These few postings stood out because they were first; since then, so
many ads have been posted widely to Usenet that they just blur into useless noise,
called "spam" after a well-known Monty Python sketch in which a waitress offers
customers a long list of varying combinations of breakfast foods, always including
The immediate response to the "Green Card" posting was sheer fury on the part of
Netheads, who set off a kind of giant, Net-wide immune reaction to the thing,
flooding every newsgroup with complaining follow-up postings. The volume of
complaining email--estimated at 100Mb, roughly the equivalent of two hundred
copies of this book--to Canter and Siegel themselves and to the
system administrators at Internet Direct, their small Arizona ISP, crashed the
provider's servers repeatedly. By April 16, a posting was circulating that listed better
places to complain to, most of them offline: Canter's and Siegel's other email
addresses, their business street address, the state bar associations in Arizona and
Tennessee (where Canter and Siegel were licensed), their local newspapers, and
their congressman. Other proposals included faxing them a continuous loop of black
paper in the hope of burning out their fax machine.
In their book, Canter and Siegel say of these reactions which included email
flames, mail bombs (a mail bomb is a bombardment with massive amounts of email
or huge files), and phone calls, "We were absolutely amazed that there were
people who could become so distraught by the appearance of a simple message
on their computer screens." Further, "Certain individuals, mainly university students,
cared little who they hurt or how they lied. They wanted things their own way and
would trample over anyone to achieve that goal."
They didn't like the instructions offered in Netiquette (which they list fairly accurately), either--things like not advertising on the Net, reading a newsgroup for a couple of weeks before posting, and reading the newsgroup FAQs, all standard
advice given to newbies, as the Net calls newcomers. If you had to worry about
that much every time you opened your mouth in the real world, you would probably
never say anything at all," they complain. "It is equally true that if everyone to
whom you spoke criticized your behavior for failing to follow all these rules, there
would be more fist fights than conversations. The arrogant tone here is not hard to
But this is not just a social problem. Do some arithmetic. If you save the Green
Card posting in a text file, it takes up approximately 1.5Kb of disk space. Multiply
that by 10,000 for the estimated number of newsgroups to which it was posted, and
you get something like 15Mb of data coursing around the arteries of the Internet
and washing up onto servers worldwide like a large, fatty deposit. At the time, a
typical home computer was considered well endowed if it had 100Mb of disk space,
and all of Usenet was estimated at roughly 40Mb daily after more than a decade of
phenomenal growth--in 1988 it was running at only about 4Mb per day.
Canter and Siegel appear not to regard this as a valid argument. They complain,
"What we did find difficult to grasp was why these people were wasting everybody's
time trying to inject themselves into matters that didn't concern them."
In a chapter on crime on the Net they paint themselves as net.saviors: "we'd
like to offer you a not-so-practical reason for seeking your fortune on the I-way:
Cyberspace needs you.... Like the Old West with which analogies are often drawn,
Cyberspace is going to take some taming before it is a completely fit place for
people like you and me to spend time," they tell all those nice, normal people they
want to help get rich, concluding, "The only thing that remained with us and does
so until this day is the unshakable conviction that the Net community is the last
bunch on earth who have the right to tell anyone else how to behave."
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