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Some Welcome Maturity from Anti-Spam Land

By Ken Magill

Something extraordinary happened last week.

An anti-spammer was booted off a discussion list for being rude.

Extraordinary, you say? Have you been drinking, Ken? Well, of course, the answer is yes.

But the move was extraordinary nonetheless. Why? Because the anti-spammer in question, Rich Kulawiec, was barred from participation in the anti-spam discussion forum Spam L for being rude to a marketer.

In the almost decade and a half I’ve been reporting and opining on commercial email, anyone from the marketing side of the spam issue attempting to participate in an anti-spam discussion group has been essentially setting themselves up as a clay pigeon in an anti-spammer skeet shoot.

Over the years, I have met many reasonable, level headed anti-spammers, some of whom I’m currently in regular contact with. But I have also for years contended that the reasonable anti-spammers rarely give the verbal grenade lobbers the shunning they deserve.

There is mantra in anti-spam land that is important to this discussion: “Rule 1. spammers lie,” followed by “If a spammer seems to be telling the truth, see Rule 1.”

In the case of too many anti-spammers, this mantra translates into: “Anyone who disagrees with me is lying.”

I have experienced this mentality firsthand many times.

The example that most readily comes to mind is an exchange I had with litigious anti-spammer Dan Balsam after I wrote a column criticizing a law he was pushing for in California.

In a rebuttal letter, Balsam utterly misconstrued what the column said and literally claimed I had written things I had not. Moreover, every time he referenced one of my opinions, he italicized the word “opinion,” implying something negative I’ve never been able to quite figure out.

In an email exchange, Balsam accused me of getting my facts wrong, one of the worst accusations someone can level on a reporter who takes his/her career seriously.

I challenged him to point out one single factual error I had made and vowed to correct it immediately if he did. He responded by pointing out opinions I had expressed that he didn’t agree with, not a single mangled fact. To Balsam, opinions that didn’t agree with his were factual errors, or more aptly put, lies.

That’s just one example I have witnessed and/or experienced of the “if-you-disagree-with-me-you-lie” mentality that is too prevalent in the land of anti-spam.

But back to Kulawiec’s expulsion from Spam-L. He apparently was a long-time blowhard who had been repeatedly warned to tone his comments down.

Spam L’s welcome page has very clearly spelled out rules of civil engagement.

“We take these rules a lot more seriously than we probably should, because we (the listmoms) believe that the death of the first Spam-L list was caused by a lack of basic ground rules and common courtesy,” it says. “We ask that you treat them just as seriously as we do.”

The rules in question? Basically: “Don’t attack people,” “Don’t be mean” and “Address your comments to the issues and opinions with which you disagree” not the person with whom you disagree. 

So what did Kulawiec write that was the final straw resulting in his expulsion?

Here it is:

“Moreover, I think my remarks were extraordinarily forgiving and magnanimous: as you may recall, I'm on the record advocating the death penalty for spammers, so my *preferred* solution would be the summary execution of every single Marketo employee. However, in the interest of collegiality, I've generously refrained from asking them to make that happen, and have only asked that they take the basic steps that everyone in civilized societies takes when they're doing something wrong: stop it, admit it, apologize for it, and make it right. That's a pretty massive concession on my part -- more than collegial, it's damned generous."

I would say commenting that one would prefer that the person on the receiving end of the comment and all of his fellow employees be executed would qualify as breaking Spam-L’s rules, no? Now Kulawiec’s been banned from the discussion. Good.

However, he could resubscribe under a pseudonym. But if he did, I’d bet he’d pipe up again pretty quickly and be recognized. Guys like that can’t help themselves.

In response to Kulawiec’s expulsion from Spam-L, anti-spammer JD Falk wrote the following in the comments section of a post on anti-spam and deliverability expert Al Iverson’s blog about the incident:

“The anti-spam community HAS TO turn its back on the assholes and idiots who make us all look bad by heaping abuse on the few marketers and deliverabilitators willing to engage in civil discourse, just as the email marketing community HAS TO publicly shun ill-conceived outlier ideas like suing ISPs who won't put their mail at the top of every user's inbox.

“Otherwise, there'll never be any trust between the various parties.”

Right on, JD.

Kulawiec’s expulsion from Spam-L was a much needed step in the direction of rational discourse between marketers and anti-spammers. May marketers respond with better list hygiene and segmentation.

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

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