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Usenet Spam Avoidance (part 6)

"They have computers, and they may have other weapons of mass destruction." (Janet Reno)

So you've decided to take the plunge and post to a newsgroup.

But, hold on a minute! Aren't there lots of nasty bots (programs) that trawl newsgroups harevesting email addresses for spammers to use. You don't want a whole load of rubbish in your mail box, so, just to be on the safe side, you alter the email address in your news software so that the email address in your newsgroup posts will be unusable.

Now, that's sensible, isn't it?


.As you'll no doubt be told if you post to many newsgroups with a munged (forged or unusable) email address.

Let's look at the mistakes you might have made....

You added "nospam" to the end of your, valid, email address. Save your energy. Most harvesting bots are intelligent enough to strip comments like "nospam" out - leaving them with a nice, valid email address

You made up an email address. Something like Are you sure this address doesn't actually belong to someone? Did you check first? is a real domain name and its owner is going to get any of your email (rubbish or not) that arises out of your newsgroup postings.

The same goes for...

Get the picture?

Still convinced that email address you "made up" doesn't exist? Even if it doesn't exist now, are you going to remember to check, regularly, to see if someone has registered it recently.

Using a forged email addresses is not only bad manners but may actually contravene your ISP's Acceptable Use Policy. Attract their attention and you risk losing your Internet connection.

Why should an email address matter in newsgroups?

There are many situations on newsgroups when email is not only a possible means of communication but the preferred alternative to a newsgroup posting.

  1. Discussion on a particular topic has reduced to the point where all but two of you have dropped out. Its bad manners to continue inflicting what is now a two-way conversation onto the whole group but if it continues to interest both you and your correspondant, then it could be easily transferred to email.
  2. Someone else posts something which you agree with but another poster objects loudly and publically. It's nice to be able to send a message of sympathy, saying "<foo> is a cranky old fool". Sending a similar message to the group could cause more problems than you bargained for.
  3. You may post asking for help with a problem, or the answer to a particular question. Lots of replies via the group are terribly tedious for regulars who may have seen similar questions-and-answers a thousand times before. So people sometimes opt to reply to your query via email. In the event that a publically posted reply is insufficient or confusing, you may need to get in touch with that poster to confirm details - again best done by email.
  4. You post an opinion in an emotionally-fraught thread. Another reader takes offence, initially. They might want to confirm their interpretation with you before taking up the issue. They then might take up the issue publically if appropriate; privately if it's a two-way argument, or drop the whole subject because your emailed reply convinced them that they'd misinterpreted your original post. Either way, the use of email before matters go further can often avoid embarrassing, public, mistakes.

All of the above scenarios have one thing in common - the correspondance is of interest to you and the one other person but not to the group as a whole.


  • Email: One-To-One
  • Newsgroups: One-To-Many

Hopefully, you know understand why email is a fact of life on Usenet.

If the email address you have used is valid but forged, it could mean that people are, inadvertently, sending emails to someone who doesn't have the faintest idea what is going on and who may be, quite rightly, getting very annoyed by such mailings.

If the address you have used isn't valid, then many news and mail software will warn the sender and refuse to send out the mail but only after the person in question has gone to the lengths of composing and typing said mail. Have that happen to you a few times in a row and you would find your temper getting rather frayed too.

In short, invalid, or forged, email addresses aren't only in breach of many AUPs but are simply bad manners.

The Right Ways to Avoid Spam

In short, it's impossible to to provide a 100% spam free solution. However, it is possible to greatly restrict the amount of spam received by following a few simple rules:

  1. Set up your From address to read something like spam@nothing.invalid. This means that the automated robots that trawl for addresses for junk mail will pick up the address ending ".invalid", which has been specifically set aside as unregistrable. Now you won't be indirectly responsible for dumping junk mail onto someone else.
  2. Set up your Repy-To field to your real email address. Most mail and news clients use this field when addressing emails, so would-be correspondants will be able to contact you. However, many address harvesting bots on Usenet only focus on the From field. They ignore the Reply-To field - leaving your email address untouched.
  3. Set up an email account with a free email providers. Use this address in the From field of your posts (you could still use your real email address in the Reply-To field). Just remember to log into your chosen free email provider every now and then, empty all the spam out of the mailbox and check for any genuine mail.

What if I don't want any email - from anyone?

Frankly, I'd say that's your loss and I would urge you to think again. As outlined above, there are times when email is a far more appropriate medium than a public posting to the group. However, if you are absolutely committed to this approach and are determined to delete all incoming emails unread, then please add a warning line to the end of all your posts along the lines of:

"Email to the Reply-To address will not be read."

Again, it's a case of good manners.

Mel Pedley is a professional web developer at Black Widow Web Design ( specialises in the production, and management, of standards based, accessible, web sites.

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Usenet spam avoidance