• United States

Happy political messaging

Jan 05, 20044 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalware

There’s another language that we’ll have to get used to in the coming spam flood: Politicalese. Yep, it seems that politicians believe it is an inalienable right for us to receive whatever they want to send.

Happy New Year! Or to put it another way, Gelukkige Nuwe Jaar (Afrikaans), Feliz Ano Novo (Brazilian), Gung Hai Fat Choi (Cantonese), Gelukkig Nieuw Jaar (Dutch), Bonne Année (French), Buon Capodanno (Italian), Kainourios Chronos (Greek), Próspero Año Nuevo (Spanish) or Ku Iye’dun (Yoruba). And for you scholars: Annum Faustum (Latin).

You might as well get used to seeing all of those languages and more, as this year you will be inundated with quantities of spam coming from non-English speaking spammers.

Last year was impressive for the rise in foreign spam with, at least from my viewpoint, Russia generating the most. I particularly enjoyed the endless spam from a pizza parlor in Moscow that appeared to offer me the opportunity to call them to deliver what looked rather like a decaying slice of car tire.

But there’s another language that we’ll have to get used to in the coming spam flood: Politicalese. Yep, it seems that politicians believe it is an inalienable right for us to receive whatever they want to send.

Despite the passage of the mind-bogglingly naive and politically self-serving CAN-SPAM act, members of Congress are not subject to the same law – the act only applies to unsolicited commercial e-mail and not to unsolicited political e-mail.

According to the rules of the House, the Franking Commission has to approve any taxpayer-funded mass snail mailing sent by a member of Congress to more than 500 constituents. (You didn’t know that you pay for their postage? You do.) Another rule is that there is a blackout on bulk snail mailings for 90 days before an election – a period that is crucial for building electorate awareness in a campaign.

Now when e-mail arose as a political messaging medium these same rules were applied. But in September 2003, the House Administration Committee voted that bulk e-mails could be sent without approval of the Franking Commission and could also be sent in the blackout period but only to subscribers of members’ e-mail lists.

The reason for no longer requiring any approvals by the Franking Commission was, according to Brian Walsh, the Republican spokesman for the House Administration Committee, because it introduced “a delay of a couple of days . . . we didn’t feel . . . was consistent with the technology that existed.”

Hmm. A delay of a couple of days is unacceptable? Interesting. You’d think that compared with the slow grind of most government processes this delay in spamming should be the least of their concerns.

So now that there are hardly any controls on what Congressional bulk e-mailers can send out, we’re going to see a flood of spam in our in-boxes as the members attempt to build their lists before Aug. 6, when the non-list spam and snail junk mail blackout period for the 2004 election starts.

A New York Times story claims that “at least 40 House members have bought or agreed to buy e-mail address lists from at least four vendors.” Are House members worried about potentially adverse response to spam from their constituents? The New York Times notes that Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) is a list purchaser and quotes him saying that: “Our experience has been that we get hundreds and hundreds of people who opt in for every person who opts out … E-mail has been a great communications device.” Sherman, by August you and your buddies will have helped to change that to “E-mail was a great communications device.”

A simple solution is needed that would make Congressional spam manageable for those who aren’t interested in it. How about requiring that all political messages start with something like “[POLITICAL]” on the subject line so we could filter it out.

Why do I think that’s not likely to happen?

Post Festum Pestum (that’s Latin for “After the holidays, the plague”), it looks like it is going to be an Annum Spamis Maximus.

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Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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