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Breaches of netiquette
Not everyone appreciates the e-mails you like to pass along.
January 29, 2004
We've heard lots about the junk e-mail clogging our inboxes, but what about that special category of clutter -- the unsolicited, forever-forwarded stuff from people we actually know? These are the FWD: messages we often delete without opening. They contain jokes we've already heard, diatribes that offend our beliefs, saccharine "inspiration" and chain letters threatening bad luck.
And even if we appreciate the content, we're annoyed at having to scroll through countless e-mail addresses and gobbledygook to get the message. Plus, with "Mydoom" and other computer viruses wreaking havoc, who wants to take a chance of getting infected?
Experts in netiquette, or online courtesy, say mass- forwarding unsolicited material not only is rude and a possible virus source, it can violate receivers' privacy and break copyright laws.
But because personal spam comes from people we know, it's important to think before we plead with senders to stop.
"Do you tell your friend that they have halitosis? Do you risk losing the friendship over that? I think it's easier to just delete it," says Henry Kurkowski, 33, vice president of business development for eWireless.com in Broad Ripple. "They think they are doing something to perk you up, to get a little laugh."
Still, he tried to tactfully, with humor, let an old high school friend know he wanted off her list for one topic.
"She's very religious," he said, "and she would send all these things. I said, 'I appreciate your point of view, but remember the old adage: Don't discuss religious and politics.' She stopped sending those kinds, but she still sends the kitten ones -- like the kitten in a tree that says 'Just hang in there.' "
Judith Kallos, 44, a computer services consultant in Lincolnshire, Ill., was so tired of online ignorance that she created www.OnlineNetiquette.com.
Dealing with frequent-forwarding friends and relatives "is one of the touchiest netiquette issues I have to deal with," Kallos says. "I get e-mails all the time about friendships lost and folks no longer talking to each other just because one asked the other to cease and desist with the forwarding of jokes, bogus virus warnings and chain-letter-style e-mails."
She guesses senders think they're doing receivers a favor, and being told to stop is a slap to the ego. That may be why she hasn't been blunt with her own mom, a frequent forwarder.
"With my mother, I just delete them. Close family and friends, you don't want to beat them up," says Kallos.
Virginia Shea, author of 1994's "Netiquette," advises gentle treatment of offending forwarders, most of whom mean well.
"It doesn't take that much time to just delete the messages," says the 42-year-old Californian, though in some cases, she recommends this approach:
"Say, 'I really appreciate your thoughtfulness, but because this is my work address, I don't have time.' Then tell them your Hotmail account and just don't look at it."
Sandra Lamb of Denver, author of "How to Write It" (Ten Speed Press, 2000), says it's not the recipient's fault if an e-mailer finds insult in a polite "take me off your list" request.
"I literally get hundreds of e-mails a day, and there's absolutely no way I want to hear someone's 12th-generation forwarded list of jokes," says Lamb, 50. "The way I've handled it is, 'I appreciate you putting me on your list, but I request that you take me off because I simply get too many e-mails.' No one has seemed insulted, but whether privately they have been, I don't know."
With kin and close friends, she suggests this: "At the same time that you ask them to take you off a list, you pose a question that initiates a one-to-one relationship. You might say, 'So nice to hear from you,' ask several questions and give some short news."
Debby Dunn, an Eastside day-care provider, says she liked that two girlfriends she's known since high school asked before adding her to their e-mail lists.
"Today, one sent me tips on what rapists look for when they are trying to find their next victim," says Dunn, 43. "I'll read that."
But she disliked when an acquaintance she met on vacation sent unsolicited stuff.
"It bugged the hell out of me," says Dunn. "I e-mailed him back: 'I like to hear from you to find that you are OK, but I was getting repeats on the jokes.' And I don't hear from him at all now. But if that's all you've got to send, I'd rather not hear from you."
Glenn Sparks, a communications professor at Purdue University, sees frequent-forwarding as a reaction to feelings of dislocation. "It's an attempt to reach out and try to establish contact with people in your life. But at the other end of it, people find this stuff to be pretty irritating," he says.
Ironically, personal spam can be more annoying than the commercial kind, says Sparks, 50.
"It's coming from people we regard as important in our lives," he says, "But when the messages are essentially trivial, this tends to aggravate that sense of alienation. It tends to trivialize the very relationships we like to think of as important."
Sparks hasn't asked his three brothers to stop forwarding. "I don't really want to discourage them from sending e-mail because I'm hoping that eventually, they will send something meaningful."
Call Star reporter Ellen Miller at (317) 444-6130.
Gannett Co. Inc.