Thursday, March 29

Things That Pee Me Off #08: Anonymous Mass Messages

Five years ago, I was commanding (in my usual manner) everyone who wanted to include me in a mass e-mail message to start using BCC when forwarding e-mails. The last thing I wanted was to allow my e-mail address to be broadcasted to 50 million people I didn't really know. After being ignored (as usual) I eventually gave up, instead choosing to create a more private email address that I only gave out to people who respected my right to some kind of privacy. But still, people soon got the hang of BCC and became generally aware of the etiquette associated with e-mail.

But now the cycle seems to be repeating, with BCC itself at the centre of the abuse. Some people seem to think that any responsibility they have for the people they message ends at them keeping the identities of the recipients a secret: if you don't know who else is being sent, then the content of your mails doesn't seem to matter much. Take the following as an example:

Hi guys!

I know I've not been around for a while, but I thought I'd say hi anyway. I just came back from California where I had a fantastic time but now that I'm back it'd be great to meet up - let me know when you're free! I hope you and your families are well...


At first glance you might think that there's nothing wrong with this. X is obviously concerned about your welfare and all that. That is until you realise they've also sent the same sentiment to everyone they know. In these cases non-BCC is much more preferred, since it's likely you'd both know and want to talk to everyone originally mails. The use of BCC breaks this community.

It's worse than mindless forwards to be honest (which itself is as bad as spam in my opinion). It's the totally contradictory situation where a personal mail is being sent quite impersonally, reducing the whole thing to nothing more than a marketing or public relations exercise. It's similar to mass Eid Greetings and the like, differing only 'cos these are now recognised and accepted as nothing more than empty formalities.

Some people go even further and decide to place some pretty private messages within these mails, all to be read by people you probably don't know (not that you'll ever find out because of BCC abuse):

Shak - we had a real laugh last time ;) although maybe we shouldn't really try that trick again eh? Hows the hunt going btw? ;)

I can't be the only one irritated by this behaviour.

This lack of respect for mass communication isn't just restricted to e-mail. With the swelling of text message allocations people now have no qualms sending a single message to more than one person. There's nothing wrong with this in itself, and sometimes it's actually quite handy in some situations. It's when some (and admittedly it's only a few right now) pretend that it's only you they're sending it to:

Hi, long time no see. Hope you're well. Anyway I really need a favour, can can only think of you to do it. Can I put you forward? Reply to this pls

Horribly generic and impersonal, and again the terms "marketing" and "manipulation" spring to mind.

And I think that's what's bugging me really. The treating friends like one-of-many, as just a single big mailing list, and not as the individuals that they actually are. It's impersonal, uncreative, lazy and totally inconsiderate. You got to wonder how much you're actually worth to these guys: if I wanted to be a part of an anonymous list, I'd join a yahoo Group.

Unfortunately there are no filters to automatically ignore these messages, so we just have to put up with them, disregarding them in the extreme case. But then perhaps that's not really a problem: if some can't be bothered to talk to others directly then perhaps they're not really expecting many replies anyway.