Sunday, May 25, 2008

When principles clash

After reading the following, call me a heartless bastard only if:
  • you have never heard of Madeleine McCann
  • you go to Google Images and are unable to retrieve an image of her in less than five seconds.
Now, if a child of mine went missing, there's not a mountain I wouldn't move to get her back. If a nephew or niece went missing I'm pretty certain I could say the same. And so it's very hard to condemn Madeleine McCann's uncle for organising what is essentially a global spam to try and find her.

Hold that thought.

I enjoy a reasonably spam free existence which I put down to careful use of my email address online and my ISP's very good filters. However I also have another email address used for my freelance work as editor of the club magazine for what I shall call the Dotty Enthusiasts Club of Great Britain. A few days ago the Madeleine email was sent to this editorial address. Since then I've had three or four of the obnoxious "do better in bed"-type spams every day.

Why do I not think this is a coincidence?

Because the email urges recipients to pass itself on to everyone in their address list. I say I received the spam; in fact I received an email containing an embedded email containing an embedded email containing the message in the form of a PDF. The sender of the version that reached me, according to her automated sig, is PA at an oil firm, so really should have grasped the hang of basic email hygiene. Add all those emails together and you have a few hundred addresses, displayed for all to see, including my Dotty Enthusiast editorial address. A spammer's gold mine, in other words.

I've ranted before about people who thoughtlessly forward emails, and I made myself a hostage to fortune with the following words: "I do not forward circular emails, warnings, prayers, or any other of that ilk. Ever. No exceptions."

Perhaps I should have added: "... because, even if the intent is good, I believe that the irritation, the inconvenience and the tacit encouragement of bad practice outweighs any good that the spam might do."

Faced with my first ever spam that is for a genuinely good cause, my resolve wavered. A little. I left it in the inbox while I cogitated. And then I deleted it anyway.

I don't believe I can help find Madeleine McCann. I do not let this blind me to the good, albeit on a much smaller scale, that I can do in other areas. A world with no lost children but plenty of spammers will be a much nicer place than a world with no spammers but the occasional lost child. The two evils aren't remotely comparable; but, it's fighting the lesser one where I can make the greater contribution.

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