WASHINGTON - Many "reply all" fiascos result in mere
embarrassment, but American diplomats have been told
they may be punished for sending mass responses after
an e-mail storm nearly knocked out one of the State
Department's main electronic communications systems.
A cable sent last week to all employees at the department's
Washington headquarters and overseas missions warns of
unspecified "disciplinary actions" for using the "reply to all"
function on e-mail with large distribution lists.
The cable, a copy of which was obtained by The
Associated Press, was prompted by a major interruption
in departmental e-mail caused by numerous diplomats
hitting "reply all" to an errant message inadvertently
addressed and copied to several thousand recipients.
"Department staff hitting 'reply to all' on an e-mail with a
large distribution list is causing an e-mail storm on the
department's OpenNet e-mail system," says the unclassified
cable that was sent Thursday by Under Secretary of State
for Management Patrick Kennedy. He said the result was
"effectively a denial of service as e-mail queues, especially
between posts, back up while processing the extra volume
The cable orders employees to "take immediate action" to
ensure they and their colleagues are "aware of the
negative impact of hitting 'reply all'" and to delete e-mails
addressed to large numbers of people that they might
receive in error.
"Anyone who disregards these instructions will be subject
to disciplinary actions," Kennedy wrote in the cable,
which begins: "Please ensure widest distribution of this
message." Officials said the storm started when some
diplomats used the 'reply all' function to respond to a
blank e-mail sent recently to many people on the
department's global address list.
Most demanded to be removed from the list while others
used 'reply all' to tell their co-workers, in often less than
diplomatic language, to stop responding to the entire
group, the officials said. Some then compounded the
problem by trying to recall their initial replies, which
generated another round of messages to the group,
The cable sent out by Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy is somewhat misguided and confirms how widespread people's ignorance of the use of email is.
Yes, the message of restricting the use of Reply-All is valid. The person needing the most reprimanding, however, is the original author of the email that DID NOT USE BCC. Had they used BCC NOBODY could have used REPLY-TO-ALL. BCC names do not appear in Reply or Reply-All emails.