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Spam is not a moral judgement

Mention an email is spam to some senders and watch them dance around trying to explain all the ways they aren’t spammers. At some point, calling an email spam seems to have gone from a statement of fact into some sort of moral judgement on the sender. But calling an email spam is not a moral judgement. It’s just a statement of what a particular recipient thinks of an email.
There are lots of reasons mail can be blocked and not all those reasons are spam related. Sometimes it’s a policy based rejection. Mailbox providers publishing a DMARC record with a reject policy caused a lot of mail to bounce, but none of that was because that user (or that mailing list) was sending spam. Most cable companies prohibit customers from running mail servers on their cable connection and mail from those companies is widely rejected, but that doesn’t mean the mail is spam.
Sometimes a block is because some of the mail is being sent to people who didn’t ask for it or are complaining about it. This doesn’t make the sender a bad person. It doesn’t make the sending company bad. It just means that there is some issue with a part of the marketing program that need to be addressed.
The biggest problem I see is some senders get so invested in convincing receivers, delivery experts and filtering companies that they’re not spammers, that they miss actually fixing the problem. They are so worried that someone might think they’re spammers, they don’t actually listen to what’s being said by the blocking organization, or by their ISP or by their ESP.
Calling email spam isn’t a moral judgement. But, if too many people call a particular email spam, it’s going to be challenging to get that mail to the inbox. Instead of arguing with those people, and the filters that listen to them, a better use of time and energy is fixing the reasons people aren’t liking your email.

4 comments

  1. Dan Randow says

    Makes sense. Successful transmission of email is, like all communication, based on a process of filtering, consent and negotiation. A sender takes more or less responsibility for sending a message that will be received positively. A third party make pass on or fail or refuse to pass on the message. A receiver provides feedback that is more or less perceptible. Gradually, the three may or may not develop more trust.
    This reminds me of the DMARC-related conversations about Mailing List Managers taking responsibility for the email. MLMs as the third party, have a more active role. All three parties, the sender, the receiver and the organisation that is hosting the conversation must take some responsibility in relation to the others.
    This sheds more light on the part that moderation plays for mailing lists. It is the mailing list’s, ie the hosting organisation’s equivalent of the a junk mail folder.

  2. Moderation is a Mailing List Manager's spam folder - OnlineGroups.net blog says

    […] Laura points out, calling an email spam is not a moral judgement. It’s just a statement of what a particular recipient thin…. I have pretty negative thoughts about some email. And many people enjoy the precooked meat product […]

  3. DMARC will expand the role of mailing list moderation - OnlineGroups.net blog says

    […] Laura points out, calling an email spam is not a moral judgement. It’s just a statement of what a particular recipient thin…. I have pretty negative thoughts about some email. And many people enjoy the precooked meat product […]

  4. John L says

    I agree there’s all sorts of reasons why a sender might be sending spam. But after a couple of rounds arguing with someone who insists that a spamtrap address invented by broken scrapeware in 2003 signed up for their junk in 2014 and then forgot, we can rule out most of the polite explanations.

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