Cut and paste mail-bombing? No, thanks!

Preface: this is the translation of a post written on April 2, 2010, to explain to all italian Internet users, with a real-life example, of the complete uselessness of copying or forwarding protest email about whatever argument to politicians or any organization.

Now that the Italian Regional Election are over, and all political parties are free again to… work for the best interest of the country and announce new initiatives, I have re-started to receive in my mailbox tenths of invitations to mail-bombing, that is proposal to flood the mailbox of some party or Parliament Member with petitions and other messages whose text is already available to cut, paste and send in the email itself or on some website.

Don’t do it, not in that way at least, whatever the argument is! It isn’t just useless in general: it can and often is just plainly counterproductive! Here’s why.

Generally speaking, floods of identical email messages are useless for the same reasons why I didn’t sign the “Internet for Democracy” petition, so I won’t repeat them here. Here I only want to point out that blindly copying and pasting in an email whatever text you’re asked to send (obviously without bothering to personally check how things actually stand it’s terribly counterproductive even from a purely technical point of view. Let me explain what I mean with a real example.

During May 2009 the European Parliament was discussing regulation of a very important topic for the future of the whole Internet, Net Neutrality.

In the context of this post, it doesn’t matter what Net Neutrality is: the point is that, since the law under discussion back then would have seriously damaged the interests and rights of all European citizens just to improve the bottom line of a few corporation, online activists all over the EU started to ask to whoever would listen to send as many email as possible to all the members of the European Parliament.

Some of those activists, full of good will but frankly clueless, set up in a few hours a website to make the mail-bombing easier and faster: you only had to write your own email address in a web form and the website would have automatically sent on your behalf a standard complain email to all the EU Parliament Members. The perfect example of online activism and digital participation, uh?

Too bad that, in practice, the effect was just the opposite of what those activists had hoped. Just a few hours after that web form was put online, I got through the OpenNetCoalition mailing list an urgent request to not use it anymore:

I’m sorry but I even got more feedback from PSE assistants who talked together because they were so pissed of mails from spanish people, who sounded like angry, spotty geeks, and made them very angry against our cause, although they are most of the time very close from our ideas.

They even added filters to their mailers and asked the Infocentre of the Parliament if they were able to block these message.

this is counter-productive

See what I mean? Besides the fact that slacktivism never solves anything in real life, it is extremely easy to filter and ignore thousands of identical email, both technically and psychologically. It is also extremely easy for the recipients to label as spammer whoever sends such messages: if they do it, you will never be able to send any email to those people in the future.

If you really want to protest about something, or request some action, first of all check the facts by yourself. Next, write a personal email, using your own words, to help your message both to sound real and worthwhile, and to bypass filters like the above. Even better: write your protest directly on the blogs or websites of those politicians and of their parties, to make them visible to all other present and future visitors of those pages.

Finally, let’s be real honest: the best thing you could possibly do would be to phone or send either a fax or a traditional paper letter. Sure, such actions take much more money, time and effort than clicking on a button or join yet another useless Facebook group, but just for these reasons they’re taken much more seriously.

If you still aren’t convinced that mail-bombing is useless and counterproductive, here is another example that came after I wrote my first post: Defeat for the digital army