Making private identity public

Chris Anderson, editor in chief at Wired, has published a list of 329 email addresses that have been used to send him PR SPAM in the last month. He says he’s fed up:

“I’ve had it. I get more than 300 emails a day and my problem isn’t spam, it’s PR people. Lazy flacks send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching.”

Being someone who gets a small amount of PR SPAM (~10 a day), I certainly sympathize with Anderson’s move here. It’s tiresome to spend valuable time weeding through emails that at first seem addressed to you, until you realize they’re simply sent to a huge list of bloggers. They’re not personal messages. They’re generic. Some PR folks even lie and say “I’ve been reading your blog and I love everything you write, your child is beautiful, and may your family receive honor forever…etc…etc”. But after that it quickly becomes clear that they never refer to my blog specifically and they never tell me anything related to the topics I write about. It’s not informing. It’s insulting.

Here’s an example of one I got the other day. It’s not nearly as bad as some, but just as useless. It starts out…

Chris Anderson, editor in chief at Wired, has published a list of 329 email addresses that have been used to send him PR SPAM in the last month. He says he’s fed up:

“I’ve had it. I get more than 300 emails a day and my problem isn’t spam, it’s PR people. Lazy flacks send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching.”

Being someone who gets a small amount of PR SPAM (~10 a day), I certainly sympathize with Anderson’s move here. It’s tiresome to spend valuable time weeding through emails that at first seem addressed to you, until you realize they’re simply sent to a huge list of bloggers. They’re not personal messages. They’re generic. Some PR folks even lie and say “I’ve been reading your blog and I love everything you write, your child is beautiful, and may your family receive honor forever…etc…etc”. But after that it quickly becomes clear that they never refer to my blog specifically and they never tell me anything related to the topics I write about. It’s not informing. It’s insulting.

Here’s an example of one I got the other day. It’s not nearly as bad as some, but just as useless. It starts out:

Joshua,

Hope you had a great weekend. I wanted to give you a heads up on this great partnership StreetAdvisor is announcing this week with Australia’s top real estate website realestate.com.au. REA has tapped StreetAdvisor to give homebuyers, owners, renters and real estate agents with a great tool to help find the right property, in the right neighborhood.

And my question is: “How is this in any way valuable to me or my audience?”. No doubt Anderson asks a similar question when he gets SPAM.

Anderson’s response is a good lesson in a common problem with Identity on the Web. When Identity is known, behavior becomes civilized very quickly. When identity is not known, or not public as the case may be, behavior turns ugly.

When PR people send these broadcast emails, their identity is known to the receiver, but only the receiver. They rely on that fact to try to encourage the receiver to publish something about them (be it in Wired or on Bokardo). They take the chance that you’ll be fooled into thinking their information is worth publishing, while also realizing that if not you’ll probably ignore it. This last bit is crucial…the spammers expect certain behavior from the receivers…most spammers know that a large majority of people will simply ignore what they send.

But Anderson took the matter into his own hands and made the identities of those PR spammers public, and thereby changed the normal rules of engagement.

Now, he’s opened up their behavior for public scrutiny. He’s allowing other people to offer their judgment. The effect that this will have is that those email addresses will probably be ignored or blacklisted even more often than they currently are. He’s hoping that by making an example of these people they’ll change their behavior in the future.

You’ll notice the commenters on Anderson’s piece are divided over this. There are people who are cheering him, saying “way to go!”. There are also people (presumably people who are on the list) who are saying “get over yourself”.

This is public ridicule at its best, and it’s one of the few ways to combat private solicitation. When Anderson makes a formerly private relationship (one he didn’t want anyway) public, he knows that the public will label this as bad behavior.

Most large-scale spammers aren’t trying to create a real relationship, so they don’t have to use real email addresses. But PR people usually have to use their real addresses because they do want a real relationship with the receiver. Little do they realize how annoying their solicitation is…perhaps Anderson’s move will wizen them up.

Published: October 31st, 2007

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