In 2008 I wrote a short text on how to write emails correctly. Since this topic is timeless and for a given occasion, I have translated it into English. I also have uploaded the original file (in German), you can find it here.
A young savage, a funky internet surfer, one who knows what’s going on, moves through the vastness of the world wide web. He researches news and the pages of the free encyclopaedia, exchanges with friends on web 2.0 platforms and follows link collections with bizarre, grotesque, but usually simply hilarious content. Then it happens: He encounters a video, which is so enjoyable that it’s impossible for him to withhold the content from his companions. His program for electronic mail is already open, a new email is created, the video file is attached quickly and a few seconds later it is sent with a jocular comment to family, friends, colleagues and other acquaintances.
How do I send emails correctly?
Here we leave the perspective of the young savage, possibly you already recognized yourself in him. I have to admit, I don’t find that very difficult. I have often found myself in a situation where I regretted having pressed the send button too fast. However, this is not about the fact that it seems at least questionable to impose one’s own humor on the rest of the world. Rather, I would like to create a little more sensitivity on the “How do I send emails correctly?”. Although the majority of the mailing population in the meantime seems to have an idea of not accepting every appendix, there are obviously just as many of them thinking they have their email client under control.
To make clear what I mean, I would like to get back to the life of the young savage. Lets assume he sends a funny video file to 20 friends not knowing each other. Lets assume further, every friend is adding all email addresses to his or her address book. This way, we get 20 times 19 equals 380 new address book entries. Think about it, if there is just one person who is doing bad stuff with the addresses (e.g., not on purpose by viruses), everyone would be very pissed.
My rights, your rights
I’m skipping the details here, but the question, if a person can automatically assume that he or she has the permission to pass the respective email addresses, is also questionable from a rights perspective. Look into §823 Abs.1 BGB, the general personal rights should be taken into account, so that the corpus delicti of a rights violation should be given.
However, a solution to this problem is simple.
The mysterious BCC field
An electronic mail can save some optional information in its header. Among others, every mail app supports three possible fields for email addresses.
- The “To” field is the one everyone knows and uses. It should be used if an email contains only one recipient. Moreover, it can be used, if there is a highest-ranking person (e.g., the boss) of more than one recipients knowing each other. If you can’t differentiate between the recipients, it is also possible to use the “to” field for more than one or all recipients.
- “CC” is the abbreviation for Carbon Copy and is derived from typewriter times, where real carbon copies where used to make one or more copies of a document. This field is used for all other recipients knowing each other. Beware, that all recipients are transparent for each other.
- “BCC” stands for Blind Carbon Copy. It should be used every time when one or more recipients do not know each other. This happens at least when the recipients are only connected by the sending person (e.g., family, friends, sport, work, etc.). The recipients of the “BCC” field are invisible for all other recipients (and also for each other).
Moreover, it can happen, that emails are forwarded several times. This way you’ll get lists of recipients also in the content area of the email. Also in this case you should beware that all addresses not directly connected to the message should be deleted. The “BCC” field should be used for additional recipients.
Using these tips while sending emails, on one hand protects privacy for all recipients and, on the other hand does not violate rights.