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Dealing with Abusive E-Mail? 49

sheetzam asks: "I am the manager of the mail system for a reasonable (3000 employees) sized media company. Recently a website has decided to post the e-mail addresses of a few of our employees, and suggest readers send those people abuse. We know we have no legal recourse for removing the e-mail addresses from the offending web site. We can't filter the abusive e-mail based on header information because it is coming from many places. Our only choice seems to be to change the person's e-mail address. If this were an abusive phone call, we'd know exactly how to handle it. But e-mail is quite different. How are others dealing with this?"
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Dealing with Abusive E-Mail?

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  • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @06:17AM (#3836267) Homepage
    First, find out who actually operates the server that the web page resides on. Get in touch with the admin contact, because this is almost certainly a breach of the T&C's for their web space. If they're operating from a cable or xDSL modem, they're almost certainly breaking T&C's, and will get their line cut off.

    Might be a good idea to contact the police, both where you are, and where the person who put this web site up is. This is just in case they get nasty and do something violent (could happen, don't take any chances). They might also be able to suggest some legal recourse.

    Finally, why not post the URL for the website here on Slashdot? We'll knock them over in no time...

    • > Finally, why not post the URL for the website here on Slashdot? We'll knock them over in no time...

      It's also entirely possible that it's deserved...
      • Exactly, is this some evil media company or a good one, although off the top of my head I can't think of any in the 3000 person range.
        • How about The Washington Post?
          Well, I've done some preliminary data mining.
          Heres what I found.

          The posters name is Anthony M Sheetz.
          He lives in Washington DC.
          He works for the Washington Post.
          He also has the E-Mail address "sheetzam@washpost.com".
          A whole lot of other stuff which I'm not going to post here(home address, phone number, etc... scary what you can find!)

          Now for the site in question. Assuming the above information is correct, a search can be done for washington post employee E-Mail addresses. I could easily compile a much larger list of the actual E-Mail addresses from the information I got, but I'll try to make a guess at the site.

          First site-I don't think this one is it:
          TechBalt.com [aol.com] has "lists of email addresses and names of people who you need to email about our initiative to change Baltimore." This isn't exactly encouraging _abuse_ per say... But here is the list they published for the Washington Post:
          The Washington Post
          Jerry Knight- wtknight@washpost.com
          Leslie Walker- walkerl@washpost.com
          Yuki Noguchi- Noguchiy@washpost.com

          A MUCH more likely site is http://www.vojvodina.com/mailovi.htm [vojvodina.com]. They list:
          abramowitz@washpost.com,achenbachj@washpost .com,ah rensf@washpost.com,adamsl@washpost.com,alexanderr@ washpost.com,andrewsn@washpost.com,argetsinge@wash post.com,babcockc@washpost.com,babingtonc@washpost .com,balzd@washpost.com,barkerk@washpost.com,bates j@washpost.com,behrp@washpost.com,bersellie@washpo st.com,beyersd@washpost.com,biskupic@washpost.com, blumj@washpost.com,book@washpost.com,boodmans@wash post.com,boothb@washpost.com,makinenj@washpost.com ,brindleyl@washpost.com,chandlerc@washpost.com
          -S NIP-
          priestd@washpost.com,proulxl@washpost.com,re ida@wa shpost.com,richmanp@washpost.com,ringlek@washpost. com,robertsl@washpost.com,robertsr@washpost.com,ro binsong@washpost.com,rosenfelds@washpost.com,rowej @washpost.com,sagonc@washpost.com,stgeorgedr@washp ost.com,salmonj@washpost.com,sanchezr@washpost.com ,sarasohnj@washpost.com,schwartzj@washpost.com,sed gwicks@washpost.com
          Thats MUCH bigger that the previous list!!! Thats only about half the list! Too bad the site's in some language Babelfish won't translate.

          There are a whole lot of other sites too.
          Can anyone here translate that site with the larger list? That might be the one, but I can't tell what its about.
          • The site http://www.vojvodina.com/mailovi.htm [vojvodina.com] seems to be the official site of Vojvodina province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. See their English site here [vojvodina.com].

            I don't speak the language but the address list suggests it might have to do with the attacks on Yugoslavia in 1999. They still list Bill Clinton as President and NATO officers are included in the list as well.

          • Can anyone here translate that site with the larger list? That might be the one, but I can't tell what its about.

            As another poster suggested, this page is about an email campaign against the NATO bombardments of Serbia in 1999. The short paragraph below the title simply gives some directions on how to use the email addresses and recommends some program for bulk email.
          • This is why you make a handle that doesn't have your LAST NAME in it. And dear lord, if you do that, then post to slashdot about getting abusive e-mail... oh dear.

            Hint for newbies: make sure your slightly better handle has a nice english word in it. That way it turns up a ka-zillion hits in a google search, and discourages casual identification.

            Of course, I bet I'm just tempting fate now, aren't I? First person to call me at home gets a cookie. ;p
          • To add some possible confirmation to that theory:

            This site [lotus.com] would suggest that the Washington Post has about 3000 users, which is the size of organization specified.

            Note that it is, or was a Lotus Domino based system.

            Broadly speaking, I would say the Washington Post were the good guys, wouldn't you ?


    • by $rtbl_this ( 584653 ) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @07:00AM (#3836307)

      Finally, why not post the URL for the website here on Slashdot?

      That's assuming the website wasn't slashdot in the first place. It's not unknown for folks to post corporate email addresses here when in high dudgeon and suggest that other people make their feelings known. At least when it's done here, though, it's not abuse, but simply sticking it to The Man. :)

    • If someone got my website pulled that way, I'd make sure the email addresses were all over the place: on Usenet, on Freenet, in .NFO files, on bumper stickers, you get the idea.

      And, as many have said here, how do we know this "media company" isn't just getting what's coming to it?

  • by Nailer ( 69468 ) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @07:06AM (#3836313)
    Before I (and I imagine a fair few others) decide whether to lend a hand, I'd like to know why people are emailing you in a manner you seem abusive. Respond and put your side of the case forward, and show us the web site so we can make up our own mind.
    • Basically, if it is a fair complaint, then you are mostly out of luck. If it is unfair, or untrue, threaten to sue (or actually sue, since you Post guys have the money) for libel.

      In any case, this seems to be a particularly bad topic. I am going to posit that the noise/signal ration grows as a function of the log of the log of time elapsed since slashdot started, approximately.
    • Why is this inquiry/challenge for the context modded up as insightful? Please, the problem may occur to "good guys" and "bad guys" both, and often there will be wide disparity of opinion as to whom(who?) is which. Just as the ACLU finds itself defending people that would axe the 1st amendment if they ever got power, it seems fair to answer/discuss the question without means testing.
    • Before I (and I imagine a fair few others) decide whether to lend a hand, I'd like to know why people are emailing you in a manner you seem abusive. Respond and put your side of the case forward, and show us the web site so we can make up our own mind.

      Whilst I also wondered, I did my own research/data mining and turned up rather than jumping to conclusions.

      1) The poster sheetzam[at]earthlink.net also posted these messages.

      http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&oe=U TF -8&q=sheetzam%40earthlink.net&btnG=Google+Sear ch

      These suggest he is Anthony M Sheetz, the postmaster or SysOp for the Washington post.

      This search seems to confirm this.

      In 90 Seconds we seem to have confirmed, this is not junk emailer, troll and has nothing to do with RIAA/MPI. Indeed it would seem to be a legit bastion of free press.

  • by Kirruth ( 544020 ) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @07:17AM (#3836324) Homepage

    You may perceive it as abuse, but it is also a chance to put across your side of the story.

    The first thing to do is to route the incoming mail correctly. Many mail systems permit redirection of mail "by rule", including by content of the body of the message.

    The first step is to do this is to ask all the people affected by this feedback campaign to forward these mails to a single mailbox, and then to analyse the messages for words they use. Typically, with campaign-type mails, people use very similar phrases to those used by the writer of the campaigning website. So, if the writer says, "Write to corporation X, and tell them to stop oppressing the natives of Peru", a shedload of people will write in and include the phrase, "Stop oppressing the natives of Peru!" in their message.

    Set up a rule and reroute the messages to a "Unsolicited comment" file. Keep an eye on what gets through and what doesn't, and refine the approach.

    The second thing to do is to take all these e-mail addresses, and create a mailing list for issues connected to your company. Get a note or two pumped out saying, "We at Megacorp X take your comments very seriously and are doing A and B about them. Please mail me, Mr Bigcheese if you have any other concerns you'd like to raise." Set up a website yourself and engage these people in debate.

    If you just ignore what is happening, it is likely that a number of the correspondents will take the time and trouble to trash your reputation in the market place. Much better to manage the feedback and reach out to its senders.

  • If it is abusive, then there are likely to be recognisable phrases or other patterns in the text. This will likely be particularly true if it is driven from one particular source.

    My personal approach would be to write a quick perl program, and alias those e-mail addresses to that. If the program detected abuse, then the program could automatically reply expressing your point of view.

    If no abuse was detected then you could just pass the e-mail through to the intended recipient at their new e-mail address, if you want.

    This should take only a few hours to implement, max.

  • Spammers? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by perlyking ( 198166 ) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @09:06AM (#3836462) Homepage
    This sounds like the kind of question a spamming company might ask.
    E.g one of the ones listed on my Shitlist [roxor.co.uk].
    So what is this "media" company and why are people angry enough to send abusive emails?
  • You said you work on a media company. RIAA and MPAA are the incarnation of evil, and totally abuse their consumers. Some media companies just push the limits and want to make rules, such as hacking into users machines looking for MP3s , making CD's that break computers, etc. This kind of stupid things MUST be fought.

    E-mail and petitions can sometimes be the only weapons regular people have to fight something wrong.

    Because of this fact, added to the fact that you didn't disclose your company name, nor exactly what idoes, chances are your company really deserves it. In this case, keep your head down and just accept it.
    • by ealar dlanvuli ( 523604 ) <froggie6@mchsi.com> on Sunday July 07, 2002 @10:47AM (#3836717) Homepage
      I'm sorry, but harassing employees because of corperate decisions is never the correct thing to do. If you disagree with them, send your email through the normal email channels, and they will ticket/count your request/complaint as they do everyone elses. Abusing workers of a company only decreases employee moral and upsets a *real live person, who has a life outside of your gripe with the media company*. Not to mention your complaint will probably be ignored, and if your abusive enough you might end up with a policeman at your door tomorow morning.

      Grow up.

      • I'm sorry, but this may the only for of pressure of some people. And by receiving lots of complains, they can realize that their ideas are not too popular and the company image is being burned. And, if they have a clue, change their approach.

        I don't think it's wrong to complain. And do you really think an e-mail to compains@riaa.org will make it to the director board ? If one wants to be listened, send it to the right person.

        What I think wrong is to let media companies go away unharmed after ideas like these: RIAA Wants Taxpayer-Funded IP Police [slashdot.org], RIAA to DoS Pirates? [slashdot.org] or RIAA Wants Right To Hack [slashdot.org]. Or those copy protections that crashes computers, and, in top of that, they're so greedy that The RIAA Doesn't Like Paying Lyricists [slashdot.org].

        And, yes, the people who are receiving these e-mails are real live persons - who are either reponsible or supportive of such ideas. If they didn't agree with these ideas, they wouldn't work there. For instance, I would never work on a tobacco company, because I simply don't agree with killing people. The same way I don't agree with the methods used by most media companies. And if they receive these e-mails during working hours, they'd be doing nothing more than their work.
      • >Abusing workers of a company only decreases employee moral

        which makes them less productive and less willing to work for that company. This makes life hard for the company. which is most likely what they set out to do, because the senders most likely feel wronged. it's a perfectly legit way to screw a company if they've screwed you.

        if there's REALLY a lot of complaints, they most likely have a grain of truth.. in which case I feel not a shred of remorse. That's how the market works, unfortunately. to get things done, hit a company in the wallet. //rdj
    • Because of this fact, added to the fact that you didn't disclose your company name, nor exactly what idoes, chances are your company really deserves it. In this case, keep your head down and just accept it.

      Excuse me??? I have no idea how your comment got modded "4, Insightful," as this appears to be total flamebait.

      What if he's not allowed to identify what company he's working for? At many companies, it's standard policy that employees don't reveal their company's name in public forums such as Slashdot. Even if it's not company policy, it's often a smart thing to do so that someone doesn't get flooded with comments about the company they work for when they have no control over the direction of the company.

      So, he doesn't say his company's name, so they are probably doing something bad and therefore are deserving of any abuse.

      Guilty until proven innocent.

      Terrorist until you tack a flag up in your home.

      It's all sounding more and more familiar lately. *sigh*
      • >Excuse me??? I have no idea how your comment got modded "4, Insightful," as this appears to be total flamebait.

        He(or she?) has a point, and it's not flamebait. And if I had moderation points, I'd give another +1 for that message. It deserves a +5.
  • I can see why you want to stop these abusive emails, but you dont go into too much detail about why you are receiving them.

    All the suggestions thus far have been sound, but deal with this current epidemic of abuse being active already and also for the forseeable future.

    As others have pointed out, maybe blocking these mails isn't the answer, if its a problem with your method of business or who you are, then it would probably be more efficient to speak to the people with the offending website.

    How many mails are we talking about anyway?
  • You can't force the web site to take the e-mail addresses down?

    No problem!

    Just post the site's URL here on /., and we'll take the web site down for ya. Of course, the first zillion slashdotters that manage to get through before the server catches fire will probably make use of those e-mail addresses...

  • what is 'abuse"? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    --what happened to make some people put up a web page and to encourage people to contact these individuals in your company? this is a time honored technique with web forums and political activism, say to private companies, news people and agencies, politicians, etc. Hasn't this same thing been advocated here? Is your company and those people engaging in practices that insult or harm others FIRST, which resulted in this return email "abuse"? Or where they just picked at random for absolutely no reason to be come victims of the emails?

    Legit questions not addressed in the parent post. I see neither any indication the company is the 'goodguys" or if the website is "the good guys" so far, so I have no other option than to ask for details. thanks.
  • Being a reasonable size media company, that you rely heavily on Microsoft products. There are numerous mail filtering packages, such as Mime Sweeper, that can filter these abusive messages rather effectively out of the box. For a Linux solution, you will have to do a lot more work but, it is still possible.

    • echo ":0:\
      * [topic of abusive emails or name of website]\
      /dev/null" >> ~/.procmailrc

      Mime Sweeper must be really easy if that's a lot of work!
  • by Neck_of_the_Woods ( 305788 ) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @03:23PM (#3837629) Journal
    Did you ever think about getting in contact with them and maybe talking to them about the problem. It sounds like this guy/girl had and issue that did not get resolved, and resorted to using the only means they had, e-mail. Now we preach the power of such things here, and it looks like it is working. They got your attention, no? Now you did not give any specifics about your problem "why they are doing this" so I can't say that this is even something you want to do. There are not many people here that are going to feel sorry for a Media Company. It is even a good chance that the very person sending you this e-mail is from this community, and I find it ironic the one of the very "media corps" that many of the people here hate with a passion may be here asking the people causing the problem how to stop it. That is it thick baby.

    Give us a clue about who you are, what you are doing to make this happen to you, and what steps you have taken on a social level to get fix the problem. You many have just open pandoras box because you may find no one here is very sympathetic to your plight.

  • If the email are truly abusive, then I would treat them the same way I would a phone call campaign or letter campaign - call the police (I'm assuming here that abusive means threatening).

    Treatening to sue is stupid - what grounds? But if the emails drift into the area of crack calls/treats/etc then the police are more than capable of dealing with this.
    Hope this helps

  • The people sending abusive email, assuming they are actually offensive, are almost certainly violating their Term of Service or Acceptable Usage Policy. Complaining to their ISP will almost cetainly result a termination of service.

  • Hey his email address is at earthlink, I'm sure i get tonnes of abusive emails from that spamming company every day.
  • There's always the "delete" button. But that lets uppity (readers? viewers? listeners?) off the hook too easily.

    If there is any way you can determine the emailers' places of employment (from the email address or info included in the signature), why not forward their letters to their employers?

    Put the fear of losing their jobs in 'em. It's a great way to silence critics.
  • There is the generic form letter. Nothing says, "I don't care. Go away. Here's my answer" like a form letter does. But it really doesn't generate good PR.

    I think the BEST thing to do is to get someone in there who is totally unrelated to what is being complained about. Have them get touchy-feely and converse with them. Tell them you can see their concern and want to know more about it. From there, you could actually learn something, or throw it all in the trash. But if you take it as an opportunity, instead of a problem, you can turn those lemons into lemonade.

    Hate mail is probably the best way to show the mettle of your company. Flame back? Ignore it? Standard reply? Embrace it? You choose.

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.