The Brown Alumni Listserv Is Having an Epic Reply-All Fail

By
Scene of the crime.
Scene of the crime. Photo: California Cthulhu (Will Hart) /flickr

One of the small, periodic joys of belonging to mass e-mail listservs is the rare occasion when a reply-all function is accidentally turned on, enabling anyone on the list to spam thousands of people at once. NYU had a reply-all fail last year; today, it's Brown's turn. The university's alumni are currently being besieged by hundreds of confused e-mails begging to be "unsubscribed" and "taken off" an e-mail list that has quickly spun out of control.

The trouble started this morning with an errant bulletin from the University Scheduling Office (Subject: "Resource 25 Access Restored") that was mistakenly sent to the entire alumni network. Somehow, someone figured out that, by replying-all, you could e-mail everyone in the group. This created confusion.

On Tue, Jun 11, 2013 at 11:33 AM, [redacted] wrote:

Hey: I'm a 20 year alum. Why am I getting this email?

On Tue, Jun 11, 2013 at 11:32 AM, [redacted] wrote:

???

Finally, someone stated the obvious:

From: [redacted]

Subject: Re: Resource 25 Access Restored

It seems you're sending this out to a huge alumni list.

Then chaos broke out:

Not sure why I am getting this email. I would like to be taken off.

??? Why Brown emails????

Quit replying All..All!! I've reported this as spam!
Please stop replying all

I am not a "scheduler" either and do not know what resource 25 is.

The authorities stepped in:

From: [redacted]

Subject: Re: Resource 25 Access Restored

Please don't reply all to these e-mails. If you have questions, reply to the sender only. Thx.

From: [redacted]

Subject: Re: Resource 25 Access Restored

PEOPLE PLEASE STOP HITTING REPLY ALL!

But it was too late:

From: [redacted]

Subject: Re: Resource 25 Access Restored

To whom it may concern: please take me off this list, I graduated last month.

From: [redacted]

Subject: Re: Resource 25 Access Restored

This e-mail is obviously a Phishing attempt/Trojan attachment. Do not click any of the links and please stop replying all to the message. I have notified Brown CIS. I'm sure they will take action soon.

From: [redacted]@yahoo.com

Subject: Re: Resource 25 Access Restored

Unsubscribe ?
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone on O2ok -- yeah

Some alumni seized on the list as an opportunity to lobby for issues close to their hearts:

From: [redacted]

Subject: Re: Resource 25 Access Restored

i was in Phi Delt we need to take down the pool

And some just abused their privileges:

From: [redacted]

Subject: Re: Resource 25 Access Restored

Does anybody know a nice restaurant in the Virginia area? Driving through with my cat and two birds this evening and like Italian food.

Brown's administration has not yet stepped forward to explain the mistake, nor has anyone given the kind alumnus above a restaurant recommendation.

Update: Michael Pickett, Brown's chief information officer, sent an apologetic e-mail to students, faculty, and alumni today. It reads, in part:

I am writing to the Brown community concerning an email thread that began today at approximately 2:19 PM EDT.  The message announced that a scheduling system, called Resource 25, had been upgraded and was back online.  This message was intended to be sent only to a group of internal users of that application.

However, due to a configuration issue with the university email lists, the message was inadvertently sent to a wide constituency of the Brown University community, including faculty, alumni, students and staff.

We sincerely regret the distress that this caused, including the repeated emails that occurred as recipients replied to the whole list.  We have completed an internal investigation of the incident and have concluded that there was no virus, malware or malfeasance as part of this issue.