Some call it “spam,” and some call it junk. Others welcome any traffic in their lonely electronic mailboxes.
Like meat filtered through a fan, Idaho politician Reed Simpson’s stumping message went out to thousands of Internet users in the Inland Northwest last week, violating a cardinal rule on the Internet.
Since then, the Kootenai County Commission candidate’s e-mail has been flooded with complaints. The three Internet service providers he targeted are angry. And Simpson says he doesn’t understand the problem.
“There is a set of guidelines on the Internet,” said Tom Jones, systems manager for DMI Computers, an Internet service provider based in Coeur d’Alene. “What he did I basically consider immoral and unethical.
“What he did was 100 percent identical to sending out bulk mail through the U.S. post office, but reversing the charges and making everyone pay to receive it.”
What Simpson did is considered ignorant of Internet “netiquette” that frowns upon sending mass e-mail messages. It’s considered a waste of bandwidth. It’s also frustrating for people who pay an Internet provider for each piece of e-mail received or for time spent on line reading their mail.
Simpson sent out a questionnaire to Internet users at DMI, Netlink Inc. and Computech proclaiming “Simpson for commissioner/A voice - finally/Electronic Town Hall.”
The first of 22 questions asked users who didn’t live in Kootenai County to check a box and return the message. Simpson apologized for any inconvenience.
He then asked readers, “May I count on your support?” with five potential answers, including agreeing to post a yard sign, host a gathering, send postcards to friends or pledge to donate money.
Simpson asked users about such issues as a local-option sales tax for Kootenai County, a non-self supporting airport, county services and costcutting options.
Simpson said about 30 percent of the more than 1,000 people who responded want to be a part of his Electronic Town Hall. He declined to identify anyone who appreciated his e-mail, citing their privacy.
Of the people who didn’t want to participate, only 2 percent were upset, Simpson said.
“I don’t get too excited about it,” he said. “They’re entitled to yell and scream.”
Sending bulk e-mail, called “spamming” after an old Monty Python skit, is a big no-no, often with cyber-repercussions. It’s happened on the East Coast. It’s happened in Arizona, when two lawyers sent mass e-mail advertising their services for people needing green cards. They were flooded with e-mail that overloaded their Internet provider.
It hasn’t happened before to this extent in the Inland Northwest.
“Internet users can be kind of a funny bunch,” said Anita Nikiforuk, system administrator at Netlink. “They don’t necessarily like people breaking the unwritten or written rules.”
Simpson was bombarded with e-mail at least twice - once by Jones, who sent him about 200 messages, and once by Brian Kamp, who sent at least 150 messages. Jones is considering filing a complaint with the Computer Emergency Response Team, an international group that tracks Internet abuse.
“I’m not real political, but I definitely know what’s considered good and bad taste on the Internet,” said Kamp, a Spokane computer consultant who said he received two mailings from Simpson. “And this definitely went way beyond bad taste. I live in Spokane. I’ve never had anything to do with Idaho. I’m wondering how many other people he’s sent this to.”
Good question. But like the military and nuclear weapons, the number of users subscribing to every Internet service provider is a closely guarded industry secret.
Computech has between 3,000 and 5,000 users, officials said. Netlink Inc. of Coeur d’Alene has more than 1,100. DMI has between 1,500 and 2,000 users, Jones said.
As far as the companies know, all their users received Simpson’s message, despite warnings from the services not to send bulk mail. Netlink and Computech said they’ve had only one other user send out mass e-mail. The one other person who tried to bulk mail DMI users was blocked.
Computech, Simpson’s former Internet provider, warned him against sending the mail the second week of March. DMI also warned him, Jones said. Even as he sent the mail out, in packages of 200, the companies asked him to stop, representatives said.
“He was told last week, and he promised that he wouldn’t do it again,” Nikiforuk said. “He apparently did it again over the weekend.”
Simpson said he’s received plenty of unsolicited e-mail from people, and he doesn’t regret his mailing. Still, he doesn’t plan to send out another mailing to everyone - just to those people who want to participate in his electronic forum.
“One mouse click and it’s gone - What’s the big deal?” Simpson said. “I don’t really see a problem with that. My objective was to provide a forum for people to discuss issues.”