sinners & poor grammar

Larry Hunter hunter at work.nlm.nih.gov
Fri Mar 11 10:41:00 EST 1994


Re: one of several obnoxious, off-topic posts lately on bionet.women-in-bio,
Karen Kroslowitz asks:

  Also, how does one post something with a "From" address that cannot be
  replied to? (yes, that's a dangling participle... you caught me!) I tried
  to reply to the dolt, but I received a mailer-daemon. Any guesses?

Well, that one wasn't even done cleverly.  By looking at the headers on the
message, it's clear that it was posted from a public PC at the University of
Florida:

  Organization: University of Florida
  NNTP-Posting-Host: public-160.circa.ufl.edu

I sent a note to the postmaster at circa.ufl.edu mentioning the problem (for
more about what that means, see below).
 
To try to make this a little more relevant to this newsgroup, I'll part with
a little advice about how to respond to harassing electronic messages (email
or news). 

First, I think Cathy Quinones was right in saying it's often better not to
respond publicly to harassing messages in usenet news.  Being ignored often
sends harassers on to other pastures.  Replying via email can be helpful if
the harasser is acting out of ignorance rather than malice, but be
forewarned that by doing so, you are identifying yourself to him/her, and
may get further personal harassing messages as a result.

Another good option is to respond to the administrator responsible for the
account.  Every host that can send email is supposed to have a valid
"postmaster" address.  So, if you see harassing mail from 

   "jdoe at host.domain.foo"

try sending email explaining the problem to "postmaster at host.domain.foo" --
that is, substitute the word "postmaster" for the username (part before the
@).  If that mail is undeliverable, try dropping the leftmost part of the
hostname (that is, the part between the "@" and the first ".") in this case,
"postmaster at domain.foo".

Sometimes, harassers do try to conceal their location.  There are various
ways to do this, but almost none of them are really effective.  Associated
with each email and news message are "headers," which provide a good deal of
information about the sender.  Often, news and mail reading programs hide
some of the headers from you (since they are useful to programs, and
irrelevant to people).  However, most of these programs have a command to
"show headers" or something like that (the commands will vary from program
to program).  By looking at the headers, one can usually find at least the
originating host (if not the user id), and then send email to the postmaster
at that host explaining any problem.  The local host administrator has logs
of email and other network connections that can often be used to identify
the perpetrator.  If you have trouble seeing or understanding the headers on
an offensive message, ask your system administrator for help.

Finally, there are anonymous email servers on the network whose purpose is
to make possible the sending (and receiving) of genuinely anonymous email.
They are controversial, and if you are interested, there are volumes of
verbiage written for and against them, it's all in a usenet FAQ. Here is the
URL if you want to read about it:

  http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/net-anonymity/top.html

Anyway, if you see something like "an68849 at anon.penet.fi" as the user id,
then it is an anonymized message.  Fortunately, the administrator of the
anon server in finland is sensitibe to harassment issues, so sending a
message to julf at penet.fi about harassing messages from anon.penet.fi
addresses is likely to be effective.  The "postmaster" address will also
work for other anon servers.

Harassment and inappropriate email and news is a relatively small proportion
of electronic message traffic, but it can have severe repercussions for its
victims.  I hope that this information about how to respond will help people
feel better able to cope with the problem.

Larry

--
Lawrence Hunter, PhD.
National Library of Medicine
Bldg. 38A, MS-54
Bethesda. MD 20894 USA
tel: +1 (301) 496-9300
fax: +1 (301) 496-0673 
internet: hunter at nlm.nih.gov
encryption: public key via RIPEM server or "finger hunter at work.nlm.nih.gov"



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