Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(April 1997)

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Subject: Picking up the pieces
From: "John M. Wobus" <jmwobus @ MailBox . Syr . Edu>
Date: Tue, 15 Apr 1997 12:16:06 -0400
To: list-managers @ greatcircle . com
Cc: jmwobus @ MailBox . Syr . Edu

Any opinions on the policy of carrying out sign-off requests that
are sent to mailing lists?

On a list that I read (fortunately for me, not the one that I
administer), the following thing happened:

(1) Some evil perp subscribed a bunch of unsuspecting people to
    the list.

(2) The unsuspecting people started receiving lots of long, technical
    messages, on a topic that they were not likely to have any
    background in.

(3) At least some of these victims responded with messages to "take me
    off your list", which they sent to the list itself.

(4) More than one list member responded with a calm, rational reply
    explaining the procedure by which any list member can remove
    him/herself from the list.

(5) More than one of the victims responded with messages like "I didn't
    join your ****ing list, now take me off!!" "Why should *I* have to
    do anything, I didn't join your **** **** list."  Some also started
    responding to every post to the list with a response that copied
    the original post and appended the response (not in so many words)
    "Please take me off this list!"

(6) All this continued for a while.

If the list administrator was reading the list and carrying out
requests to sign off, then he/she did not carry out the requests
sufficiently quickly in this case to avoid the mess.  I suspect that
some list administrators ignore signoff requests posted to the list
itself since they think to do otherwise would encourage them.  In the
list in question, I have no idea whether that was the case.

Note that the arguing was taking place between people who had taken no
action to get on the list and other people who had no direct ability to
carry out their demands.  Thus much of the blame for a touchy situation
can be safely assigned to the person who did the bogus subscribing, the
rest of the parties being relatively innocent bystanders.  Also, while
some of the "victims" showed a lack of netiquette, they may have seen
the e-mail they were receiving as a kind of abuse: there are certainly
people who are only geared towards a small amount of e-mail, and who
are unlikely to be able to distinguish between e-mail abuse from what
would be considered normal e-mail to the subscribers of some lists.

One result of this incident was that the mailing list in question was
reconfigured so that it appended sign-off instructions to the end of
every posting.  Naturally, there are often measures that a list
administrator can take: perhaps the subscription process can be
tightened up either through improved list-maintenance software or
administratively by having the list administrator approve individual

But it does not seem that such measures will completely eliminate the
chance of such situations happening.  Any thoughts about the best way
for a list administrator to reduce or avoid such situations, and about
to handle them when they arise?  Should list administrators scan for
and carry out all requests to sign off that are posted to their lists?

-John Wobus
Administrator of BIG-LAN mailing list

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