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When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

by Cyberpunks Staff
When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

Gather round, gather round. It’s storytime. This is the tale of the Great Reply-All Stampede of 2018—an epic email chain of nightmare proportions involving mysterious surveillance devices, a mouthy pirate, and far more “Reply All” magic than you ever imagined possible.

It seems a little counterintuitive that a public university would be vulnerable to such a wildly preventable communication disaster. An institution of higher learning surely must be full of smart, capable people, right?  Au contraire!

As it turns out, a university is ripe for this kind of embarrassing event. Like any sizeable organization that employs large numbers of people, universities build large contact lists containing hundreds of email addresses. The possibility of this list falling into the wrong hands, when combined with a lack of basic technological training and a wide array of colorful personalities, leads to a perfect environment for failure on a glorious scale.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

October 4, 2018 was a normal day at the University of Somewhere—students procrastinating, professors rambling, campus squirrels scampering. But then, an “urgent” email came through at 3:03 PM. What followed was a sequence of events so ridiculous, so delightfully cringy, so utterly stupid, that it must be seen to be believed.

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition
When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

At first, the question seemed routine enough, although his methods might have been somewhat misguided.  I didn’t (and still don’t) have any idea who this guy is or how he got access to this group of “LSP Supported Users”, which obviously was an internal distribution list.   It would soon become apparent that he was sending email out to hundreds of unsuspecting people . . .

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

The initial responses are prompt and reasonable:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition
When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition
When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

If I learn of something different, I will be sure to share. Thank you!” 

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition
When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

At the same time, however, a different email was coming through . . . a harbinger of the onslaught to come:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

So, if students are getting this message too . . . does that mean the entire university is on this thread?    Wow.

With this realization, a full 17 minutes have passed since the email chain’s inception.  The flood gates have opened:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

At this point, the mystery of the ominous data-collection devices has been already solved, but this party train is only beginning to roll, as the original sender cannot hold back the onslaught of unsubscribe requests coming his way.   He may be the biggest victim of all.

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

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Mass confusion ensues as more and more people visit their flooded inboxes:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

And now, the anger sets in, as evidenced by a wave of superfluous exclamation points:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

But this is only the beginning, folks. Hold on tight. This chain is a healthy 94 emails long.

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

This technology attack is in its now in its 40th minute, and the relentless avalanche of emails only continues to grow. Some brave champions take this opportunity to educate the good people of LSP Supported Users:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

You don’t say. And, some people didn’t say, as they were seemingly moved beyond words by the mass stupidity developing before their eyes.

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition
When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

As with all epic catastrophes, this one began to attract a more sinister element. Mischievous actors, hearing the collective cries for help, emerged from the shadows to add to the ongoing chaos:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

Livid responses ensue. It would be this uproar that led us into day 2 of the Great American Chain-Mail Offensive:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

Minutes later, people who don’t seem to be clapping about this barrage of early-morning notifications take this thing up a notch by breaking out their best bold, red fonts.

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

Obviously, the cranky font choices immediately convinced all hundreds of us to stop, Google “email fundamentals,” and let go of the silly idea that email settings can be changed via barking commands at the “Reply all” button. . .

I kid, I kid. Fear not, reader. You came here for high drama and a hilariously poor understanding of email basics, and you shall get it.

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

If you’re keeping up with the timestamps, you’ve noticed that we are now entering day 3, perhaps the most legendary day of the entire meltdown. Even our recently-retired university president piped in to express her preferences:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

The unyielding early-morning notifications dragged us from a well-deserved Saturday morning slumber. Some in the chain again took it upon themselves to inform the masses:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

Hi!  That isn’t how email works.  You can’t remove someone from a chain on everyone’s behalf.  So, please stop responding.  I know you’re typing up a “remove me” or “okay guys let’s stop” email right now.  Don’t.   That’s going to continue this spam.  Just stop.  Please stop responding.  If we ignore it, it stops.  If you continue to type “remove me” you’re just spamming everyone else more.  This only stops if all of you stop.  This is literally like 80 messages in and that’s insane.  Please do not click Reply All on any email unless you need to.  You are spamming dozens of people.” — Student #6


Naturally, these pleas fell on deaf ears.

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

But wait. . . just as these responses echo about the smoldering remains of my inbox, a dark horse appears on the horizon.

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

Enter MEME GUY, a man most depraved. Intent on stirring the pot, this agent of chaos has now willingly created even greater incentive for the poor souls in this dumpster fire of an email chain to keep replying, either via his instructions or to correct him.

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

These never-ending replies are more than some in the group can handle, and out comes the good old “Let me speak to your manager” character:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

Somewhere, MEME GUY cackles evilly over his screen, relishing the complete madness of what would later be called “the 2018 Disaster-Chain.”

And so continues our marathon into the fourth day, a day which I like to call Spam Mail 4: Electric Boogaloo. At this point, MEME GUY’s misinformation campaign morphs into a hydra. Numerous replies continue to strike my inbox, now from multiple reply threads. That’s right. Reply threads are now mutating and separating from their host.

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

And this one:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

Aaaand there was this reply, authored by a guy who was having way, way too much fun with this before bringing politics into the matter:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

I KNOW WHERE THEY ARE!  They are in Quebec City, and are being held hostage by the Quebec City Council.  You must go there in person to pick them up.  After retrieving them, you must then fly to Mexico City, catch a bus to Juarez, and walk across the border into the U.S.  If you try to return to the U.S. by way of Montreal, you will stand in line for several hours at customs and immigration, have to fill out a detailed form on why you’re bringing them into the country, and possibly get patted down/felt up/molested by customs agents to make sure you aren’t smuggling anything else into the country.  If you get caught crossing from Juarez with them, you can avoid all of the aforementioned problems.  Claim you’re seeking refuge, then go to California and register to attend UCLA for free (they’ll also give you a handsome stipend for living expenses).  Then apply for free transportation back to …”


But wait! The fun still isn’t over in the main thread, where noble martyrs have kindly dedicated their Sunday afternoons to showering us with helpful tips.

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

But, the ungrateful hordes still write back, unable to withhold their sheer disgust at being emailed all weekend in such an undignified manner. Some start pointing fingers:

When Email Attacks: Academic Chain Letter Edition

However, this promising investigation turned out to be a dead end. After several days of memeing, fighting, and asking increasingly dumb questions, the marathon reply chain finally came to its bittersweet end. We all lost some brain cells here, but the sacrifice was not made in vain, as the Great Reply-All Stampede of 2018 will live on in infamy.

Hey, chum. These posts don't write themselves. If you wanna stay in the know, it's gotta be a two way street.*

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