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11 Spamming (How not to advertise on Usenet)


This article is from the Advertising on Usenet FAQ, by Joel K. Furr jfurr@acpub.duke.edu.

11 Spamming (How not to advertise on Usenet)

Spamming is defined as posting identical or nearly-identical messages (not
just ads, although ads are usually what spammers post) to a lot of
newsgroups, one right after the other. Since it's really not that
difficult to write a program that will post the same advertisement to
dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of newsgroups, a lot of people have
taken to doing this.

What's happened to people who've spammed?

They've lost their accounts, been mail-bombed (had thousands of pieces of
junk email sent to them), had people call up and yell at them in the
middle of the night, had people forward their mail (by this I mean paper
mail, not email) to someplace strange, had people sign them up for
thousands of unwanted magazine subscriptions, had people send them
thousands of pages of condemnatory faxes, and so forth.

*Nothing* is as hated on Usenet as spamming. It's extremely, unbelievably
rude and if you do it, you *will* come to regret it.

This is not a threat -- it's an observation. Any benefits spamming might
have brought you will be more than counteracted by the intense public
outcry against you in every newsgroup you posted your ad to.

Some members of the media have gotten the mistaken impression that
spamming is hated because it's *advertising*. While it's true that Usenet
users don't have much fondness for advertising, the real reason spamming
is hated so much is because it's unbelievably *rude*.

If you don't regularly read a newsgroup, why would you post an ad to it?
In so doing, you're basically saying that you don't care what the people
in that newsgroup think or whether your ad might inconvenience them;
you're out to benefit yourself. When you spam by posting the same
advertisement to hundreds or thousands of newsgroups, you're saying that
your personal profit is more important than the discussions of millions of

Would *you* like it if someone came by your house day after day and
shoveled several thousand copies of an advertising circular through your

Each copy of the ad takes up disk space on thousands of machines around
the world -- and if you post the ad 1,000 times, that's millions of copies
of your message that *you* are making other people pay to store copies of.
When you spam, you're hogging hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of
other people's storage space.

So please, don't do it. I've already explained that *one* copy of an
off-topic ad is rude because it has nothing to do with the group it was
posted to. Multiply that by a thousand times to get an idea of how rude it
is to spam.

A quick note about what happens to spam:

Another consideration against spamming is that Usenet readers developed
defenses against it, so it's not very effective. There are quite a few
spam detectors running on Usenet, and if one of them detects that the same
message has been posted repeatedly to multiple newsgroups, the humans who
run those spam detectors will step in and actually *erase* the spamming
messages with 'cancel' messages which are honored at most sites around the

A common misconception shared by many members of the media is that spam is
bad because it's *advertising* and that people who cancel spam are doing
so to get rid of *advertising*. In actual point of fact, most Usenet users
consider cancellation to be extremely bad manners and something to be done
only as a last resort. When spam-cancellers cancel spam, it's done because
of the *volume* (posting hundreds of times), not because of the content.

The analogy that's often used is that yes, you have the right to walk down
the street and say whatever you like -- but you do NOT have the right to
stick your head in someone's house at 3 am and shout through a bullhorn.

So if you *do* spam, you're likely to lose your account, have your
personal life made a living hell, possibly get sued by people whose
storage space you're taking up, and in the end, not very many people are
even going to see your advertisement. It's just not worth the grief
you'll get.

Sorry to be unpleasant about it, but spam's a really bad idea.

Finally, if you're wondering where the term "spamming" came from, it came
from a Monty Python sketch in which the characters were in a restaurant
which mainly sold Spam. Items on the menu included things like "Spam,
Spam, Spam, eggs, ham, and Spam." Whenever the waitress recited the menu,
a group of Vikings in the corner would chime in with her, chanting the
word "Spam" over and over, drowning out everything else.

Some members of the media have spread the explanation that the word
"spamming" derives from throwing chunks of Spam into a fan. This is not
where the term comes from.


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