Is it OK to opt out of family spam?
January 9, 2011 1:37 AM   Subscribe

Is a simple opt-out request generally unreasonable and/or inherently offensive, when the unsolicited Facebook message was sent by a family member?

A cousin recently sent a mass email to her Facebook friends, briefly promoting products sold by a friend of hers, and included a link to her friend's website. For the record this cousin rarely contacts me directly, either on Facebook or in any other way, and so as much as I might love and respect her, this out of the blue solicitation felt spammy to me. I suppose I might have given it a pass if I had personally known my cousin's friend, or if her friend was fighting a life-threatening disease, or was dealing with another horrendous life experience or situation, but there was zero context in her message, just a "Please check my friend's cool stuff out (LINK)".

Long story short, we traded a few messages after my initial, simple opt-out 1 reply, and it seems she is offended by my request and is getting ready to let this bridge burn.

Maybe I mishandled things. I probably should have just ignored her message, and waited for more messages like it to appear before saying anything. My cousin is very sensitive to anything that she thinks might be criticism or judgment, and I now realize that she responds to such stuff in a kneejerk fashion, probably without exception. Maybe the best next step for me would be to pick up the phone, or go and visit her in person next time I'm in town, and try to make peace that way. This is our first conflict ever, since early-ish childhood at any rate, so I'm hopeful it'll be fine once we shoot the breeze for a few minutes.

But my question here is, are Facebook and email messages sent by family members subject to the same general netiquette rules regarding spam? Is it really a reasonable thing to be offended by a short, simple opt-out reply? For the record we're both gen xers and have clocked a fair amount of internet time.

1. Specifically, of "Check out this product!" sorts of messages.
posted by christopherious to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I guess I don't really understand what you mean when you say "opt-out reply." You replied to her mass e-mail with something like "No thank you, I'm not interested"? Or you specifically asked her to not send you messages like this?

I think the standard etiquette would be to simply ignore a mass e-mail like this if you're not interested in it. It only takes a second to glance at and delete messages, and she only sent you one e-mail. Asking her to not send you this does seem a bit rude.
posted by girih knot at 1:47 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I should have wrote "sent a mass Facebook message to her Facebook friends" instead of "sent a mass email to her Facebook friends". Argh, even after all the careful previewing! Apologies.
posted by christopherious at 1:47 AM on January 9, 2011

Response by poster: I guess I don't really understand what you mean when you say "opt-out reply." You replied to her mass e-mail with something like "No thank you, I'm not interested"? Or you specifically asked her to not send you messages like this?

The latter.

I think the standard etiquette would be to simply ignore a mass e-mail like this if you're not interested in it. It only takes a second to glance at and delete messages, and she only sent you one e-mail. Asking her to not send you this does seem a bit rude.

Ah, there was my mistake then.
posted by christopherious at 1:49 AM on January 9, 2011

I think the etiquette is still the same. Ignoring it might even be more acceptable, since people plug crap on facebook all the time.
posted by girih knot at 1:50 AM on January 9, 2011

I don't know. I'd probably have done what you did. I would want to stomp on that behaviour as quickly as possible. But then I"m the cantankerous one in the family.
posted by taff at 2:00 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Its hard to imagine what a 'simple opt-out reply' might have said but it would be an odd thing to send. I would have just ignored the message and unfriended them (if I was in a good mood, I might have given them a second chance before unfriending)
posted by missmagenta at 2:20 AM on January 9, 2011

Facebook gives you so many ways to silently ignore/block/not see things, so sending a direct "never again" reply is a really strong response. She wasn't being overly sensitive when she interpreted your reply as passive aggressive criticism, and it's unsurprising that there's fallout when you criticize a friend. (I'm not saying spam is good, but picking your battles is how people get along.)
posted by anaelith at 3:21 AM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'd say you have over-reacted if its just the 1 spam message from a friend. I'd personally ignore such a message until it had appeared to develop into a pattern. (ie its not a pattern until there have been at least 4-5 similar messages.)

opting out after 1 message is a bit patronising as it presumes that this is the start of some pattern behaviour - which of course it may not have been at all. Perhaps she had been pressured by her friend to spam the product.
posted by mary8nne at 5:07 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

depends if this was a one off or a continuing pattern... if it's a one-off, i think you over-reacted.
posted by modernnomad at 5:23 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with modernnomad. Your response should have taken into account the number of times she's done this and over what time frame. For example, three times in a year is probably ok, but three times in a month would not.

Sending something like you did instead of ignoring it probably rubs her up the wrong way because it implies that her one email has inconvenienced you far more than it really has. She thinks you are massively overreacting.

I'd drop it personally. Life is too short.
posted by mr_silver at 5:35 AM on January 9, 2011

I have a family full of knee-jerkers like your cousin. I've found that any response whatsoever makes them go all offended, so I just ignore it all.
posted by cooker girl at 6:09 AM on January 9, 2011

I wouldn't call the message spammy if it was only a one time occurrence (which I assume it is, since you didn't mention more messages). I am guessing that from her point of view she was just trying to help a friend, and sending a one-time email to her friends isn't too much to ask when the message can be disregarded easily.

Don't unfriend her like another poster has suggested. :)
posted by adahn at 6:11 AM on January 9, 2011

"Please stop sending me these messages" strikes me as inappropriate, both because she's not an ordinary company spamming you and because she's this is the only time she's ever sent you such a message. The implication of your so-called "opt out" is that she's going to keep sending you unwanted solicitations... it's not unreasonable for her to have been insulted by this, and an apology might not be a bad idea.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:56 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

The notion of an "opt-out reply" doesn't really exist for a single message sent by a family member. You opt out of being on a company's mailing list because being on it implies this is the first of many messages to come. So far, you've received one message and that may be the end of it. Family is entitled to a little more kindness than an anonymous robot-generated message who can't take things personally. Your response is a little disproportionate for someone who may not understand that there's a less-intrusive way to help her friend on Facebook.

I get lots of Facebook mail from people who are less close to me than family about stuff I'm not interested in -- please "like" my friend's business, please give money to this or that charity that I already support or am not interested in supporting. If it's not a pattern, I don't do anything. It's just the cost of having a social media presence.
posted by *s at 8:33 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just got a post on my FB page and was tagged in a photo which are both advertisements for the individual's business. Like you, I'm more of an acquaintance of this guy (friend of my boyfriend who I've met once or twice). I considered sending him a message letting him know that I wasn't pleased with his spamming - he's doing this every day to a different chunk of his friends - but decided that I'd just delete the post and remove the tag.

This isn't to say that what you did was wrong. In fact I think that if you wrote a short but polite note, she has no reason to be upset with you. I'm remembering the era of chain emails and having to suggest to various people that I am uninterested in receiving this kind of thing and that I'm not the only one who feels this way. And I definitely understand your distinction between a post with content and single link commercial crap.

Which reminds me of the last time I commented on a subway hustler's technique. He was one of a small group of kids selling candy on the train. He was wearing sunglasses and trying to be slick. I laughed at him and told him that I thought he'd make more money if he took off the glasses. He decided that by commenting on this I had made him somehow lose face with his audience/fellow hustlers. He gave me a bunch of crap and I just laughed at him. After a couple of minutes of this, and with me making clear to him that I really just didn't give a crap, he walked away. He took off his sunglasses.

Sometimes people just have to get upset about things in order to save face.
posted by sciencegeek at 8:35 AM on January 9, 2011

Best answer: Your relative spammed you. So far, that's pretty rare on FB, but it's very likely to get very much worse, as soon as advertisers figure it out. If you were polite in your request that your relative cease sending Unsolicited Commercial Messages, than you have nothing to apologize for. You may have been less than ideally tactful, and may want to brush up on your skillz, but spam is really rotten, and should not be accepted.
posted by theora55 at 8:36 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've done that (asked friends, family members, co-workers, and acquaintances not to send me SPAM or forward me racist or politically intolerant jokes or emails) and let me tell you, no matter how diplomatic I try to be, or how delicately worded the request, the sender has always taken offense. Their reply and my ensuing emails trying to explain my POV usually end up dragging the thing out much longer than necessary.

Now I do what The Smart Folks do: filter emails from people who repeatedly send that type of stuff to a special folder called "Crap". I am then free to ignore Crap at my leisure. If said person actually had something important to discuss and it accidentally got sent to Crap, then they can contact me by phone after they haven't heard back. Number of times this has actually happened in over 6 years: 2. Stupid emails avoided: thousands.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:08 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you were polite in your request that your relative cease sending Unsolicited Commercial Messages, than you have nothing to apologize for

I agree. And as far as I know, Facebook does NOT offer a way to block messages from people, short of dropping them as a friend. Messages are meant for personal communication; spam, if it belongs anywhere, belongs in status updates.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:26 AM on January 9, 2011

Actually, I think it's worse than spam. I have spam filters on my email so mostly I don't even see that stuff. When it comes from a trusted source, I actually waste some time reading it.

If you were polite and you handled it privately, then it's probably fine. This isn't a time to post something. Take it to private communication.

What to do now? Nothing. She spammed. You told her to stop spamming. Hopefully she'll let it go.
posted by 26.2 at 11:22 AM on January 9, 2011

Her friend probably asked her to send out the info, and she sent it. If I had been in your situation, I would have simply deleted it. If I had been in HER situation, and I was really into whatever my friend was hawking, I would have posted it as a Link to whatever my friend was hawking. If I were in her situation, and I wasn't particularly into the product, I would have still posted it as a link, but I would have set it up so that only my friend the product hawker, anybody that friend is connected to, and anyone who might be truly interested in the product could see it.
posted by Ellemeno at 1:36 PM on January 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments, guys. I appreciate the supportive comments that back up my initial response to her (yes, I was polite, brief and to-the-point) and I also appreciate the suggestions that I might have been better off not saying anything at all until more messages like it arrived. In balance, I now feel that responding the way I did was probably a bit of a knee-jerk reaction on my part.

I should have mentioned that my cousin has actually done spammy Facebook things before, starting with an insane amount of self-promoting/self-linnking status updates and very aggressive "join my group" tactics. In the beginning, I just ignored her wall posts and group-related FB messages, but eventually I started filtering the posts out of my newsfeed and later quietly left her FB group. She re-invited me to her group several times after that, and after ignoring the first few re-invites I finally replied and politely declined.

So when she sent her first actual FB message spam, I felt it might be a good idea to nip it in the bud. In hindsight, noting her sensitivity and disposition, I realize that was a huge mistake on my part.

As for the message or email filtering suggestions, it isn't easy to filter FB messages based on content, nor the email notifications generated by the FB messages. I like receiving FB email notifications and so I don't want to switch that feature off, but perhaps I could have slipped in a gmail filter that looked for her name somewhere in the headers. Still, I would hate to risk missing an important communication that way.
posted by christopherious at 5:21 PM on January 9, 2011

Response by poster: Oh and one more clarification: My initial "opt-out" request was a private message.
posted by christopherious at 5:25 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

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