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Spam: The Institute Should Know Better

Within our first six months at MIT, most of us have received e-mails with subject lines such as “MAKE MONEY FAST!!!”, “What the IRS Won’t Tell YOU!”, and “Laser Printer TONER for CHEAP.” This, as we all know, is unsolicited e-mail, or spam. I have met many people during my years at MIT, and I have yet to find someone who enjoys receiving this type of e-mail.

This is particularly puzzling, however, in light of the fact that, of late, more unsolicited e-mail has been originating inside the Institute than outside. I’m not going to enter into a long tirade citing Athena Rules of Use, since (unfortunately) no one cares about them anyway. I wonder, however, what motivates people to send these e-mails and why they think that their e-mails are somehow exempt from the category of spam.

There are two main sources of spam on campus: individuals or living groups advertising parties, and members of student organizations shamelessly plugging their individual causes.

The latter is often the most irritating. If a student organization chooses to send out a mass e-mail instead of postering the Infinite, this is a good indicator of how dedicated they are to their cause. For an example, let us examine the recent spam sent by a group that claims to be working for the benefit of MIT students. This may indeed be a noble cause; however, the fact that they send out mass e-mail indicates that they do not want to put effort into promoting awareness of their group. Bearing that in mind, how much effort are they likely to put into working for the benefit of MIT students?

While it is irritating to receive mass e-mail from a particular student group, it is even more disheartening to receive e-mail from somewhat “official” sources including, but not limited to, the UA and RLSLP. I can understand students sending unsolicited e-mail: we’re college students -- we do stupid things from time to time. However, for an employee of MIT to send such mail is completely inexcusable.

The final problem with unsolicited e-mail is that, for the most part, the names of the mailing lists it is sent to are unknown. I can understand that there are some e-mails that need to be sent out, yet the sender does not want the recipients to know the actual names of the mailing lists. In that case, it is common courtesy to begin or end an e-mail with a sentence along the lines of “This e-mail was sent to Group X, Dorm Y, and the students in Class Z.”

So the next time you log into Hotmail to promote your party, or start up Outlook to advertise the good things your group is doing for MIT, reflect on unsolicited MIT e-mail you have received. Did you like it? Did you actually find the body of the message useful or informative? I didn’t think so.

Jonathan Reed ’02