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CPSR Electronic Communications

Working Groups
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
Report of the CPSR Electronic Communications Policy Group
December 11, 1999


1. This report contains the product of the Electronic Communications Policy (ECP) Group. The Group was established in August 1999 at the request of the Chairman and President of CPSR to develop a CPSR EC Policy and Net etiquette ("netiquette") guidelines. In addition to this Executive Summary, the report consists of: i) Proposals for a CPSR Electronic Communications Policy (ECP) (Attachment 1); ii) Proposed organizational arrangements for ECP implementation (Attachment 2); iii) FAQ explaining the need for an ECP (Attachment 3) and iv) Voluntary "Netiquette" guidelines (Attachment 4).

2. CPSR's Electronic communications Policy (ECP) defines rules of usage for employees, volunteers, members, and non-members of CPSR-owned or -sponsored electronic communications facilities. The terms "electronic communications facilities" includes servers which host CPSR systems, email communication systems, websites, discussion lists, chat rooms, telephone, voicemail and facsimile systems, computers, modems, and other technology that may be used for electronic communications. The core of the ECP is the following Mandatory Policy Provisions (See Attachment 1 for details). CPSR:

a. does not, as a policy, monitor the electronic communications of individuals except insofar as they take place on CPSR lists and in established CPSR groups. However, as CPSR is legally accountable for its facilities, it is the owner of information generated through its facilities, some of which constitute official program/administrative records.

b. does not and cannot guarantee that communications over its facilities will remain inviolate from observation by persons not intended to receive them.

c. communications facilities are for the conduct of CPSR program activities and business. They may not be used to download, post or otherwise illegally distribute information that violates intellectual property rights or other laws, nor may they be used for proselytizing religious or political organizations or for advancing commercial interests without prior written CPSR approval. They may not be used to send "flaming," harassing, libelous, slanderous, threatening, sexually explicit, obscene or pornographic representations or depictions, or ethnic or religious slurs. The only exception to this rule is in the case of a Board-sanctioned program activity of civil disobedience (e.g. anonymous communication, "indecent" speech, parody speech, or encrypted communication).

d. does not sell, rent or otherwise share email addresses or other personally identifiable information about its members; nor does it collect information about viewers of its website.

3. Violations of ECP may result in disciplinary measures, including removal from membership and/or use of facilities and, for employees, possible dismissal and termination of benefits. Organizational arrangements for administering violations of mandatory policy provisions are covered in Attachment 2.

4. Implementation of EC Policy is the domain of the Personnel Committee, which is already charged with handling confidential human relations issues, or another Board-designated body. The product of Personnel Committee (or other Board designated body) deliberations shall be recommendations to the Board. Ultimate authority rests with the Board of Directors.

Attachment 1 Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility <> CPSR Electronic Communications Policy


1. Communications among people are the stuff of life and mortar for human interaction. For centuries face-to-face and written communications have enriched human discourse. In recent years, the variety and ubiquity of electronic communications (EC) forms — electronic mail (email), Internet and World Wide Web, group discussion lists, voice mail (vmail), facsimile, pagers, chat rooms -- have greatly increased the ability of humans to communicate across time and geographic boundaries with speeds not ever possible before. These and present and future portable information appliances and devices are referred to here as ‘communication facilities’ or just ‘facilities’. They have created great opportunities for rapid and direct communications and improved understanding among people with like interests. They have also become sometimes unwelcome sources of intrusion into personal time and privacy by blurring or eliminating traditional boundaries between personal and work time, geography and time zone (e.g., with pagers and cell phones) that are more easily maintained in traditional face-to-face communications. They also make it possible to react more quickly and informally, sometimes hastily ignoring common courtesies that otherwise might be respected. For better and worse, they have dramatically increased the volume of written communications. Informal or not, in many cases they constitute records of the organization responsible for the communication technologies used to create them.


2. This policy is intended to: articulate CPSR responsibility and accountability for CPSR communications; advance its organizational aims; improve effectiveness and positive aspects of group communications; remind people that they interact because they share broader common purposes that should override individual differences of opinion; establish mandatory policies and voluntary guidelines for users; reduce negative aspects of electronic communications by suggesting good, common sense and courteous practices that have been found useful by others toward this end; and provide mechanisms to monitor and implement the policy.


3. Many organizations and employees see the need for something beyond the kind of mandatory rules concerning acceptable and unacceptable communications behavior that appear in most email or EC policy statements. They wish, in addition, to promote voluntary, good communications practices and principles. Often the impetus for such guidelines comes not from organizational management but from employees and other users of organizational facilities to help them have more productive group communications. Such are known as Internet etiquette, Net etiquette or simply ‘netiquette’. While mandatory policy and voluntary netiquette are different, they should be mutually supportive and are both contained in this policy statement. These guidelines apply to the use of all CPSR communications facilities as described above.


4. CPSR respects the privacy of its employees and other facility users. It does not as a policy monitor the electronic communications of individuals except insofar as they take place on CPSR lists and in established CPSR groups. However, CPSR is responsible and accountable for its facilities and is the owner of all information generated on or communicated through its facilities, some of which constitute the official records of CPSR program and administrative activities, even some that may involve informal communications, if recorded. Archives, including digital archives, may be established for its group communications that are open to CPSR members. Archives will be maintained also for individual communications within the National Office and with external organizations, such as suppliers and other public interest groups, and among CPSR officers in the conduct of CPSR affairs.

5. CPSR does not warrant that communications over its facilities will remain inviolate from observation by persons not intended to receive them. It should be understood that CPSR, or agents of facilities being used by CPSR, such as system administrators, may unintentionally observe individual communications in the normal course of business, or may intentionally do so when it is necessary for purposes of software maintenance, and for personal accounts that are physically located in the National Office, upon the incapacitation, termination or death of employees and volunteers or in emergencies during their absence. Such cases will be subject to approval of CPSR’s designated authority in such matters (see Attachment 2) and, where possible, the parties will be informed as soon as possible. Under extraordinary circumstances, internal investigations may be conducted when CPSR’s designated authority in such matters (see Attachment 2) has determined that its facilities are suspected of being used for illicit activities by employees or others, and when approved by the Board, CPSR may cooperate with duly authorized criminal investigations, in which case monitoring of communications specifically related to such cases may be authorized without the prior consent or knowledge of the individuals involved.

Legitimate Uses of Communication Facilities

6. CPSR communications facilities are for the legitimate conduct of CPSR program activities and business. They may not be used to download, post or otherwise illegally distribute information that: is in violation of intellectual property rights laws, including copyright and trademark laws or falsifies or deletes proper author attributions; impersonates another person; advocates illegal activities; knowingly contains viruses, corrupted files or other objects that could cause damage to recipient’s computers; or advertises or solicits funds or the sale of products or services other than those authorized in advance in writing by CPSR. Nor may such facilities be used to proselytize religious or political organizations.

7. CPSR communication facilities should never be used to send representations or depictions of harassing, libelous, slanderous, threatening, sexually explicit, obscene or pornographic information, or ethnic or religious slurs or images. A more detailed discussion of harassment is covered in CPSR Personnel policies. These are matters of policy and may also be matters of law. As CPSR becomes more global in its programs, membership and reach, users of CPSR facilities must be aware that the seriousness of the above acts may differ from one country and culture to the next. CPSR does not tolerate the use of its communications facilities for such behavior. Flaming

8. Users of CPSR communication facilities must avoid causing or contributing to "flaming" messages. While typical flaming messages (‘flames’) in the form of emotional outbursts and hurtful personal attacks on others do not ordinarily break laws, they may if they are threatening or libelous. Even when not, they may constitute unnecessary, unwarranted and unwelcome intimidation, fear, anger, distrust and discord in a group that diminishes its productivity and collegiality. They often result from hastily conceived communications using ill-considered phrasing — offensive even if unintended. When this happens, recipients should focus on common purposes to re-kindle trust and openness and make one-on-one efforts to help calm down flamers. Use of Personally Identifiable Member Information and Privacy Policy

9. It is necessary for CPSR to collect names, addresses and other personal information of its members in and for the conduct of its business. CPSR’s Privacy Policy is located on the Home Page of its website and may be accessed directly at <>. CPSR does not sell, rent, or share its email lists or collect personally identifiable information at its web site except as part of its secure, web-based membership registration form. Membership and contribution information is never sold, rented, lent, exchanged, or used for any purpose other than official CPSR activity. CPSR may elect to send members mailing from other groups, but these mailings will always originate with CPSR. Only the Executive Director, Managing Director, members of the Board of Directors and established chapter leaders are authorized to make use of CPSR mailing lists, and only for the purpose of conducting CPSR business. In the case of chapter leaders, this applies only to the portion of the mailing list that covers their chapters. Other members of CPSR may request that messages be released to all or some portion of the CPSR membership. If approved as above, the National Office will make the release, but the mailing list will not be sent to the requesting person. Mailing lists are used for general announcements to the membership, updating members on CPSR activities, as part of a program for which the member has registered (e.g., WG postings) and for solicitation for membership renewal. These services will provide an easy way whereby the member may unsubscribe or opt to discontinue receipt of such communications. Violations of Policy

10. Violations of this policy, upon review by CPSR’s designated authority in such matters (see Attachment 2), may result in disciplinary measures including possibly temporary or permanent removal from CPSR membership and/or use of CPSR facilities and, in the case of its employees, dismissal and termination of benefits.


11. Attachment 4 contains a consolidation of recommended best usage, or Net etiquette, practices.

Attachment 2

Organizational Provisions for the Establishment, Monitoring and Execution of Electronic Communications Policy and Net Etiquette Guidelines and the Administration of Work Groups

1. Three functions are provided for in this document, two with respect to administration of EC Policy and one with respect to Work Groups. First is the EC policy-making function and voluntary netiquette provisions. Second is the monitoring and execution of that policy, an administrative function dealing with the use of all CPSR-owned or sponsored communications facilities within the established policy framework. Third is the management of the initiation, operation and retirement of CPSR discussion lists, a program-related function dealing with the employment of discussion lists as tools for pursuing CPSR organizational aims and thrusts, and for supporting issue analysis and programmatic policy-making activities in such areas as Internet governance, privacy, quality of work life, etc.

Policy Making

2. The Board of Directors is responsible for making CPSR policy of all kinds. While the Board is charged to make decisions on the establishment of policies and their specifics, before it does so it draws upon the experience of its elected members and uses feedback from various quarters depending on the nature of the policy in question. Such sources may include: ad hoc tasks groups that are established to address specific policy areas, such as the ECPG; standing issues-specific working groups, such as the Domain Name Systems or Y2K Working Groups; the multi-issues Activist Group; CPSR membership at large; external or internal consultants; and other specialists such as attorneys, accountants, financial and subject-area experts.

Administration of EC Policy and Netiquette Guidelines

3. Policy is only as good as its execution. Use of CPSR communications facilities is extended to employees, volunteer workers, officers and Board members, members at large and others on the condition that they agree to abide by the mandatory provisions of this policy and with the understanding that violation of these provisions constitute cause for disciplinary measures including possibly immediate suspension or termination of CPSR membership, or possibly termination in the case of employees, and/or use of CPSR communications facilities as may be determined by the Board of Directors or its duly designated body. Execution of this policy and the related guidelines requires an entity to follow through with the execution of the policy.

4. If the Board wishes to designate an existing committee to monitor EC policy implementation, the Personnel Committee would be the natural entity as this policy deals mainly with confidential human relations issues. Alternatively, a new, separate, body could be established. The designated body is referred to below simply as "the Committee."

5. Actions that the Committee is charged with include to: - where feasible, assist employees and members in amicably resolving issues arising out of the use or abuse of CPSR communications facilities; - review and recommend changes to the EC Policy; - act on complaints and alleged violations of mandatory aspects of the EC policy; - take disciplinary decisions and actions as necessary, and inform parties in writing of the outcome, including system administrators where termination of facility access is directed; - respond to petitions for review of such decisions; - work with the National Office staff to establish a working system for maintaining an up-to-date list of paid-up members and lapsed members; - Consider use of a CPSR user registration form including terms of usage and legal disclaimers; - take steps to determine if external facility providers have consistent privacy policies; - make recommendations to the Board of Directors on guidelines for the use of moderated and unmoderated Work Group lists and periodically review these practices and set guidelines for use by list moderators.

6. Requests to provide information to law enforcement or other agencies outside CPSR will be referred to this Committee, and it will decide how to proceed, if necessary consulting the Board. System operators are to take directions in such matters only from the Committee as presented in writing by the Committee chair, unless other prior arrangements exist with the facility providers.

7. Some of the provisions of the policy and guidelines obviously apply to everyone using CPSR communications facilities, including all of the mandatory principles and some of the voluntary ones. Others, such as recordkeeping provisions, are more applicable to National Office employees than to discussion list members. Common sense should prevail in making these determinations.

8. Exercise of disciplinary actions should never be used to stifle debate or unpopular opinions. Nor should the Committee or Board allow appeals to free speech to be used as excuses for inaction or reasons for ignoring serious or repeated breaches of these guidelines. Cases involving potential disciplinary actions should stand on their own merits whether they include popular or unpopular opinions.

Coordination of CPSR Work Groups

9. CPSR has in place a Board Program Committee that is charged with coordinating activities in pursuit of CPSR aims and thematic thrusts. This Committee is the natural home for the coordination of Work Groups and discussion lists. For purposes of this document, the term Working Group (WG) is used collectively to refer to all groups using list facilities with the exception those established specifically for the conduct of CPSR business by the Board, its officers and CPSR staff. The Program Committee is designated by the Board of Directors to undertake the role of WG coordination and administration. Given its strategic nature, the Program Committee should continue to be led by an elected member of the Board of Directors; however, the Committee, or a sub-committee that might be charged solely to carry out this function, may consist of other non-Board members designated by the Board.

10. Actions that the Program Committee is charged with in carrying out this policy include to: - consider the overall impact of all Work Groups (WGs) collectively in the pursuit of CPSR aims; - designate whether WGs are continuing or ad hoc, and completion dates; - establish standard periods when the leadership of WGs should be reviewed for change so as to avoid a monopoly in leadership; - designate Board members to liaise with each WG and set membership guidelines for WGs, e.g., membership should be extended only to active dues-paying CPSR members and invited consultants; - request and review annual WG plans; - review of the activities and products of individual WGs; - take actions relating to the establishment and retirement of WGs; - consider ways in which changing trends and member interests may suggest re-direction of CPSR goals and programs; and - identify gaps in WG coverage for important CPSR program areas.

11. CPSR should avoid the willy-nilly establishment of WGs that take on endless lives of their own and use scarce resources without any clear relationship to CPSR aims and program thrusts. At the same time, the Program Committee should foster the broadest participation in CPSR programs through its WGs as it can.

Attachment 3

Electronic Communications Policy and Net Etiquette

Frequently Asked Questions

What is this all about?

1. Organizations in the public and private sector increasingly are recognizing the need to establish electronic mail (email) or broader electronic communications (EC) policies to avoid related problems before they occur, have a basis for dealing with communications issues when they do occur, and to help ensure:
  • the efficient use of their communications facilities;
  • taking best advantage of non-traditional forms of communications (such as email, discussion lists, voice and text chat rooms, etc.);
  • the proper preservation of, continued access to, and recordkeeping (including disposition) for important electronic documentation over time, including website records; and
  • minimal exposure to litigation that may be brought about by employees, other organizational members and external individuals or organizations.

What can we learn from some current literature?

2. The literature on electronic communications policies is fairly rich, although some of the best sources are in unpublished papers or papers that have been published on the Web. David Wallace <>, School of Information, University of Michigan, consulted to the CPSR ECPG. His unpublished, draft literature survey "Recordkeeping and Electronic Mail Policy: The State of Thought and the State of the Practice" is accessible in the HOT TOPICS/E-com/Email and Guest Author’s pages of <>.

3. As noted by Margaret Steen, in her July 6, 1999, InfoWorld article, "When E-Mail Puts You at Risk: To minimize legal issues, companies need clear e-mail use policies"


E-mail can be used as evidence in cases claiming sexual harassment, discrimination of all sorts, or hostile work environments. But if an employer goes too far in the direction of reading employees' e-mail, in an effort to prevent this kind of liability, it could also be sued by employees for invasion of privacy. Furthermore, third parties can sue a company for what its employees do using e-mail, including sending copyrighted documents without permission, libeling another company, or violating antispam laws."….A good policy will caution employees to be careful about what they send outside the company--both to make sure there's no confidential information and to be sure they know that whenever they send e-mail message outside of the company, they are in effect representing the company….Experts say e-mail policies need to explain to employees how to handle attachments and other documents that might cause problems.

4. Michael Overly, a special counsel to the information technology group at the Milwaukee-based law firm of Foley & Lardner cautions: If someone conducts criminal activity using an e-mail system, unknown to the company, the company's e-mail system can be subject to seizure. Or an employer may be sued in a breach of contract case. As part of that they're going to have to go through a lot of employee e-mail.

5. Equally important, employees (and in the case of CPSR volunteers, members and other users) are entitled to know what the policy is in terms of ownership of list postings and other email, monitoring of email (employee email and list postings obviously involve very different considerations that should be spelled out to all concerned), access to and use of member information, etc.

6. "Managing E-mail as Records" reports on 1997 research at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at The University of Texas at Austin, addresses policy issues and experience in the public sector, private sector, academia and professional associations. Although there are differences, professional associations have several characteristics that are similar to those of CPSR, e.g., a small number of paid employees, a large number of members who are not employee, heavy dependence upon the use of discussion lists, websites, etc. While several such organizations are in the process of developing electronic communications policies, those contacted indicated they did not yet have a product. Those not yet working on a policy uniformly expressed interest in seeing what CPSR develops as they felt they probably needed something similar for themselves.

7. Recognition of this need has risen in all sectors in recent years as numerous cases have come to light where the absence of such policies and their implementation has proved to be very costly to the concerned organizations, as has been brought out in numerous recent court cases including the tobacco industry and Microsoft anti-trust cases.

What are ‘communications facilities?

8. In this context, the terms ‘electronic communications facilities’ or ‘facilities’ mean current and future technologies including servers, email address system (e.g., <>), email, vmail, World Wide Web, discussion lists, textual/voice chat room, telephone, pager and facsimile systems, computers, modems and other technologies that may be owned or used by CPSR for carrying out electronic communications.

What is electronic communications EC policy?

9. EC policy has to do with what organizations expect and require of their employees in their communications practices and makes it clear that the organization does not abide the use of its facilities for such purposes as the willful and illegal violation of intellectual property rights, libelous or threatening statements. It articulates and clarifies user privileges and responsibilities. In the case of CPSR it includes employees, volunteers, officers, other member and non-member users of CPSR communication facilities.

Why electronic communications policy instead of email policy?

10. Technologies for electronic communications are becoming increasingly integrated (word processing, email, vmail, chat rooms, pagers, discussions lists, websites). Voice annotation has been incorporated into word processing systems for years. Speech generation and recognition systems are now available to convert vmail to email and vice versa. Thus, there is a growing rationale for establishing a broader policy that embraces all aspects of current and future electronic communications within an organization.

What are Net etiquette guidelines?

11. Many organizations and employees see the need for something beyond the typically mandatory electronic communications policies in the form of voluntary guidelines for sound communications practices and acceptable and unacceptable communications behavior. Such guidelines have come to be known as ‘Net etiquette’, or ‘netiquette’ guidelines. In most cases, the impetus for policy comes from the organization itself and stems from operational considerations and legal concerns. Organizations sometimes also see the need for netiquette guidelines to reinforce organizational culture or to set good communication practices and behavioral expectations regarding the use of corporate assets. However, frequently the impetus for netiquette guidelines comes from employees or other users of organizational communications facilities because they want to learn about good communications practices as well as what is expected of them behaviorally and what they should be able to expect of others using such systems. EC Policy and Netiquette guidelines are separate documents that should not be confused with one another; however they should be mutually supportive, one setting out mainly mandatory usage policies, the other setting out mainly voluntary style, organizational cultural and behavioral guidelines. Netiquette guidelines may be published as part of or annexed to organization EC policies. An excellent statement on the importance of netiquette, including links to other sites was published in the CPSR Newsletter: "Netiquette Training: Whose Responsibility?" by Jeff Johnson, CPSR/Palo Alto.

What is the current state of CPSR EC policy?

12. A separate report, "Existing CPSR Electronic Communications Policies and Practices," reflects an analysis of the status of CPSR electronic communications policy as of August 1999 is available on request from the CPSR National Office or the author, Rick Barry <>. It summarizes the current (11/1999) state of policies in CPSR having to do with electronic communications. It shows that while there seem to be many traditions that are at least attempted to be followed (where known), they are almost entirely unwritten and unknown to most CPSR’s officers and members. Most organizations would not regard unwritten practices as policies. Little is known about the origin of some existing practices or how or if they were vented or if they are in line with current CPSR thinking. It is also apparent that there are many gaps where, in the absence of established policy, decisions must be taken in an ad hoc manner as situations arise without adequate time for consideration, without prior understanding on the part of the parties involved and most likely to be effected, and without adequate thought as to the precedent-setting nature of the decisions. CPSR leaders want these practices codified so that they can be openly discussed and decided upon in some rational fashion and made known to people who make use of CPSR facilities.

Why does CPSR need an EC policy?

13. Not being a private or public sector organization, one might wonder why CPSR needs such a policy. CPSR recognized the more general need for such policy over two years ago when it posted a recommended email policy model for other organizations on its website <> along with commentaries on that model. More recently, CPSR leadership saw the need for such a policy for its own organization and operations.

14. Communications facilities and technology form the backbone of CPSR business. They are essential for communications among members, consultants and others in the conduct of CPSR programs and among staff, volunteers, officers, Board members and the general membership in the management and administration of CPSR. While conferences and meetings of various types continue to be important to CPSR in carrying out its work, its work is increasingly carried out by telephone, email, discussion lists and its World Wide Web site <>. CPSR is making greater use of teleconferencing for the management of CPSR as a means of minimizing travel costs. Similarly CPSR is now using electronic commerce software for on-line credit transactions for conferences. Print media is giving way to electronic publishing. Both for budgetary reasons and to make it more broadly accessible, the CPSR Newsletter has shifted in the past year from print to a web publication format. Electronic systems facilitate increased participation in CPSR activities by a much larger number of people who are now more widely distributed geographically both in the U.S. and internationally. At the same time, they open CPSR to greater risk of illegal use or uses that are contradictory to the aims of CPSR. CPSR may not be in the private sector a such, but it is a California corporation, and there are laws governing the use of technology for these various purposes to which CPSR must adhere. While CPSR favors lesser controlled forms of interchange, it is nonetheless ultimately responsible for what happens over facilities it sponsors, even when it doesn’t own them. In the absence of written and well distributed policies and guidelines, CPSR has no real recourse if its facilities are improperly or illegally used, and courts are not very sympathetic to organizations without clearly established and published policies.

15. CPSR requires an EC policy for the same reasons that other organizations do, as outlined above, but also for another reason that is critical to the continued operation of CPSR as a viable entity under California statute: i.e., protection of its status as a non-profit organization, without which CPSR would have to close it doors. Accordingly the Chairman and President of CPSR, with agreement of the Board, established an Electronic Communications Policy Group to develop recommendations for an electronic communications policy for further consideration and possible adoption.


[Link to CPSR Electronic Communication Policy]


Attachment 4
Net Etiquette Guidelines 

The below Net etiquette (or  ‘netiquette’) principles constitute the voluntary provisions of the CPSR Electronic Communications Policy.  They are provided here for the benefit of CPSR employees, volunteers, officers and other users of CPSR communications facilities and incorporate best practices for business communications gleaned from many sources.  Most groups have common interests and objectives but consist of members who may come from widely different geographical and linguistic traditions and who hold varying perspectives and points of view.  The below guidelines are offered as a way of making group communications useful, helpful and productive in keeping communications focused on common group aims. 


1. Check electronic mail (email), voice mail (vmail), discussion lists, websites and other sources of electronic communications regularly, daily if possible and set a standard for (say 24 or 48 hours) to reply to, or at least acknowledge, communications in which you are an action (not simply CC-d) addressee.

2. Use auto-reply email and change vmail greetings when away so that others know you will not be able to answer soon. Indicate who else may be taking your email/calls. Be careful to temporarily remove yourself from discussion lists you may belong to so that your auto-reply messages are not sent to potentially hundreds of people on the discussion lists in response to postings sent to you in your absence.

3. Inform people in advance with whom you commonly have, or intend to have, confidential conversations when you are planning to auto-forward your email temporarily to someone else while away. Similarly, if you routinely allow a third party to review your incoming email, you should make that known to people with whom you have confidential conversations.

4. Recognize when electronic communications (and which technologies) are appropriate and when they are not. Before commencing an electronic conversation on a complicated or protracted subject, such as a project, it is good practice to begin with a face-to-face or telephone conversation where practical to do so; where not practical, recognize the likelihood for misunderstanding up front and take extra steps to avoid it. Choose appropriate media for a message depending on its content and urgency. Don’t send e-mail to someone that must be acted upon the same day. Call them by phone or visit them. If email is unavoidable, inform the person by telephone or vmail that an urgent email message has been sent to them.

5. Remember that recipients of email, vmail and pager calls may be temporarily or permanently in different time or date zones, and that each country and religion has its own calendar of holidays. Keep this in mind when communicating with others by whatever means.

6. Do not send chain mail or SPAM, unsolicited email or vmail messages to large groups. This is the electronic equivalent of ‘junk mail’. This may constitute illegal use of communication facilities. A common variety of chain email is the hoax virus warning and the ‘urban legend’, e.g., the $250 Neimann-Marcus cookie recipe hoax. Many times such messages, that request that you re-send them to everyone you know, are chain email messages and hoaxes that draw down on Internet resources. Even received from someone you know, consult one of several websites that list hoaxes or urban legends before acting on them. Recommend this practice to message originators.

7. Before opening or sending any file attachments, even from possibly unaware friends, be sure you check them with an anti-virus program, some of which are free. While executable files <.exe> should be treated as the most suspicious and potentially dangerous, certain kinds of viruses can be transmitted in text files.

8. Do not send unauthorized commercial messages to CPSR lists. Exceptions that are normally accepted practice are notifications of conferences/seminars only on topics germane to the list. If in doubt, conduct off-list consultations first.

9. When sending messages to multiple discussion lists, indicate at the beginning of the message that it is cross-posted to several lists and ask recipients to ignore the message if they have received it on another list.

10. Make it clear whether you are speaking for yourself or your organization. Remember that your affiliation may be obvious from your address.

11. Never use someone else's email address to send communications without their permission and without identifying the fact that you are communicating from his/her email address at the beginning of the message. Violation of this practice may constitute electronic forgery.

12. When responding to a message sent to a group, consider whether it is more appropriate to include all original CCs on your reply or only the sender.

13. Do not forward, quote or cite personal email that in any way could identify the author without prior permission of the author. As with other guiding principles, common sense should prevail here. An obvious exception here is when the message is not personal but the kind of business communication that anyone would reasonably expect the recipient to pass on to other persons for information or action.

14. Think twice before you use the blind-copy (BCC) feature of some email systems. Is this being done, as in the above example, as a common business practice to include key subordinates or managers and an action officer, or is it something that might be taken as offensive by the recipient were s/he to learn about it later on?

15. Always include a descriptive subject line in electronic communications. In email, when using the Reply function, the Subject line is repeated automatically. If you use the function but are sending a message on a different topic, change the subject line.

16. If a message or posting is necessarily several pages long, include the word "LONG" in the subject line to forewarn recipients. If a message is urgent, begin the subject line with the word "URGENT". Use this feature sparingly.

17. Use good sentence and message structure and correct spelling not to be formal, but to be clear in your content, especially when your communication is being sent or posted to others who may have a different native language.

18. Make messages clear and concise. Make it clear when constructing a message what you are trying to do. Are you simply passing on information? Requesting someone to comment on your idea? To act? Say so.

19. Avoid multi-subject messages that are difficult for the recipient to file or, where appropriate, pass on to others for action or that have privacy/access considerations.

20. Avoid discourteous language or language that could be taken as flaming. Indicate your disagreement or even displeasure with someone else’s communication by giving your reasons, not by attacking the intelligence or motivation of the author. One way to minimize flaming is to establish a moderated discussion group and elect a moderator.

21. While email is particularly amenable to informal writing, consider that when they are business-related communications, no matter how personal, they are also records. Both these and non-business communications are subject to potential discovery in a court of law. Don’t be so informal that your meaning could be easily misconstrued.

22. It is entirely appropriate to use "emoticons" or expressive symbol to express humor or other feelings in order to avoid misinterpretation or subsequent "flaming" responses. These can be formed using standard keyboard symbols (that typically must be read sideways in e-mail). For example you may indicate that you are meaning to be facetious in a particular statement by using the familiar "smiley face" special symbol J or ;-) to indicate a smile or wink. But remember that, for email, most systems will not correctly interpret special symbols on the receiving end. Don’t get too elaborate or most readers won’t get your nuances. Simple, obvious emoticons are best.

23. Don't say anything in electronic communications that you would be embarrassed to have sent to others or, as it is sometimes put, that you wouldn't want to read on the front page of the morning paper. This is the reverse netiquette principle, i.e., don’t write things that unscrupulous individuals who don’t think that netiquette guidelines apply to them are likely to circulate or publish.

24. Before responding to a message consider what is the minimum amount of the incoming message to which you are replying that is essential to include in your reply to ensure that the recipient(s) have the necessary context of your reply. Include entire messages only when it is essential because new addresses have been added or for other good business reasons.

25. Except in unusual circumstances, avoid using <ALL CAPS> or <no caps>. This makes reading difficult for others and ALL CAPS often is taken as a metaphor for shouting.

26. Avoid using ‘smart quotes’ (quotation marks that are curved symbols that are different for the opening and closing marks) in email messages or discussion list postings. These are not universally interpreted by other systems and may result in odd symbols being substituted that will make your message not fully intelligible.

27. Unless you are trying to make an anonymous communication, spell out your name at the end of a message, especially when your name is not clearly identifiable in your email address.

28. Where only a few recipients are involved, before sending file attachments to others, attempt to ascertain the type and versions of word processor being used by others before choosing a format and sending the attachment, unless you are sending it in ASCII or RTF formats. Do not send attachments to large distribution lists. Instead, describe the contents of the file and invite anyone wishing to have it to contact you off-list or publish the file on a website and provide a brief description and Universal Resource Locator (URL) in your list posting. If the attachment is small, text-only and does not have extensive formatting, copy and paste it into the body of your message.


Archived CPSR Information
Created before October 2004

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