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AOL 100,000 Signatures Hoax

Summary:
Email forward claims that AOL will start charging $15.00 per month for instant messaging if 100,000 "signatures" are not collected by July 2005 (Full commentary below.)



Status:
False

Example:(Submitted, April 2005)
Dear America Online and Instant Messages users:

Our America online staff is planning to take away IM by July 18th, 2005. If you want to keep our IM free of charge, send this email to everyone you know. It will be used as a petition. Each person you send this to counts as one "signature" If this petition gets 100,000 signatures they will keep AOL IM.

If they do not receive 100,000 votes you will have to pay 15.00 to have IM (per month). If you don't care about this then please for everyone's sake help out a little. Thank you for your time and consideration and please help AOL beat their vote.




Commentary:
The information in this hoax message is completely untrue. AOL currently has no plans to start charging for its Instant Messaging service.

This absurd email hoax has been around in one form or another since at least 1999. The latest version is virtually identical to earlier incarnations except that a new deadline date has been added. From time to time, someone adds a more current date to the hoax message, and in some cases, a change in the number of signatures required. Thus "refreshed", the new version once again gains momentum, duping the unwary as it travels from inbox to inbox.

If AOL did decide to start charging for their IM service, it certainly wouldn't base this decision on how many email "signatures" it received before a specified date. A decision to start charging for a popular free service would only be implemented as a result of a well-researched business strategy. AOL would not try to gauge consumer reaction to such a charge by mounting a haphazard and unprofessional email petition on the subject. In any case, even when they are based on legitimate issues, email petitions are of very little value.

Besides, the email implies that AOL will supposedly be able to magically keep a count of how many people have participated in the "petition". The message claims that each person the email is sent to counts as one "signature". Presumably, therefore, AOL would need to implement some means of keeping track of how many emails were actually sent. Such an exercise on the scale required would be logistically impossible not to mention ethically questionable.

The inherent stupidity of this email message should really be enough to clearly identify it as just a foolish prank and thereby calm the fears of AOL's army of loyal IM users. However, if any doubt remains, AOL has publicly denounced these messages as hoaxes via its online help files. The help file includes the following disclaimer:
"If you received e-mail informing you of AOL's plan to charge for the Instant Message (IM) feature or remove it from the service, the e-mail that you received is a hoax. Any allegation that America Online is planning to start charging for or take away the IM feature is false."

AOL is not the only target of such hoaxes. Similar prank emails have claimed that Hotmail or Yahoo accounts will be terminated unless the messages are forwarded.

An earlier example:
America On-line and Instant Messages users:
Our America on-line staff is planning to take away IM by May 9th, 2002. If you want to keep our IM free of charge, send this email to everyone you know. It will be used as a petition. Each person you send this to counts as one "signature" If this petition gets 100,000 signatures they will keep AOL IM. If they do not receive 100,000 votes you will have to pay $15.00 to have IM (per month). If you don't care about this then please for everyone's sake help out a little. Thank you for your time and consideration and please help beat their vote send it to more people.


Write-up by Brett M.Christensen