- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2000

The e-mail I received was as blunt as it was disturbing: "I have been trying to 'unsubscribe' from this e-mail list. They haven't taken me off. Now I will spam everyone who e-mails me with porno. Tell them to take me off this #&%@ list."

If you spend any amount of time on the Internet, or even if you only have an e-mail account, the chances are good that you have ended up on one or more mailing lists. These lists are merely circles of people with a common interest, whether it's knitting or the War of 1812. Lists can be "moderated," which means someone, or several people, examine messages before they are sent to the rest of the group, or they can be "unmoderated," which can lead to a free-for-all of messages.

At the end of the day, most e-mail lists (also know as "listservs," short for "list servers") exist to provide useful information to the people who subscribe to the list. It could be as simple as a discussion of the television drama "NYPD Blue" or as complex as comparing the philosophies of Kant and Voltaire.

The subjects can also be immensely practical, whether computing tips or cooking tips are involved. On more than one occasion, I've posted something to an e-mail list in the morning only to get an answer (and the correct one) within hours.

Yet in even the best of environments, things can go wrong. Very often, people will say things in e-mail that they wouldn't dream of uttering in person. Clicking the "send" button on an e-mail form is sometimes too easy. What to do?

If I've sent e-mail in haste either to one person or an entire mailing list my first step is to try and recall the errant message. That's possible with e-mails exchanged between accounts on America Online. If you send e-mail from an AOL account to another AOL subscriber, you can go into the service's "Sent Mail" folder and delete anything that hasn't been read by the recipient yet.

Other e-mail services may allow similar deletions, particularly those within a corporation or enterprise. It is a good idea to talk with your system administrator to find out what does and doesn't apply in your organization.

Once a message has gone out, the best way to cover up a slight error, such as an incomplete message or something else you would rather not have sent, merely send along a follow-up message. "Mea culpa" has become a standard phrase I use when apologizing for such slights.

If it's a truly egregious error, a phone call is in order, if at all possible. You might want to ask Sally if she'd just delete your message without reading it, or if the message has already been read, offer a sincere apology.

But should you send along a threat such as the one my new e-mail correspondent offered? Should you offer to fill someone's mailbox with pornographic e-mail messages unless your demands are met?

Of course you should not do something that immature. At best, such conduct is bad manners; at worst it may well be considered illegal, since sending unsolicited pornography to people may be a violation of federal law, specifically the laws which prohibit the use of computers to transmit obscene material.

One of the easiest things to do in blocking spam is to merely note the e-mail address of the sender, and tell your e-mail client software to delete all messages from that person. Microsoft Outlook has such a feature; AOL users can also "block" e-mails from other people by going to the "mail control" section of the service and entering the desired addresses.

Morality in Media, a New York-based group advocating for better standards in the mass media, has a very helpful Web site (www.moralityinmedia.org) which offers steps on how to combat both "spam" e-mail and unsolicited e-mails containing pornography. The group suggests several steps, including contacting both your own Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the ISP of the offending party, as well as considering whether or not to ask the local U.S. Attorney to investigate and see whether laws are being violated by the sender.

In short, users are not defenseless in the face of e-mail threats, which is what I wrote back to the e-mail bully who threatened me. So far, no bad e-mail's have come in to my mailbox, and hopefully, none will.

Clarification:

In a review of the Toshiba Tecra 8100 portable (published in TWT on May 29), I noted difficulties in getting the DVD-ROM drive to work under Windows 2000. Toshiba now says the problem was only with early production models such as the unit I tested, and that retail shipments of the Tecra 8100 with the Windows 2000 operating system will run DVD-ROM programs properly.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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