Publication date: May 2005
Submission date: July 2004

PhD papers TD05-003
Email chain letters: the role of the known sender
Enric Senabre (
Communications manager for the Virtual Campus of the Iberoamerican Divison (UOC)
Student on the Information and Knowledge Society PhD programme


This research paper looks at the active role played by the known sender in the phenomenon of the transmission of email chain letters, examining the types of intervention carried out by recipients and the context of the technological and social conditioning factors that influence their spread on the internet and what could be called the natural selection of these messages. These conditioning factors include explanatory and conative functions of the message’s text, the general level of media disinformation of those involved in the forwarding process and the unidirectional relationships between the personal nodes in which this takes place.

The main results from this study highlight the active role of the sender, showing that they, far from merely forwarding messages in the chain mechanically and without defined criteria, are habitually employing preliminary selection processes for recipients and modifying the information. Likewise, it has been seen how a context can be defined, in terms of the phenomenon, for the relationships between email sender and recipient, and sender and information media: by sending chain letters, they are, on the one hand, trying to establish minimum and regular online communication links with the recipients, whilst on the other hand, they often look to complement or overcome the perceived ineffectiveness of traditional communication media for transmitting certain kinds of information.

email, chain letters, hoax, social/citizen  participation, knowledge society