I recently got the same Internet chain letter — sort of an electronic recipe swap — twice in one day, from two fun, busy and...

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I recently got the same Internet chain letter — sort of an electronic recipe swap — twice in one day, from two fun, busy and smart friends.

The drill: Send a recipe to the first person on the list, delete her name and add yours to the bottom, and pass the letter along to 10 friends. You should soon get 36 recipes in your inbox.

Umm, I don’t want to do this once, let alone twice.

And I certainly don’t want to inflict this thing on 20 friends.

But I also don’t want to write a “reject” letter, as requested.

“If you cannot do this within 5 days, please let me know so it will be fair to those participating,” the letter exhorts.

I screw up my courage and, for the first time, just say no.

“I’m sorry, but I’m going to pass on sending this along,” I reply to my friends. “I got it twice today, and I just can’t rise to the occasion.”

I feel empowered by this act of uncharacteristic assertiveness, but also kind of ridiculous. All this angst over a silly chain letter?

If your inbox is anything like mine, you get these things all the time, from well-intentioned pals.

If it’s not a recipe swap, it’s an appeal to help on some kid’s science project by adding your name to a list, or a request to sign a petition sending a “very important message” to the president about something.

And then there all those e-mails that promise you Irish blessings or great sex and so on — but only if you forward them to X number of friends within X number of days. I’m forever being forwarded e-mails of inspirational stories and heartwarming photos that, of course, I’m supposed to forward to more friends.

More than once, I’ve received a get-rich-quick e-mail that made me wonder who could possibly believe that Bill Gates wants to send them $245 for every time they forward a particular message.

Even when the content is legit, for the most part I’m just not a PWF — a Person Who Forwards.

Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has written lots of books on cyber society, says much of what’s circulating is pretty harmless and represents “just another way of saying ‘hi.’ ” Text e-mails don’t use up much bandwidth, he said, although those that contain photos can take up a lot more space.

“For most people, it’s simply an interesting, quirky, simple and quick way to connect … ,” Jones said. “It’s little more than a few bits of data that you don’t really have to pay attention to.”

As long as you’re careful to watch out for viruses, he says, most of it is fairly benign. (And don’t go dispensing any cash, either.)

“My favorite thing is just the inventiveness of it,” Jones added. “There’s some pretty creative stuff out there.”

Feeling short-changed about the quantity or quality of chain letters in your inbox?

You can find a boatload of examples at www.snopes.com, which investigates urban legends and tries to sort out fact from fiction.

Snopes reports that the Bill Gates e-mail I got is part of “a long-running Internet hoax that has been circulating in one form or another since 1997. … The basic come-on remains the same: fool gullible netizens into endlessly forwarding junk messages to their friends and acquaintances with phony promises of cash and free merchandise.”

The Snopes site also includes a whole gallery of what it calls “glurge” — the oh-so-heartwarming stories that circulate virally.

“Think of it as chicken soup with several cups of sugar mixed in: It’s supposed to be a method of delivering a remedy for what ails you by adding sweetening to make the cure more appealing, but the result is more often a sickly sweet concoction that induces hyperglycemic fits,” the Web site explains.

Jones, for his part, says that even hoax chain letters “can be meaningful” in a way.

“People often want them to be true, so they’ll share them,” he said. “Even if they seem far-fetched, they’re generally sort of goodwilled or good-natured.”

Right about now, I’m feeling pretty sheepish about getting snippy with my chain-letter-forwarding friends. Maybe next time, I’ll pass along my to-die-for sweet potato souffle recipe.

But Jones also has some reassuring advice for the next time I get a chain letter and decide to be the weak link.

“Totally ignore it,” he said. “There’s no rule of etiquette here that says you have to respond.”