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Marks My Words: Is Sharing Caring?

It was almost a pointless question by last Sunday night and definitely old news by Monday morning. “Oh my GOD, were you on that email list? Ya know, the one that– ”  “Yeah, dude. Everyone was on that list.” “Oh…uh, yeah. How funny was that loloctopus?!”

Yes, the UGRES_RCFS list is really old news. It was a popular topic for discussion through Monday, at most. Since then we’ve moved on, mostly to the Hitler parody video about the list, but moved on nonetheless. Still, take a moment to return, if you will, to that memorable chunk of time on Sunday evening.

I was sitting in front of my laptop idling skimming some lecture slides when I noticed I was added to an unfamiliar yet official-sounding email list. “Hm,” I thought and deleted it. Then there was the first fateful message, the tiny hole that made way for the flood, the message that began all messages. The message innocently asked the list, “What is this list? And why am I on it?”

Good questions both. So good that a lot of people thought they were good questions too and proceeded to answer them. This soon meant that dozens of people provided exactly the same set of helpful information, which was naturally rendered completely unhelpful by the time it had been repeated more than three times.

What happened next is what really might be telling. As soon as people fully understood that the list was open to all undergraduates, the replies took off. Anything and everything. Music videos? Pictures of cute animals? Shout-outs to friends? You name it, it was on the list.

I abandoned the perusal of my lecture slides to discuss the phenomenon in real-time on Gchat. As the replies surged into my inbox, I typed feverishly away to a couple friends also online. We refreshed our inboxes, checked some links and reconvened to virtually giggle about them.

And then one of my friends asked the big question: should she post something too? It sounds like a trivial question, almost completely moot. Of course she should just post. Over a hundred people had already posted. What’s the big deal?

Perhaps I have a skewed idea about the practice of posting things in very public places. I think it started in sixth grade, when I first used the Internet to help me with my research paper on Vikings, the largest academic endeavor I had yet undertaken at the time. I needed above all a catchy cover picture for the report, and so I started doing some middle school-level Google image searches of “Vikings.”

Instead of immediately uncovering images of fearsome ships and noble soldiers, I stumbled upon some guy’s blog with pictures of his tailgates at Vikings games. It took me countless clicks to uncover any good results. My sixth-grade self was frustrated beyond belief. Why couldn’t I just find pictures of Vikings? Why were those dumb pictures on my Google search? Who cared about that guy’s blog and his tailgate?

Since we were in middle school, the Internet and its capabilities have only gotten larger, offering us a number of ways in which we can tell people about things — things we like, things we don’t like, things about ourselves. As a result, we are constantly presented with the decision of how much we want to be heard.

Every undergrad sitting in front of a computer on Sunday afternoon who watched the replies go back and forth was confronted with this decision. “Do I want to be heard? Do I have something to say?” A lot of people didn’t, as evidenced by their fruitless efforts to unsubscribe.

And about 200 people felt like they did have something to say, including my friend on Gchat who finally jumped into the fray with her own comment of “you mad, bro?” and an instructional link that illustrated how to set up email filtering.

The question isn’t so much whether spamming the UGRES_RCFS was inappropriate or not, and I’d agree that those of you who think that such spam was completely cruel and unreasonable should probably consider learning how to filter email (this advice goes for Hitler too). My question for the spammers is this: why did you post? Why did you want to be heard on that particular Sunday afternoon by so many thousands of undergrads? And what does this tendency to post say about you?

Maybe it was the novelty of that list popping up on a Sunday afternoon, when we all wanted to procrastinate, that prompted the relentless spam. Or maybe several hundred Stanford undergrads really want to get their voices out there. The creation of the new, censorship-free email list “absolutefreedomofspeech,” modeled after the UGRES_RCFS list, will probably shed some light on these questions. It sounds like it’ll end up being a forum for all the spammers of its predecessor, but will it? Students will have to sign up for the list themselves and will never know how many other students they are reaching. So will it be the next UGRES_RCFS list? As long as I can unsubscribe, I might try it out.


Did you post? Why? Tell Miriam at [email protected]

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