Lord of the Flies

Got an inadvertent up-close view into the reality of the internet experience for millions of people today, when I received a fairly typical spam message from a smoking cessation program. But rather than the usual spam-feeding mechanisms used by spammers, they had sent their message out through a Mailman listserve, to which I and thousands of others had been subscribed against our will.

For mysterious/bizarre reasons, the spammer had changed the default Reply-To header from “reply to sender” to “reply to list,” which meant that every screaming unsub request* was re-broadcast to thousands. Apparently not realizing it was a listserve, dozens of recipients thought the unsub requests were directed to them. The thread quickly snowballed into a cavalcade of confusion and name-calling — the blind leading the blind in a flurry of misunderstanding.

*Nevermind the fact that unsub instructions were clearly written at the bottom of each message, people tried the old stand-bys — write in all caps and scream in the message body to be released from the madness… or else!!!

Something perverse in me made me stay subbed for much of the day, just to see how this little Lord of the Flies experiment would play out. Notes: Thousands of people have no idea that responding to a listserve will broadcast your response to all recipients. Repeated “But I don’t even smoke!” messages reveal an apparently deep-seated belief that spam is somehow targeted at individuals rather than carpet-bombed. Each recipient seemed to think that each unsub demand was directed to them – which reveals how many people have never been on a listserve before, have absolutely no idea what they’re experiencing. Everyone threatens to rat the spammer out to their own ISP (“If you don’t stop, I’ll tell AOL on you!”). Even after hundreds of repetitions, people are not able to infer that all replies are being refelected to all — which made me wonder how people get through the day to begin with.

Pasted below – a dozen or so examples of today’s madness.

why have you emailed me? stop it please

I did not this must be some kind of spam.

I don’t know why you keep sending me these emails – I haven’t sent you anything, either!

I have no idea what this is either!!

I don’t know why I’m getting these emails, I don’t smoke – please take me off the list.

I have never put you on any list and cannot understand why you think I did. I am nothing to do with the Smokefree organization.

I never asked for your junk mails, so remove my e-mail address!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

iam not sending theses, remove me

Dont understand why you have written to me. Noting to do with smokefree.

Nothing to doi with me. Bit like a chain letter. I smoke, but have never contacted this organisation Smokefree.

I DON´T SMOKE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Get me off your list immediatley

quit it your ignorance will get you in trouble

I don’t know, they are all coming to me saying stop sending them, it must be some type of spam. I don’t smoke either.

If you wish to report someone, it is suggested that you simply do so. There is no need for vulgarity. I am not now, nor have I ever been associated with this organization, and I have no idea how your response got crosslinked to my address.

I would be most pleased to stop sending you messages, with one stipulation. This is my first message to you. I do not know who these people are. I am not now, nor have I ever been associated with this organization. I have no idea how you got crosslinked to my address.

I’m not sending this crap out. Some idiot is using faking my email address when they send out their list. I get to see everyone requesting to be removed from something I know nothing about.

I am pleased to learn that you don”t smoke. One thing though–I did not send you the original message. I don’t know you, and I don’t know where the message originated.

I have nothing to do with this. It’s some type of self multiplying spam.

Just found out it is mass spam [Uhhh, gee, d’ya think?], would love to get this guy in my sights just for a second so I could kneecap him.

Remove me before I send you loads of bugs idiots!!!

Music: Palace :: No Gold Digger

6 Replies to “Lord of the Flies”

  1. LOL – interesting enough I went through this about a month ago, to the tee.

    I stayed subscribed to the list for the same reasons. I saw the same responses.

    I wonder how common it is for spammers to use listservs. Is it a new occurrence?

    It reminded me a lot of the early days of “announcement” emails without BCC. A flood of email with obnoxious remarks.

  2. I wonder how common it is for spammers to use listservs. Is it a new occurrence?

    It’s not common at all. They generally have all kinds of special software dedicated to the task. But I’m really having trouble figuring out why they set the reply-to to list. The inevitable confusion and anger it generates can’t possibly be good for their “cause.”

  3. That’s fantastic… You should have started seeding the list with “I’m pretty sure John subscribed you to this list”.. I bet that would stir the pot again… :P

  4. HAHA

    have seen this
    list chaos before, Scot, and it never stops being funny ;)

    btw, greetings to you today — & from about 10 years ago now (PbN @ the Bird House) — was delighted to find you are still here (and Bird House, what a treasure!)

    anyway, am adding links to you at my blog (pbnmopo.blogspot.com), and will be visiting

    yours always,

    Ted Warnell aka Poem by Nari

  5. Good to hear from you Ted. Glad to see you’re still churning out the text art. And though it’s embarassing in places, glad I’m keeping all that old Birdhouse content alive, for the archives.

  6. Sorry, i’m not technical, but someone sent me an email (they are a ‘friend’) which multiplies every time i delete it, or seems to. It’s filling up my university imap email account, i can’t blacklist it, filter it, have ‘spam filter’ set to max, etc., and i’m not receiving any email now either (emailed myself to test this). I’m going spare, any idea what i can do? The university won’t help with ‘individual accounts’ and i need my results…..Thanks ever so much, maia.

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