11.0046 spam

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 19 May 1997 22:00:04 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 46.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Steve McCarty <steve_mc@ws0.kagawa-jc.ac.jp> (61)
Subject: Ideological Spamming vs. Academia in Cyberspace

[2] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (26)
Subject: info spamming

Date: Mon, 19 May 1997 15:17:55 +0000
From: Steve McCarty <steve_mc@ws0.kagawa-jc.ac.jp>
Subject: Ideological Spamming vs. Academia in Cyberspace

Greetings again from Japan. In the brief time that my college
has been online I've learned what a great need there is for reliable
knowledge about East Asia in particular, as well as for East-West
mutual exchange of knowledge though academic listservers.

And yet I have also seen both rightists and leftists in institutions
of higher education destroy unmoderated discussion lists with their
ideological spamming. In both cases they also harrassed minorities
as well as intellectual leaders of the lists, while sending sexually
harrassing personal messages to female list members. Others have
avoided ostracism by embedding their biases in frequent populist
posts, advertising their extremism subliminally in small doses.
They all subordinate tried-and-true academic standards and ethics
to ideology, which may represent a more direct assault on Academia
than commercially motivated spam.

On 18 May 1997 Matt Kirschenbaum forwarded "spam wars," replete
with bellicose cyberspace versions of terrorism, bombs, hijacking,
extortion and other threats of harm, plus the informant victim's
offer of a reward and determination to have the spammer punished.
An unmoderated discussion list that I founded in the wake of the
Knowledge and Discourse Conference at the University of Hong Kong
was hijacked by a cyber-terrorist after I reported on the reaction
of the Japanese vernacular media to the release of the real-life
hostages in Peru. "Che lives" slogans combined with attacks on
multiculturalism, many cross-posts from other lists plus hate mail
to individuals with different views, in effect murdered off the fifty
hostages who unsubscribed. A minority woman at Harvard Divinity
School objected to the obscenities, while Peruvian and Brazilian
women blasted the spammer's cowardly tactics. I forwarded some
of it to the public university from which the spam originated, but
though the spammer was harassing the school administration along
with many academic lists, its policy was that First Amendment
rights allow anything to be posted to open lists. But this list had
members from about 30 countries including China and Singapore
where receivers of obscene mail could be subject to arrest. The
fine print on university diplomas also speaks not only of
entitlements but also of obligations.

Academia is being reconstituted in cyberspace, and it is not
humanistic to surrender unmoderated lists to the 'spammability'
of the medium. For academic lists to be forced to be closed and
moderated to avoid destruction suggests a sort of "Waterworld"
society. Moderated lists have a bulwark not enjoyed by open
lists, but there is no common ground--such as a consensus as to
what constitutes a general liberal arts education--on which to
grow anything in this floating world. Academia ought to be like a
network of beacons among the worldwide community of scholars.
But if those beacons shine only on the interior of walls behind
double-locked doors of paid admissions and bouncer software,
with knowledge hoarded along with wealth by the privileged,
then Academia is locked in its Ivory Tower without a mission
in society. This is a plea to computing humanists who may be
able to approach this issue from both sides, by narrowing the
spammability of cyberspace while widening its educational role.

Best regards,
Steve McCarty

Date: Mon, 19 May 1997 21:55:15 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: info spamming

This may be to put an incautious foot on the slippery slope of metaphor, but
I also have a form of spamming that has annoyed me more than a little. I
call this "info-spamming". For the editor of a discussion group such as this
one, info-spamming consists of VERY long announcements for conferences,
usually in areas only tangentially related to the interests of the group,
that are obviously sent everywhere the organiser can think of, especially (I
guess, uncharitably) to those groups that said organiser does not have to
suffer from the consequences of. Not atypically these announcements describe
everything from the keynote speaker to the T-shirts and parking facilities,
ignoring the fact that all such information can be kept on a Web page.
What's worse, they're usually in exotic locations I'd love to go to but
cannot afford. Where these people get the funding is more than I can fathom.

My response? Delete those that seem furthest from our ken, publish the few
that I think might be of some interest.

I am reminded of the many crises of volume that occurred in the early days
of Humanist and how often I puzzled over what exactly people were objecting
to. An interesting question, actually, if you think about it. What do we
mean when we say "too much!" The digesting practice I began then, which
persists to this day, remains the best response I know of, other than
pulling the plug.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk