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Proving My Points

By Dawn Rivers Baker
Posted Friday, October 29, 2004

Online small businesses are suffering due to the antics of the anti-spam fighters, while the spammers are laughing all the way to the bank. How about more responsibility from the operators of those blacklists and those filters?
I received some interesting responses to last week's editorial ("Two Sides of the Coin"), I'm happy to say. I expect some of them might have upset me, if I hadn't been warned beforehand how people were likely to react to my take on the subject.

Some folks seem to think I'm defending the people who send out that brainless bulk email. I'm not. My personal opinion is that any business owner who employs UCE as a marketing tool would have to be mentally defective. Not only is it rude, annoying and inconsiderate to send spam, it doesn't even work. I guess I need to be very clear about that.

I am going to give myself the pleasure of using this space to respond to one particular reader reaction, though. Journal reader Craig Johnson sent me an emailed response to the editorial, and his expressed opinions might have been custom-written to support the article he was complaining about.

Craig wrote: "Would have responded directly on your site, but no direct email available. Is that because you get too much friggin' spam if you do that? Anyway in the editorial ... you talk about how the zealots are going to drive the poor little micro biz out of biz with their over-aggressive blacklisting. Not one clue of how to maybe make the situation better, just a column long whine. There would be no issue here if a.) the micro biz had to pay for wasting my time the same way they do when they send me a bulk mailing; or b.) the micro biz owner would first get a clue, then go to work winning business."

Now, I have never been good at responding to what people mean rather than what they say. So, taking this statement at face value, I note that Craig assumes that every microbusiness owner on the Internet is guilty of sending unsolicited commercial email. They must all be guilty of it, I guess. Otherwise, they wouldn't have any problem with blacklisting.

In fact, he says as much. "If you don't want to be blacklisted, then first and foremost, do no wrong,"he continued in his email. And, of course, if nobody but spammers ever got blacklisted, then I would have had nothing to complain about and last week's editorial would have discussed the economy or something.

But you see, Craig, it's not as simple as that. Most microbusiness owners are not bulk emailers. And most of them hate the stuff as much as you do. But, the way the system is set up now, there are no checks, no balances, and no consequences for the damage that can be done to them with an unjust listing.

What about the microbusiness owner who is reported as a spammer because somebody signs up for a newsletter and then forgets that they did?

What about the business owner who is reported for spamming because the recipient didn't notice that the sender of that forwarded email was their own Aunt Charlie?

What about the truly insane matter of spam-guilt-by-association, where a business writer can be blacklisted because a newsletter publisher somewhere pulls their article from a free content site and then subsequently gets accused of sending UCE?

For that matter, what about the business owner who is reported by an ex-girlfriend with a grudge?

A microbusiness owner who does not send spam still has no protection against being blacklisted inaccurately or, worse, maliciously. These things do happen.

You may call the editorial a "column long whine" (I wonder why people say you are "making well-considered points" when they agree with you, but you are "whining" when they don't?), but I don't have any easy solutions for this dilemma. One way to improve matters would simply be for the people running this system to behave as responsibly as they want the business owners to. They should make sure that you don't get onto those blacklists unless you truly deserve it. Surely, that's not too much to ask.

I don't think it's possible to solve the problem until all the parties involved admit there is one. I don't like spam any better than you do, and I don't have any problem with the idea that consumers want to protect themselves from it. I do object to a so-called solution that has no discernable impact on the culprits but hurts innocent by-standers.

Oh, and by the way, Craig ... my email address is posted on my "Contact" page, which is linked to every page on the site. I'm not afraid of the big bad spam.

About the Author

Dawn Rivers Baker covers news for microbusinesses, and was recently named 2003 Small Business Journalist of the Year by the Syracuse NY District of the U.S. Small Business Administration. She writes and publishes The MicroEnterprise Journal ( and The MicroEnterprise Monthly (, reporting on small business issues the inside the Beltway and around the nation.


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