Learn to use Bcc

One of our staff recently received (on an unfiltered account) a forward of one of the many silly hoaxes that circulate periodically (“Pleeeease Reeead it was on Good Morning America”).

As he scrolled through the message, curious to find out exactly which silly hoax it was he became increasingly horrified at what he was seeing.

The message had been forwarded many times before reaching the person that forwarded it to him and each of the forwarders had openly published what appeared to be their entire address list.

This brings up two issues (only one of which will be addressed here):

  1. This stuff is email pollution and in some ways is worse than spam. We’d really like to see people learn to spot these things and stop forwarding them but we’ll address this in a separate post.
  2. Most of the people who do forward these things do so by sending them to everyone in their address book. To compound this tragedy they do so by making the addresses available to everyone receiving the forward down the line. The staff member mentioned above tolerates the person who sent him the forward because he can respond to everyone in that person’s address book with correct information about the forward thereby providing a small public service the victims of at least one wanton forwarder.

What is Bcc?

One of the interesting features of email vs. “snail mail” is that an email message can be addressed to multiple recipients simultaneously. This can be done in one of three ways:

  1. More than one recipient in the “To:” field.
  2. Additional recipient(s) in the “Cc:” field.
  3. Additional recipient(s) in the “Bcc:” field.

Functionally the first two are the same except for the nuance that “Cc” (Carbon copy) recipients are displayed by the email client as being “Cc” recipients indicating that they are not “primary” recipients but were merely informed of the correspondence. This is modeled on the business practice of doing exactly the same thing with paper correspondence that predates email. Thus the name “Carbon copy”.

In both instances all of the recipients of the message are able to see who all of the other recipients of the message were.

The third option, “Bcc” (Blind carbon copy) is different in that the identities of the “Bcc” recipients are hidden. Email clients will only display recipients named in the “To:” and “Cc:” headers of the message. Therefore, you can send a message to a large group of people without any of them knowing who the other recipients are.

While we don’t condone mass forwards of trivial/questionable value in the first place, we do recommend that, if you must forward things to everyone you know, you use “Bcc”.

The usual practice for this is to forward the message to an address you own (possibly not the one that originally received the message) and include all of the other recipients in the “Bcc:” field.

Do your friends a favor and don’t give their addresses to strangers.

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