Spamaphobia A Consideration of Deviant Behavior on the Internet by Jack Rooney
This report provides a consideration and analysis of a newly emerging aberrant psychological phenomena observed among some Internet users and members of the associated groups they form and the problem with the cult of the "anti-spammers", web monitor groups, the rising cause of the net-watchers and net-censors, and the behavior of Internet chat group members and Internet users towards each other.
Some of these "Anti-Spam" groups and "Net Watch" groups are bordering perilously close to violating Internet user's First Amendment free speech rights. Some of their members are clearly spamaphobics, defined as an abhorrent and unreasonable fear of unfamiliar contacts through emails. Some of their founders and "Czars"(1), which they like to call themselves, are either too young or too untrained to know the difference between Spam and relevant newsgroup information. They seem to define Spam as "anything they don't like and do not want to hear” and a site member telling other newsgroup members about events or news relevant to the news group can often be removed by the group monitor if someone in the group doesn't like what is being said and complains. It is censorship, plain and simple.
Spam is generally defined as "unsolicited commercial emails" (with the emphasis on "Commercial") sent in mass emailing indiscriminately to a large number of recipients over the internet. Unfortunately, non-commercial emails often are thrown into the category of spam when they are not spam at all. Scholarly treatise, articles, essays, poetry, works of literature, expose, discourse, articles of journalism, and a variety of other informative, educational works may not always be sent out over the internet for any commercial purpose. Yet cross posting in Newsgroups of scholarly works often fall victim to censorship by spamaphobics. An article on anthropology may also be of legitimate interest to sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, theologians, historians, philosophers, poets, teachers, physicians, and a wide range of other intellectual disciplines. Yet some systems are set up to automatically delete cross postings to newsgroups without regard to their content. Since such scholarly works are most definitely protected speech under the First Amendment, deleting them, no matter how many newsgroups they are posted to, is a violation of the author's constitutional rights, and limiting the number of newsgroups one may post such scholarly articles to is also a restraint upon the rights of the author, and therefore illegal.
But group monitors, net censors, and ISP roving robots on an almost daily basis under the pretense that they are cleaning up the internet “spam” delete cross-posted scholarly articles. Robots can be excused from malice and stupidity, but posts deleted by human hands may not be so excused. Some folks just love playing God. They love power. They Love feeling important. It seems clear that some human censors just have too much time on their hands and remove or complain about newsgroup messages and postings that are perfectly legitimate and germane to the topic of the newsgroup (usually because they cannot understand the "topic" connection) or they do not like what the poster is saying, or object to the frequency, subject matter, or content of the email(s) even though it isn't Spam at all, or simply, in some cases, because they want to be able to claim they "bumped" someone's "Spam", and the term is often used much too broadly. Some merely like to complain about posting activities of another group member they do not like, particularly if the victim member is actively posting in newsgroups across a large array of related newsgroup categories. Who is to say that an anthropology article that discusses the dietary habits of primitive man is of no interest to a cardiologist in a medical newsgroup? None of the categories of the social or hard sciences are as strict as classical academe might suggest.
People who join watch groups, web watchers, and anti-spamming coalitions, and such and those who incorporate, form, and maintain Internet monitoring groups of this type are clearly spamaphobic to begin with. Denial is also part of the classic syndrome characteristic of the disease -- the "Who me?" response. Spamaphobics exist in a constant state of emotional trauma and turmoil arising from their intense hatred of unwanted emails. Actually, it extends further, into a deep-rooted hatred of ideas and opinions differing radically from their own. "It is not enough to have a few useful truths -- the true believer must have a monopoly on truth for all times."(5)
Spamaphobia is a psycho-emergent illness with a multifactorial etymology; as an abnormal psychological phobia, it has been observed and witnessed and reported from within net watch groups it is a problem to be address properly or all net users may become victim to it directly or indirectly, both individuals and ISPs are victimized by those who "bear false witness" or, in some cases, simply over-react to an unfamiliar or unwanted email in reporting spamming activities; and, like any other psychological phobia, Spamaphobia is, as defined herein, a variant form of xenophobia, arising from fear. Where xenophobia arises from fear of (technically "the foreign" or "fear of foreigners" or "strangers or "the unfamiliar") persons different from oneself, as when someone from outside a group enters and is met with apprehension by the established group, people from outside the group are/were historically and evolutionary seen as the enemy. Xenophobia has more to do with the innate tribal instinct to self-defense and self preservation than anything else, and in this sense, I believe, it serves as the basis or proto-emotion phobia for the variant manifestation, Spamaphobia, arising, in most cases, from the fear manifesting from past and present experiences in which an individual feels helpless to change or control the circumstances of their own lives.
In some cases, false reporting of spamming activity, "accusing" someone of spamming, as distinguished from a legitimate complaint, can be explained as similar to, and nothing more than, a kid who plays a prank by ringing someone's doorbell and then running away, it is a devious, though juvenile attempt at power assertion. Such behavior in a youth may be considered a childish prank or childish mischief; in an adult, it is seen as an aberrant mental illness, deviant behavior, and when these activities are designed at "getting even" with the poster, these false witness activities are nothing less than illegal "malicious mischief". So the phobia may spill over into the manifestation of misdemeanor criminal behavior.
The Internet offers a certain degree of anonymity and it is not unusual for individuals to assume pseudo-identities in their emails, chat rooms, and even in business arena itself. Even when individual's identities are known, the net provides a buffer very different from that of a live debate in, say, a classroom or at a podium in a auditorium -- more like a telephone, where prank callers, heavy breathers, and obscene telephone calls led to legislation to deal with the rampant anonymous phone calling in the 70's and 80's. Carried to extremes, this "alternate identity" through the net can create a Jeckell and Hyde scenario, in which an individual, hiding behind an alter (sheltered) identity, may do and say things they would never do or say in normal, everyday life where their true identity is known publicly and they are immediately accountable for their actions or words.
The Internet provides an easy outlet for the emergence and expression of repressed emotions and every imaginable form of neurotic, psychotic, and psychopathic behavior from persons who seem otherwise "normal" in the real, everyday world to their family, friends, coworkers, and colleagues. The Internet provides a perfect shelter for certain types of whackos ranging from harmless pranksters and jokesters to emotional deviants and psychopaths. Persons who are having trouble with their personal lives, such as, at work, at home, or in their profession are more likely to engage in this sort of deviant behavior on the net. Striking out at others through cruel words or smart alec remarks designed to hurt or injure the feelings of another provides a form of vicarious pleasure derived from the releasing of pent up, repressed emotions.
The prevalence of unsolicited emails is certainly an Internet phenomenon no one could have anticipated when the net was first developed for public use. Receiving unwanted emails is certainly a situation that serves to un-empower and dis-enfranchise the individual from their own self-concept of control over their own life, that is, "I got something in my inbox I did not want and I couldn't do anything about it." Most people feel uncomfortable and apprehensive in situations where they feel they have no control; fear of receiving unsolicited emails can develop into phobia and in some cases, psychotic behavior that arises when an individual is traumatized. Psychological trauma occurs at varying degrees in everyone throughout life. The loss of a loved one, the breakup of a marriage, insults from a friend or, even a stranger can leave subtle marks upon the psyche. In a normal developing person, the trauma has little long lasting deleterious effect on the developing psyche and can even serve as a source of strength and personal growth. But not everyone reacts the same to similar circumstances and events, and it has always been one of the great puzzles of modern psychology why individuals respond so differently to similar stimuli and contexts. In understanding "aversion responses", trauma of some sort is most often at the foundation of the aversive behavior. Trauma is caused by an unwanted physical or emotional event; in the case of the spamaphobic, trauma, mild though it may seem, typically arises when the individual has been spammed frequently, which leads to frustration, feelings of helplessness, anger, and finally, full blown psychosis in which an individual may behave irrationally. Like fear of the dark, or of height places, or of strangers, their fear of receiving messages containing unwanted words may cause them to behave irrationally, like forming and joining fanatical groups like anti-spamming and net watch groups or to become hall monitors at the local news group, or simply to level verbal attacks against other members of the group. Recent studies at Harvard show that these "guards" have the potential to become fanatical, abusive, and dangerous. Give them the power and they will abuse it.(3)
In his work, "The True Believer", Eric Hoffer explains the irrational behavior of the fanatic, describing him as lost without identity and so joins the group to gain an identity through association with others who have a similar or aligned world view. "Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves. . . . The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause." (4)
Hoffer is not talking about religion here per se, but about any group believing itself to be performing some greater social good; he correctly identified the activities of the Nazis in Hitler's Germany and correctly anticipated their moves as a form of collective fanaticism similar to many zealot religious cults. The same would apply to an individual attempting to censure the words of another within a news or chat group. For the spamaphobic, the "holy cause" is the elimination of the unwanted in order to restore order to their lives. The feeling of empowerment gained by their ability to harass and intimidate folks whose words, message, and method of communication they do not like feels good to the spamaphobic. "Death to all spammers" is a typical utilitarian response mechanism in which the spamaphobic attempts to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The drive mechanism or "motive" is rooted in, and driven by, a simple Pavlovian "slobbering dog response" in which the individual anticipates the pleasure (reward) to be derived from getting even with the invaders into their territory. They refer to themselves as "Czars" and "Barons" and "Fifes" (op cit. 1) and recruit new members through psychological empowerment tactics in which the new recruit is encouraged, subtly, to believe they are special or better than others or have special status or rights (the ability to control other's words), in short, the power is like a drug, an intoxicating high, and once addicted, like all power, it corrupts.
The original, justified complaints registered in the early '90s against unsolicited emails had to do a great deal with the fact that disk space was, at the time, at a premium and unwanted emails took up precious disk pace and slowed down computer performance and the net itself. Increases in the cost of disk space and price make this now almost an irrelevant issue except for individuals with extremely old computer systems. Interestingly, even for the oldest systems, there is now software which eliminates most Spam, and disk cleaning utilities now remove the residual deleted files from the file allocation tables so the disk is as clean as if it were new, but this seems to matter little to the ardent spam hater, and it is precisely this unreasonableness of the fear that makes it a true phobia. A sacred cause once begun seems difficult to quell. It is well known that some old soldiers carry the war on long after the surrender or defeat of the enemy.
I see no difference between the high priests of the net-monitor groups and David Korresh or Jim Jones -- the cult of the anti-spammers -- what will they come up with next? How far will they go? The Platonic question, "who will guard us from the guards?" applies here. Spamaphobics can be dangerous, perhaps more dangerous than the alleged spammers they attempt to control -- they are now encroaching on the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech -- they claim to be concerned about hate groups, and excessive email, and the public interest, yet they are one of the biggest organized intolerant hate groups in the world. They claim to be operating under the banner of the righteous cause of protecting the public from abuse, but every tyrant and fanatical group has used this same justification since the beginning of time to repress the rights of the people in attempts to control the minds and thoughts and words of the masses. The public should be less concerned about a few unwanted emails or irrelevant posts to a newsgroup ("words can never hurt me") and more concerned with the problem arising from the "big brother mentality"(6) and the danger the net-censors pose to the world.
The "watchers", net-monitors, abuse reporters, tattle-tales, snitches, whistle blowers, informants, stool pigeons, winners, and those who call the ISP Spam Police whenever they see a post in a newsgroup they don't think is relevant or receive an email they "believe" was unsolicited appear to be the embodiment of the same psychological profile type as those who in Nazi Germany turned in their neighbors to the Gestapo for being different; or in Salem Mass in the 1640s who accused innocent women of witchcraft because they were different or odd; and there are more historical references here of the winner, snitch, false-informant types than I can cite in this short space, but it is believed, according to the current psychological model, that they bear false witness against their neighbors and snitch and tattle and complain excessively because they believe that in doing so they endear themselves to the authorities, the power barons, and gain "status" in their own minds; it gratifies their own ego and raises their own sense of self-esteem. It gives them power in a vicarious and indirect sort of way, even if only in their own perceived concept of self.
But if they are going to "police" the Internet, and I doubt they have any true legal right to do so at all, then they must do so responsibly, rationally, and with equity and fairness. If someone accuses another of spamming, the alleged spammer has the "right to face his or her accuser". If the fanatics will not afford them that right, the United States Courts will oblige if smart lawyers insist on it. ISPs can be sued for damages if they do unjustified harm to another, regardless of self-proclaimed good intentions. Legislation has granted them immunity from liability only for the content of communications over the internet, not from damages they cause to others through their own reckless actions. Spamaphobics must also be held accountable for their actions. I am not passing any value judgment regarding whether robot or human deletions of emails or posted internet content are good or bad, right or wrong, useful or not. I am arguing that the indiscriminate deletion of emails or chat room messages by monitors, robot or human, is illegal in an unconstitutional sense, a First Amendment violation. In ruling on violations of Constitutional law, such as free speech, the courts would typically apply a doctrine of "per se" illegality, which conclusively presumes such practices to be unconstitutional unless there is a clear and present physical danger to the public..."one cannot shout fire in a crowded theatre."(Chief Justice Holmes). Hate speech and certain material considered pornographic or inappropriate for certain age groups are such exceptions. But in the absence of a clear and present public danger, per se illegality rule applies and all other speech is protected. In other words, when a per se offense such as censorship is charged, all the government or the private plaintiff must establish to make out a Constitutional violation is that the defendant has, in fact, engaged in the proscribed practice; illegality follows as a matter of law, no matter how slight the effect, how small the actions of the defendants, or how proper their motives. So before reporting someone to the web police or to an ISP and damaging their business or their ability to communicate freely and openly with others on the internet, think twice.
For ISPs who are often equally the butt of the spamaphobic joke, be warned about it. Be aware of it. Do not fall victim to it. Spamaphobia is a real physiological anomaly, and its ability to lead to mischief should not be underestimated.
Spamaphobia is serious; it is potentially dangerous, not only to the Internet, and to the First Amendment, but to the mind that becomes caught up in a syndrome which can lead to an aberrant emotional phobia, and in some cases, full blown psychotic behavior -- fear and hatred of ideas different from one's own.
Nothing I have said here is meant to denigrate or stifle the efforts of honest people who are trying to stop abusive use of the Internet by people who might abuse the freedoms the Internet has to offer. Clearly, there are those who are taking unreasonable advantage of Internet use. But for every argument that proposes controlling the internet for social good, for those who believe they have a right to use email for inter-business communications and talking to family and friends, or whatever they believe the net's ultimate purpose might be, there is a counter argument that holds that the purpose of the internet is commercial by nature and an open media and therefore anyone is entitled to use it any way they choose. Which argument has more merit is a matter of opinion. Discussion need to take place on both sides of the equation before any meaningful progress can be made. My primary concern is to try to understand and address the actions of groups and the psychological affect spam appears to have on some people that lead to aberrant social behavior.
If you believe you have suffered from the ill effects of the aberrant psychological syndrome identified in this article, see a physician, particularly one skilled in psychology, psychotherapy, psychiatry, or at the very least, see your family Doctor.
Further study needs to be conducted into the area of the effects the Internet has on child psychological development. More research needs to be conducted to determine what, if any, influence anonymous and pseudo-anonymous chat rooms, newsgroups, and net-participation and interaction with others on the net has on child socialization, personal identity development, and growth.
Visit Jack Rooney at http://home.att.net/~JackRooney
(1) http://www.sputum.com/ ; http://spam.abuse.net/ ; http://www.cauce.org ; http://spamcop.net/ ; http://combat.uxn.com ; http://www.claws-and-paws.com/spam-l/ ; http://ddi.digital.net/~gandalf/spamfaq.html ; http://www.euro.cauce.org/en/ ; http://www.elsop.com/wrc/nospam.htm ; http://spam.abuse.net/overview/whatisspam.shtml ; http://dlis.gseis.ucla.edu/people/pagre/spam.html ; http://www.scambusters.org/stopspam/
(4) Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (New York: Harper & Row, 1951), p. 21.
(5) Ibid., Hoffer, pp. 22-23
Jack Rooney Http://home.att.net/~JackRooney/
Spam Us: JackRooney@worldnet.att.net
Originated: 27 January 2002
Revised: 27 March 2008
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