The Internet & New Media

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By Akosua Kathryn Albritton

Is Spam So Bad?
Spam is unwanted mail from a known or unknown source.  By unwanted, it is meant that the marketing messages or advertising sent via e-mail weren’t requested by you.  The e-mail is dubbed “spam” because it’s as desirable as the canned meat product manufactured by Hormel.  Yet spam can’t be all bad because like Hormel’s Spam, many people purchase and consume it.  To a degree, e-mail users must be tolerant because it’s another media to communicate ideas, opinions, goods and services.  There are many items that aren’t on traditional media because the company can’t afford the advertising expense, traditional broadcast media deems it “not newsworthy” or the product/service provider understands many people aren’t watching as much television-cable or broadcast-listening to the radio or cut down reading magazines and newspapers.
Using the campaigns to relieve developing nations of crushing debt and the genocide occurring in Darfur, a region in the East African nation of Sudan, as examples, the average American has little awareness of these issues because many news outlets aren’t providing frequent and substantial coverage.  An organization called ONE uses e-mail promotion to inform people on the debt that developing nations can’t manage.  The strategy uses Brad Pitt and Bono to do short commercials that direct people to a Web site, www.one.org.  People visit the site and after learning about the issue, ONE asks the visitor to send a message about ONE’s mission to ten people as well as sign petitions and make a donation.  This is viral marketing.  One person shares with ten others.  Hopefully, these ten will spread the news to ten more.  The same strategy is used by Save Darfur, www.savedarfur.org
Is this spam?  Maybe, if you are one of the ten who received an e-mail from a friend who’s concerned about Darfur or debt service or global warming or any other issue.  Maybe, if you aren’t concerned or don’t want to be approached via e-mail.  The most effective method to deal with this kind of spam is to delete it and ask your friend not to send those kinds of messages.  Your friend may wonder what kind of heart you have; however, you did express your position.
There are other kinds of e-mail messages that are commonly agreed to be spam that is to be avoided.  The Get Rich Quick using the PC, Lottery Winner Notice, African Relative of a Deposed Leader, Banks and Credit Card Companies About to Close Your Online Account and phony eBay and Pay Pal account confirmation requests.  These are tricky to deal with.  Most messages have opt-out statements at the bottom of the message.  Do you click to opt out?  AOL Consumer Advisor Regina Lewis recommends that you don’t opt-out.  As explained on NBC’s The Early Show, Lewis says, “Don’t rush to reply.. Replying confirms a legitimate e-mail.”  There are computer servers that crank out thousands of e-mail addresses and names.  Clicking on the opt-out statement may result in different messages being sent to you.  Instead, Lewis advises deleting the e-mail and /or placing it in the “Junk Folder.”  She also says to read and uncheck boxes that are part of registering or purchasing an item.
Cases in point are the job search engines.  To access job postings, take aptitude tests and upload a resume, one must register.  Sometimes three pages are devoted to obtaining demographic information, purchasing behavior and magazine subscription sales.  There are smaller boxes for agreeing to “receive notices from our affiliates.”  These boxes have to be unchecked to prevent sales and marketing notices.
Lastly, a by-product of business networking is getting on postal and e-mail lists.  This is understandable; two businesspeople chat at a reception, boat ride or conference and subsequently exchange cards.  One of them emails the other to thank him for the conversation and request a coffee-klatch.  This may be the start of e-mail promotion or advertising.  Is this spam?  Maybe, if you’re not interested in forming affiliations.  Maybe, if the business owner relies on faxes, mailers and traditional media to obtain information.  Each business has its strategies for financial and business success.  Some strategies, however, don’t wire you for success in the 21st century.  This column asks that when business networking, make conversation to determine affinity rather than “tiling the room with your business cards.”

About A Spam Meister
Did you hear about Vardan Kushnir, the owner of English Language Center in Moscow, Russia?  Kushnir became rich by cranking out e-mails about the school.  Computer servers facilitated it.  He was known to send ten e-mail messages to one person in one day.  He believed in the buckshot theory.  The English Language Center had plenty of students and plenty of irate people who wanted an end to the spam.  Kushnir actually defied Russian authorities when asked, then demanded to cease and desist the spamming.  What did he do?  He revved up the spam.  One morning his body was found in the alley behind the school.  The murder hasn’t been solved (taken from “Who Killed Vardan Kushnir?” Wired. August 2006).