I live in a dream world where swearing is acceptable.
February 1, 2006 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Last night I jokingly sent an email to my college's internet maintenance crew [for lack of a better description]....

The email contained a few choice words [fuck, shit, poop], but no threats and I even stated that I wasn't actually angry. Yet, this morning I received an email stating "This vulgar reply from you will be forwarded to the proper authorities and necessary actions may be taken." What does that mean, they can't truly take any action against me for exercising my free speech, right? Especially when I was just swearing about the system in what I perceived as a light-hearted manner.
posted by cloeburner to Technology (40 answers total)
I imagine that they have all kind of leeway when it comes to determining what they allow on their private network.
posted by JamesMessick at 7:05 AM on February 1, 2006

Could the reply be a joke? Are you freaking for nothing?
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:07 AM on February 1, 2006

You don't have any free speech rights at work, particularly if the employee handbook prohibits the use of such language. OTOH, CunningLinguist might have a point.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:09 AM on February 1, 2006

Uh oh.... that doesn't sound good. Hopefully they're just trying to scare you? If I were you, I'd be prepared to defend yourself diplomatically and I'd apologize (when the time is right) for the vulgarity, but state that you were expressing frustration about a matter you felt was important, and otherwise thought the recipient could take a joke. You may not agree with apologizing for the vulgarity, and it's somewhat noble to stick to your beliefs, but I say who cares? Just cover your ass - it's just a game that if you're going to be involved with, need to play by the rules. It's not worth getting in trouble over. I think it's kind of a shame if people are still reacting that strongly to mere profanity in this day and age, but I guess it still happens. Good luck.
posted by mojabunni at 7:11 AM on February 1, 2006

Do you work there, or are you a student? Either way, I think I would call the person you sent the email to and apologize. If it turns out to have been a joke, you can play another "joke" on them, if they were serious, you might be able to persuade them to call "the proper authorities" and say it was a mistake and they shouldn't "take action" against you.

I think I would act according to the worst case scenario, because potentially, that's a pretty serious thing to have done. Were you joking about your free speech rights? You don't have the right to harass workers at your school or workplace, and on paper, that's what you did.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:17 AM on February 1, 2006

The reply was most definitely not a joke. Well, I just got off the phone with ITC ["internet gurus"] and they said they forwarded the email to their abuse dept and then they will decide whether or not to cut me off the network. I suppose my best course of action would be to back-up everything I have now cause it might shortly be going down.

Anyway, I did have an extremely diplomatic phone call where I clarified everything, and I know that at least the people at the help desk understand that I ain't madatcha. I still have to deal with the Abuse Dept.
posted by cloeburner at 7:19 AM on February 1, 2006

Are you a student or an employee? It sounds like a thin-skinned self-important wanker getting all worked up over nothing to me. If "The proper authorities" do anything, then worry, I doubt that they will.

I imagine that they have all kind of leeway when it comes to determining what they allow on their private network.

They don't own the network, they work on it. To many IT people get this confused.
posted by delmoi at 7:20 AM on February 1, 2006

And crabintheocean I wasn't harrassing any workers, I was a'cussin' and a'swearin' about the servers.
posted by cloeburner at 7:21 AM on February 1, 2006

Oh, I see the IT people can decide, for themselves, to cut you off the network if you annoy them. Gotta love monopolies.
posted by delmoi at 7:22 AM on February 1, 2006

You have to keep in mind that they probably get lots of emails like this that aren't meant as jokes.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 7:23 AM on February 1, 2006

Sounds like one of your IT guys decided to respond with an official "fuck you, too!"

It won't be the end of the world.
posted by I Love Tacos at 7:23 AM on February 1, 2006

Kiss your access goodbye. IT workers at universities can be quite tyrannical in my experience.
posted by reverendX at 7:26 AM on February 1, 2006

The thing is, if you send an email like that to someone who is at work, you are. I'm a hypocrite who swears all the time at work, but I know that if anyone called me on it I'd be in the wrong, because people shouldn't have to encounter stuff like that when they're doing their job. It's more than a bit weird in certain situations (like if the IT guys swear ALL the time), but it's a basic principle that most organizations hold to, and I think is essentially right.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:26 AM on February 1, 2006

In my experience, this kind of petty bureaucracy is the only thing most sys-admins have going for them. I would say get ready for a fight. Oh, and don't send them a card on sys-admin appreciation day.
posted by jon_kill at 7:29 AM on February 1, 2006

cloeburner - did you ever apologize for the email message?

Because now it appears that you burned two opportunities to do so, and the temperature in IT hell just got turned up a notch.

Call, apologize, say that it was a late night, and it will never ever happen again - then back up your data. Now.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:34 AM on February 1, 2006

I guess I'm confused as to why you thought you could joke with them. Have you done so previously? Do you know them personally?

I'm thinking since it's a "crew" of people, that your email landed in someone's lap who likely didn't find you or the content of your email amusing. They're likely pissed off about something else, perhaps the servers, and your straw met the camel's back at that moment. Maybe it was just over the top.

I don't know if this is a case of exercising your right to free speech, especially if you lobbed a profanity laced tirade towards an individual in a position of quasi-authority.

Now if they knocked you down and beat you about the eyes, nose and throat with your "Monkeys are Not Pets!" poster, then yes, they'd be oppressing your right to free speech.

In my experience, sys-admins rarely care about monkeys, though.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:34 AM on February 1, 2006

No I definitely apologized, both by email and over the phone. The person even understood my situation and said that their supervisor had seen the email and they were required to forward it to Abuse.
posted by cloeburner at 7:37 AM on February 1, 2006

oops, college not work. you don't have free speech at college either, but you stand a better chance of arguing that you do at college than at work.

time for some coffee...
posted by b1tr0t at 7:37 AM on February 1, 2006

I had previously joked with them too, there was a person I was talking to through email, but he did not receive the email this time. So, my email was probably read and misinterpreted [which it might be easy to misinterpret if you deal with angry people a lot.] Oh well, I'm prepared to accept the consequences, so long as it only involves the network.
posted by cloeburner at 7:40 AM on February 1, 2006

I don't get why you think it matters whether you were angry or not. If when you called, you spent a lot of time explaining that you weren't actually mad at them, I would imagine that wouldn't have helped.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:43 AM on February 1, 2006

Man, crabintheocean, you really want me to get in trouble, don't you?
posted by cloeburner at 7:46 AM on February 1, 2006

No, I hope you don't. Like I said, half of what comes out of my mouth at work is fuck or shit. I'm just a little incredulous that you don't seem to get why you would be in so much trouble, and I think you probably have a better chance of not getting in trouble if you do really get why this could be a huge problem.

Ok, I'm done! Good luck with this. Really.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:50 AM on February 1, 2006

It's cool, I don't think too much will happen. At worst, my webspace will disappear. Hopefully.
posted by cloeburner at 7:53 AM on February 1, 2006

I see a lot of people complaining about the "fascist" IT guys. As an "IT guy", and formerly a university IT guy, I'd say that you should take into account the IT side of things. It's often a thankless job where you have to talk to countless dumdums a day. It's not all videogames and making up excuses for system downtime.

When something isn't working right or you need something done, as a user, ask nicely first. If that doesn't work, then go ahead and by all means ratchet it up a bit. We don't like being cussed at more than anyone else, and it's in the top 10 list of ways to get your name put on the "jerk list". The concept can be applied all over, not just in this situation, and it's an important one to learn when you leave college and get out into the real world. When in doubt, don't email something you wouldn't say to someone's face.

Of course, I'd be ignorant to think there aren't BOFHs out there that are on a power trip or just cranky, but most of us are OK people, just trying to collect our paycheck.
posted by GreenTentacle at 8:00 AM on February 1, 2006

Actually, if they conclude that your actions count as harrassment they can probably kick you out of school.

Is that likely to happen? Not really. Most likely you'll just get a slap on the wrist and a warning not to do anything like this again. The real purpose behind forwarding something like this is to have a documented history of abusive behaviour so that if you do it again they can kick you out without any trouble whatsoever.
posted by oddman at 8:07 AM on February 1, 2006

Wait a second... I was always under the impression that the abuse department at IT was for network abuse, as in finding hackers, stopping people from downloading things they shouldn't be, stopping SPAM, etc. I'd never imagine they would abuse the abuse department to make them deal with worker abuse. The correct department for this sort of infraction is Human Resources.

So, here's what I'd say:

If it's serious, the abuse department will say "WTF?" and go find something to do that's in their job description (sending angry letters to ISPs, etc). They'll probably write back "Thank you for letting us know about blah blah blah, it has been logged." because this isn't their job! If you're unlucky, perhaps the abuse department might ban your account, at which point you'll need to bug IT about that. Start sweet, and end sour if you don't get your way (it isn't like they can punish you any further than this, anyways).

By this time, if abuse just dumps the problem because it's not in their jurisdiction to deal with it, unless the supervisor in IT is a major major major asshole, he'll probably have mostly forgotten about it and will just file you in the "annoying users" part of his brain (so sad!). Otherwise, he might phone up Human Resources.

So, I don't think I'd worry too much, overall...
posted by shepd at 8:13 AM on February 1, 2006

There is no IT cabal that deprives people of compute/network resources just because they're jerks. IT can shut you down if you're harming the network somehow, but that's usually about it.

The fact that you directed this at IT people likely has no bearing on how the university will handle this. The help desk folks, like customer service or wait staff everywhere are subjected to abuse regularly. The university has an obligation to make sure that its employees are not unduly subjected to a hostile work environment, and this is likely the angle they're going to take when dealing with you.

If you can convince them that it was a poorly executed joke, and that you have sincerely expressed regret to the poor schmuck who received your email, it's likely that this will not be the end of the world.

The fact that you had the good sense to apologize probably helps a lot, as people who work with the public don't generally see any type of regret for such outbursts.
posted by popechunk at 8:13 AM on February 1, 2006

I think you're confusing 'free speech' and 'freedom from consequences'. You got to send your mail, and the person read it and got your message. Swearing and being offensive to someone you're relying on for service (regardless of who is at fault).
Your university likely has policies around harrassment in the workplace for employees, as well as conduct for students. You're likely going to learn about that process now, it sounds like.
Take this as another thing that you've learned in college; actions have consequences. Consider them you 'blow off some steam' at others, even if you had no lasting ill intent.
posted by bemis at 8:16 AM on February 1, 2006

It should be forwarded to abuse. They can't tell that you were just joking around when they get it, so they don't give anyone the leeway of not reporting it in case somebody goes postal.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:23 AM on February 1, 2006

Campus IT guys are generally overworked, underpaid, and expected to perform miracles without sufficient resources. On top of that, some people feel entitled to dump a load of abuse on then everytime Windows hiccups. And you send them an email message full of bullshit?

Apologize, not to get out of trouble, but because you understand that you are in the wrong.
posted by LarryC at 8:24 AM on February 1, 2006

If you lose your webspace, then consider nearlyfreespeech.net. The price is _very_ reasonable, and they are lenient about speech. Still, don't send your new hosting providers profanity in email anyway. It's rude.
posted by gearspring at 9:54 AM on February 1, 2006

I can not imagine how you figured a profanity-laced rant would be an acceptable "joke" to the people who are responsible for keeping the system up and running.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:02 AM on February 1, 2006

ITC Policies

Good Citizenship in the Internet Community

Disciplinary Action for Abuse of Computing Resources

This has nothing to do with free speech (as made clear above). You've explicitly agreed to follow their rules in exchange for their services. Most of the policies appear to be pretty open-ended as far as what counts as abuse. If they do restrict your access, you'll need to take up an appeal with the school's Vice President.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 10:15 AM on February 1, 2006

If cloeburner (assuming he's a student) had directed this email at me he would have lost his login privilages for a week immediately; and my Dean would back me up on this if he was foolish enough to escalate it that high. Why should IT staff have to put up with this from their customers anymore than secretaries, flight attendents or quick stop clerks? If cloeburner had directed those remarks to a waitress at a bar not only would he be barred for a while he probably would get his ass tossed by bouncer. An outburst like that could get you arrested on an airplane, a weeks logon suspension is getting off light.

Get down on your figurative knees and beg forgiveness.

reverendX writes "IT workers at universities can be quite tyrannical in my experience."

Because 10% of the users we deal with are pampered little brats seperated from direct supervision for the first time in their lives ever. And another 10% seem to think that tution entitles them to hand holding over every little bump life throws there way.

popechunk writes "The fact that you directed this at IT people likely has no bearing on how the university will handle this. The help desk folks, like customer service or wait staff everywhere are subjected to abuse regularly. The university has an obligation to make sure that its employees are not unduly subjected to a hostile work environment, and this is likely the angle they're going to take when dealing with you."

Or ya what popechuck wrote.
posted by Mitheral at 1:46 PM on February 1, 2006

Why not send them an apology?
posted by Mid at 2:08 PM on February 1, 2006

Why not send them a big box of donuts and, affixed to the boxtop, a big ol' abject apology? 'cause, frankly, you done stepped in it up to your armpits!
posted by five fresh fish at 2:49 PM on February 1, 2006

Ditto Mid and fff. Silly wabbit, don't you know you're supposed to make FRIENDS with the IT folks?
posted by snsranch at 7:07 PM on February 1, 2006

Google "Bastard Operator from Hell" (BOfH) to find out why you want to keep these folk on your good side. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 7:51 PM on February 1, 2006

Not that anyone is reading this anymore, but due to my vague nature of my post many of you probably interpreted my actions as abusive or irrational. Perhaps I'm not as phased by this stuff because I've worked at places where I am heaped with abuse and I tend to find irrational reactions moreso humorous and uplifting than alarming.

Nevertheless, I was apologetic as soon as I realized they had misinterpreted what I intended to be just a regular email that had a few swear words [not a bunch, and no personal comments]. They seemed to understand the situation and I have not suffered any consequences.

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I am one of the most calm and respectful individuals out there. I think part of the humor of the email was the fact that I am totally unlike some of the emotions conveyed within it. Sometimes it doesn't register with me that not everybody understands where I am coming from. Regardless, I am as respectful as possible to anyone who is working a usually thankless job. I make it a point to get to know the janitors, cashiers etc. around campus and treat them with the respect that others fail to give them. This is not a case of some pompous jerk attacking the hapless IT employees [I might add that I work in IT too... just not with them]. Just a case of severe misinterpretation.

posted by cloeburner at 10:21 PM on February 1, 2006

... okay.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:50 AM on February 2, 2006

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