My Policy on E-Mail Contact

(or, "Reflections on Courtesy in Cyberspace")

© 1998-99 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

The following was originally written in 1998-1999. Although there are certain aspects of what follows that continue to develop—for instance, the purpose of this site is projected at this writing to be more than “to inform and entertain anyone who wants to stop in,” and spam is no longer such a surprise as it was back then—, it still summarizes my basic position regarding whether or not e-mail from unknown parties will be entertained.—TH, 10/20/08.

I decided to post a clarification regarding my willingness to engage in e-mail contact due to a couple of recent events and developments. One is that spam has affected nearly everyone with an e-mail account. Spammers are becoming ever more deceptive in their attempts to deceive people into opening the cyber-garbage with which they pollute millions of mailboxes, since they know that people like you and me filter their junk and, regarding what gets through the filters, delete it unread. Thus, if I see a subject line in a piece of incoming mail that does not make clear what its topic is, and if it comes from an unknown sender, I am likely to delete it without reading it. The possible downside of this is that legitimate mail from someone I do not know may be trashed because the sender used an uninformative subject line like "Hi" (frequently used by spammers, particularly those advertising pornography) rather than, say, "About your Bach Ornaments page." I apologize in advance to anyone to whom this may happen, but I think that the offensive nature of spam makes such a self-defense strategy on my part essential.

Another thing I have noticed increasingly of late is that the Internet, while it has had many positive effects on transfer of knowledge and ease of contact, encourages those who are disposed to be rude and thoughtless to indulge their lack of manners on a global scale. Consider that e-mail itself, in its ease of use and almost instant transmittal, is a quantum leap over previous paper-and-ink forms of communication, such as postal mail, and the potential for its misuse will also stand out clearly. A few decades ago the individual who wanted to start up an argument with the author of something he had read (generally in those days in the press, since of course the Internet did not exist) had to go to the labor of procuring pen and ink, penning an epistle, folding it into an envelope, addressing that, licking and sticking a postage stamp, and dropping it into a mailbox. The very time-consuming nature of this process encouraged those capable of reflecting on what they wished to say to do so with less haste and heat, and discouraged those of a more primitive bent from making the attempt at all.

Today, anyone with access to e-mail can muster a belligerent or ignorant sentence or two and send the result in a few moments. And many do. And I have received the results in my box from time to time. Some weeks ago, I received, without explanation of any kind, a forwarded diatribe from the "ministry" of two of the most vitriolic and abusive "Christian" writers I have ever seen, from an individual of whom I knew from some mention made by a minister friend of mine (with whom said individual had been trying to argue for some time). When I protested this unwanted mail, the individual who forwarded it sent an "explanation" which was less an apology for sending it than a rebuke for my not entertaining it as deserving of serious notice! I then closed matters by letting this person know I was not interested in his conversation and--as this type of "fly" often does not "swat" easily--blocking his e-mail address, so as not to be troubled with him anymore. (Subsequently the same person tried to ask the same questions under what was apparently his daughter's screen name, a ruse which was transparent because the e-mail had the same formatting and same writing style, and since the new user name, as per the member directory, originated in the same distinctively-named town as the old user name. But that's another story!)

One of the sentences in this individual's communication that I read in disbelief was "I would think that anyone who establishes a web site with information about a certain topic and posts their e-mail address is asking for comments or e-mails that relate to that topic." (It is perhaps not beside the point to mention that I subsequently came across a web site which carries some of this person's poorly-written essays, along with many contributions from others, and that, although most of the contributors were listed on a special page with links to their e-mail addresses, this person had only "n/a" [not available] beside his name. Apparently he does not want unsolicited mail from those who read his essays, although he feels free to inflict his mail on people like me!) But this is a fundamental flaw in the working assumptions of such individuals. They tell themselves something like "Hey, so-and-so has something on his web page, and I see an e-mail address, so therefore it's open season for me to start an argument or ask any impertinent question that comes to mind."

In contrast, I feel that the only proper way to approach someone whom you, in most cases, do not know is with some degree of respect. When I write to someone via the Internet, he or she does not know me, and does not have to respond to me or acknowledge me. He or she must be assumed to have pursuits, priorities, and time constraints that are at least as important to him or her as mine are to me, and therefore if I do get a response, I should accept it as a favor done me rather than as something that is due me. Any requests for information, or responses to what such a person has expressed on the Internet (even when I disagree), ought to be phrased with courtesy; this is only fair to the recipient of my e-mail, and besides, courtesy is more likely to persuade the addressee to reply than rudeness.

These precepts should be common sense, just as much of my rules on online debating were, but it is surprising how many people log on and think that, just because they will probably never meet the recipient(s) of their mail, respect and manners can be tossed aside. It is for this reason that I assert the right to reply or not reply, as I see fit, to any mail received. For the benefit of people like my rude e-mailer, who assumed I was "asking for comments or e-mails that relate to" anything on this site, I will be explicit:

The purpose of this site is to inform and entertain anyone who wants to stop in. It does not, however, constitute a welcome mat for people who want to argue, quibble, or be rude via e-mail. Those with legitimate questions or comments who address me with the courtesy that (I feel) all human beings want and deserve will continue to find themselves welcome as my time permits. Those who do not will be blocked, deleted, and otherwise barred from my doorstep.

I hope this clarifies things without discouraging anyone whom I would not want to discourage. People of good will should always feel able to discourse with me, but life is too short for me to refrain from asserting my right to dispose of those whose intent is not good.

(February 9, 1999)

I have recently noticed an explosion of spam originating from AOL, much of it of an offensive nature (for instance, advertisements for pornographic sites). Apparently spammers are now opening AOL accounts, raiding the member directory for addresses, sending out their garbage until AOL shuts their accounts down, then opening new ones and repeating the process. (For what it's worth, I have written to Steve Case, AOL's CEO, about this problem.)

These spammers are also continuing to use "trick" subject lines, mentioned above, to fool people into opening their spams. For this reason, I have had to become even more selective in what I open. One cannot always assume that an e-mail "About your letter" or "About your web page" really was sent by someone who actually received a letter from you or saw your web page; it may instead be an advertisement for a weight-loss scam, or an invitation to pornographic sites. Again, I apologize in advance to anyone with legitimate mail to me who may have it inadvertently "deleted" because, unopened, it appears to be spam. If you suspect this has happened, you may wish to try again with a more specific subject line.

My e-mail address is

(Note [6/26/99]: I have now deleted the direct link and all the occurrences of my e-mail address in the HTML code because I am told by a learned software programmer friend that spammers use robots to "harvest" such addresses from web pages and then send spam to them. If you have a web page, you may wish to do what I have done to try to minimize this problem.)

[Added 8/18/01]

In recent weeks I have received several e-mails from multiple parties where the message reads as follows:

Hi! How are you?

I send you this file in order to have your advice

See you later. Thanks

Attached is a file with the extension "PIF." Invariably I delete these e-mails without opening the attachments, because this kind of message fits the classic profile of an Internet "worm" replicating itself by sending itself to other computers. I also take the precaution of blocking further e-mail from the originating address. Therefore,

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