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What should I know to avoid getting in trouble with email?

The University Information Policy Office (UIPO) maintains a number of policies regarding the use and misuse of Indiana University's computing resources; see Information Technology Policies.

This document addresses a number of behaviors that will almost certainly get you in trouble. Email is a great convenience, but that convenience can be abused. Use common sense and good manners when sending email, and it will serve you well as a useful tool for communication. For instructions on reporting mail that falls into any of the categories below, see What should I do when I get spam email?

On this page:


Harassment

Sending threatening, unsolicited, obnoxious, or sexually explicit messages to others by email is a form of harassment, as is continuing to mail someone who has asked you to stop. You should never send anyone an email message containing things you wouldn't say in person. Also, remember that what you consider humorous, others may consider offensive or even frightening. Email harassment violates ethical usage of your computer account, and in some extreme cases may even provoke victims to press criminal charges.

Mass mailings and junk email

Note: At Indiana University, if you are considering mass mailing, be aware that the University Information Policy Office (UIPO) distinguishes between administrative mailings and mail that is for interpersonal communication, and treats the two differently. For details, see What is IU's policy concerning mass mailing via email?

Never send uninvited email to large numbers of strangers (such messages are considered spam). Junk email wastes both system resources and the time of those who receive it, and recipients may contact your system administrator with complaints. In particular, do not send the following to anyone who has not given you permission to do so:

If you do legitimately need to send email to a large number of people, place all but one of the addresses on the blind carbon copy ("Bcc:") line of the message. If the addresses are on the "Bcc:" line rather than the "To:" or "Cc:" lines, a reply to the message will go only to the original sender, not to the entire list of recipients. When replies do go to all of the original recipients, each reply is also considered a mass mailing.

For help while using Office applications, press F1 or click the question mark on the upper right. For more, see How can I get help with Microsoft Office software?

Chain mail

Chain mail is a form of junk mail. A chain mail message is generally sent to several people and includes instructions that each person should forward the letter to several others. These messages waste system resources and often grow quite large as senders append their own additions. Do not forward such messages.

For more information about IU's policy on chain mail, see About chain mail.

Fraud and misrepresentation

Dishonest users sometimes attempt to forge mail messages to others to gain personal information, such as account passwords or even credit card information. Do not ever divulge such personal data in a reply, even if the sender looks legitimate; instead, forward the suspicious mail to the postmaster at the address where the message originated.

Spoofing

Forging a message so that it appears to come from another user is cause for losing your account with most Internet service providers (ISPs), including IU. Humorous intent will not be a sufficient defense, particularly if the message is not received in the intended spirit.

Mailing the president

The president and vice president of the United States have email addresses ( president@whitehouse.gov ,  vice_president@whitehouse.gov ) so that concerned citizens can communicate their legitimate opinions on various topics. Do not, under any circumstances, send threatening email to these addresses, even as a joke. Threatening the president is a federal crime with a severe sentence:

US Code Title 18 - Crimes and Criminal Procedure - Part I - Crimes - Chapter 41 - Extortion and Threats - Section 871 - Threats against President and successors to the Presidency

Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

(Source: US Code online)

The Secret Service has traditionally interpreted this statute to also cover any online source (e.g., email, web pages, blogs), and have investigated cases accordingly. While actual prosecutions are rare (most "threats" are judged to be either misunderstandings, jokes, hyperbole, or other sorts of non-threatening compositions), investigations are common. Even if you are ultimately exonerated, the problems associated with a law enforcement entity's investigation are numerous and best avoided.

Also, IU IT Policy IT-02 states:

Misuse or abuse are uses of Indiana University information technology resources that violate existing laws or university policies and procedures (including but not limited to University Information Technology Policies; the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct; the Academic Handbook; University Human Resources Policies; and University Financial Policies), or that otherwise violate generally accepted ethical norms and principles.

Threats to the president or other government officials will also get you in trouble with the university as well as with law enforcement organizations. Do not send threatening letters to the president, vice president, or any governmental official, even as a joke.

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Last modified on September 05, 2013.

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