learned opinion.

The e-mail reads, in part for it is rather long:

Senator Bayh,

As a practicing physician I have major concerns with the health care bill before Congress. I actually have read the bill and am shocked by the brazenness of the government’s proposed involvement in the patient-physician relationship. The very idea that the government will dictate and ration patient care is dangerous and certainly not helpful in designing a health care system that works for all. Every physician I work with agrees that we need to fix our health care system, but the proposed bills currently making their way through congress will be a disaster if passed.

I ask you respectfully and as a patriotic American to look at the following troubling lines that I have read in the bill. You cannot possibly believe that these proposals are in the best interests of the country and our fellow citizens.

Page 22 of the HC Bill:

Mandates that the Govt will audit books of all employers that self-insure!!

Page 29 lines 4-16 in the HC bill:


Notice that a good viral e-mail has a liberal use of capitalization–gets one excited.

Once the information/talking points is placed in its final form (extra points for extensive punctuation, exciting rhetoric and apocalyptic portents), it may not only be e-mailed around, it will also be posted on blogs and other web-sites by the true-believing choir.

In essence, the viral message (it can be e-mail, video, etc.) uses crowd-sourcing technologies to disseminate an ideological group’s propaganda.

Was the e-mail sent by a real doctor?  There is a physician of the same name (a link provided by a helpful re-blogger), but even if the physician is real, and even if he believes his points (two large assumptions when dealing with viral media), that really only comes into play if what he says is true.

Here is a portion of a site that has taken the time to refute, point by laborious point, the entire e-mail.  I give only a snippet:

• Page 22: Mandates audits of all employers that self-insure! False: Section 113  of the bill requires the Health Choices commissioner to conduct a study to make sure health reform does not unintentionally create incentives for businesses to self-insure or create adverse selection in the risk pools of insured plans. There is no mandated audit.

• Page 29: Admission: your health care will be rationed! False: Section 122 outlines broad categories of benefits that must be included in an essential benefits package. It prohibits cost-sharing for preventive care and limits annual out-of-pocket spending to $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a family, indexed for inflation. It says nothing about rationing or limiting treatment.

So, quick-format follows:

  1. gather your talking points,
  2. attribute them to an “expert,” wise person or some other authority,
  3. send it to your friends and family,
  4. encourage them to pass it along, and soon, you will be viral.
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