English students get spammed

By Andrew Barbero

University of Calgary English majors were waxing poetic about heaping amounts of unsolicited emails that clogged up their accounts earlier this month.

A mailing list with the addresses of all 788 U of C English students was created with a technical error allowing any email sent to the list moderator to appear in every inbox. The result had students opening their accounts to find 60 or more unwelcome messages waiting for them.

“Our department head wanted to send a survey out to our undergrad majors and minors,” explained English undergraduate program assistant Linda Braniff, noting the department decided to use an electronic format, rather than paper.

“I set up the Mailman address on Friday afternoon, but I didn’t know students were going to get notification,” she said.

The students received notification and many requested to be taken off the list.

“I had 560 emails in return,” explained Braniff, who mentioned she was disappointed with the often vulgar and impolite responses she received.

When the Mailman program was used to set up the list, the unmoderated option was selected by mistake. This caused every email to go to every account, as opposed to being filtered through a moderator.

“We had what is known as an unsubscribe storm,” explained U of C web and email services manager Jeremy Mortis. “You get a bunch of people saying, ‘I want to get off the list,’ and you end up with a big flame-war happening.”

“We finally had to use emergency moderation,” said Mortis, noting the flow of emails was stopped by the IT department externally.

Even though the problem was fixed quickly, students were still upset.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” said third-year English major Dan Thorn. “I kept thinking, ‘Did I sign up for this?’ You want to get to your important emails and you have to work your way through all this other stuff. It was nothing but spam generated by students.”

Despite the failure of the first attempt, the department still needs to administer the survey and hopes to use the mailing lists again.

“Lots of faculties use these lists,” explained Braniff. “They send out two or three notifications a week of things going on in the department.”

Students’ Union humanities representative Megan Martin also sees the value of the lists.

“I don’t have a problem with the department emailing students,” said Martin. “It’s a good way to get information out.”