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.
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