Cory at Boing Boing links to Brad Templeton‘s reflections on and survey of spam and how we got here. Cory highlights a part of Templeton’s essay that echoes my own interest in the subject: spam has the power to contort consistent rhetorical and political positions into their logical opposites. Since Boing Boing uses an inline permalink system I’ll actually run Cory’s excerpt:
Spam fascinates me because it sits at the intersection of three important rights — free speech, private property and privacy. It’s also the first major internet governance issue (possibly in tandem with DNS) that the members of the internet community have been so deeply concerned with.
The reaction to it has been remarkable. By attacking something we hold dear, and goading us by using our own tools and resources to do it, spam generates emotion far beyond its actual harm, even though that actual harm is quite considerable.
Spam pushes people who would proudly (and correctly) trumpet how we shouldn’t blame ISPs for offensive web sites, copyright violations and/or MP3 trading done by downstream customers to suddenly call for blacklisting of all the innocent users at an ISP if a spammer is to be found among them. People who would defend the end-to-end principle of internet design eagerly hunt for mechanisms of centralized control to stop it. Those who would never agree with punishing the innocent to find the guilty in any other field happily advocate it to stop spam. Some conclude even entire nations must be blacklisted from sending E-mail. Onetime defenders of an open net with anonymous participation call for authentication certificates on every E-mail. Former champions of flat-fee unlimited net access who railed against proposals for per-packet internet pricing propose per-message usage fees on E-mail. On USENET, where the idea of canceling another’s article to retroactively moderate a group was highly reviled, people now find they couldn’t use the net without it. Those who reviled at any attempt to regulate internet traffic by the government loudly petition their legislators for some law, any law it almost seems, against spam. Software engineers who would be fired for building a system that drops traffic on the floor without reporting the error change their mail systems to silently discard mail after mail.
Oh good god, I gotta get to work.