Thomas Gramstad 2001
This is a modified, generalized version of an open letter I wrote in response to a chain letter attempt directed at the White House following the horrible terror attacks on September 11th, 2001. You are encouraged to use this document, in whole or in part, to help combat the electronic vandalism of Internet e-mail chain letters.
Please do not create or distribute chain letters, which are inefficient and unlawful. Instead, please create a web site for collecting signatures.
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Please cease distributing any and every chain letter immediately. Distributing chain letters is not only futile and inefficient, it is also unlawful and may result in your user or e-mail account being shut down. Some countries have laws against Internet chainmail, and virtually all Internet service providers, whether commercial, academic or work-related, and anywhere in the world, explicitly forbids them in their contracts or rules for acceptable use. By distributing chain letters you are violating your contract with your Internet service provider, and possibly the laws of your country, and you may face reactions ranging from permament loss of your user account to fines and reimbursements, or worse. Check your contract or the rules from your Internet service provider, sections about spamming and disruption of computer systems.
WHY ARE CHAIN LETTERS UNLAWFUL?
Chain letters are an abuse of network resources and a waste of people's time. The same letter circulates to the same persons 5, 10, 50, 100 times within a short period of time. This eats up bandwidth resources, disk space, and people's time. Chain letters also serve no good purpose whatsoever. A lot of cost, and absolutely no gain.
If the chain letter contains an admonition to send messages to an address other than the originator of the letter, this is in effect an incentive to mailbomb the target, and can thus be considered to be a Denial Of Service attack. DOS attacks, whose purpose is to shut down the target computer system by overwhelming it, thus making its services and information unavailable and the system incommunicado, is a criminal offense, punishable by prison time. If the address in question is a public address (like email@example.com), the crime is a federal offense, or a crime against the state.
WHY ARE CHAIN LETTERS INEFFICIENT AND FUTILE?
- They result in thousands of almost-identical lists of names which are impossible to count, with each name appearing many times.
- They are not tallied by anyone. Noone is responsible for collecting them, counting them, sorting out unique signatures (which would have been an enormous job), or publishing them/ relaying the results to the press and media.
- The signatures have not been verified. Anyone can add anyone's e-mail address to such a list (or even imaginary names and addresses), without the added person's approval or knowledge. Therefore, all such lists must be (and are) considered untrustworthy or bogus.
- Therefore chain letters are just garbage, and have no effect on the cause they allegedly support - except perhaps creating resistance against and illwill towards the cause .
IS THERE A GOOD, EFFICIENT AND LAWFUL WAY TO ORGANIZE PETITIONS?
Yes. A good and efficient way to organize petitions is to use a web page and to collect signatures via that web page. See for instance Petitiononline.com for a free, well-known and easy-to-use service.
Observe how this method is all different from spamming:
- All signatures are collected only once.
- There is no general exhaustion of Internet resources or human resources.
- The list of signatures is easily available and countable by the press or media, or by the webmaster.
- All signatures are verified via E-mail before being added to the list.
- There is someone responsible for the petition who can organize and promote it (the webmaster of the petition).
- The petition can spread by word of mouth (without spamming), or it can be found by people searching for it on the web, or you can add a two line-signature to your E-mail letters and postings providing a sentence about the petition and the URL to the web page.
Be responsible. Respect yourself and other people. Do not ever, under any circumstances, create or distribute chain letters. Chain letters are just like computer viruses (or worms) and just as harmful - only they use people rather than software to propagate themselves. Therefore, one may hope that in the future chain letters will not be distributed as automatically and unthinkingly as viruses are today - and, indeed, that they are not distributed at all.
If you have already been misled to distribute a chain letter to your friends, thus deceiving them in turn, please forward the information contained herein to them, accompanied by an apology. Help putting an end to the electronic vandalism whose unleashing you assisted. Unchain your letters now!
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The address of this document:
EFN is a Norwegian civil liberties organization working to protect
and promote freedom of expression, privacy, the use of open media
formats on the net, public access to online resources and
information, and open standards for IT infrastructures. Inspired
by the Electronic Frontier
Foundation in the USA, EFN was founded January 19, 1995.
Last updated by Thomas Gramstad March 10 2002.