1997-07-31 - Spam is Information?

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From: rbrewer@op.net (Robert W. Brewer)
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: 1c0b6e29bd453156e7d7f34c2332b3343bf63d6997c77d343a696e84550af035
Message ID: <m3pvrz92rd.fsf_-_@wiz.rob.net>
Reply To: <>
UTC Datetime: 1997-07-31 05:11:27 UTC
Raw Date: Thu, 31 Jul 1997 13:11:27 +0800

Raw message

From: rbrewer@op.net (Robert W. Brewer)
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 1997 13:11:27 +0800
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: Spam is Information?
In-Reply-To: <>
Message-ID: <m3pvrz92rd.fsf_-_@wiz.rob.net>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

"Dr. Jai Maharaj" <jai@mantra.com> writes:
> The commission of crimes such as forgery and censorship is 
> not an acceptable excuse to stop the flow of information, even 
> if the free flow is perceived by some as a crime.

I define usenet spam as "the same message posted to more
than 10 newsgroups without crossposting."  By this
definition, spam has very little information content.  It is
almost totally redundant.  Instead of posting 1 message,
1000 messages are posted.  The 2nd through 1000th message
add no more information than the first.  This would not be a
problem if the network had infinite bandwidth and storage
capabilities.  However, finite bandwidth and storage means
that every flow of spam "information" necessarily restricts
the flow of other information.  If the network were at full
capacity and you were forced to make a choice of what
information would flow, what would it be?  Would you cancel
the 999 redundant copies of a 1000 group spam, or would you
cancel 999 random non-spam messages?  I know, you would
upgrade the network, but that is not viable.  It will
always be possible to generate more spam than the network
can handle.

Here's an analogy--consider a small physical bulletin board
on a university campus that is divided up into sections for
different categories of bulletins to help organize the
postings.  The sections might be "official university
announcements", "concerts and movies", "clubs", "for sale or
trade", and "miscellaneous".  There is a sign at the top of
the bulletin board that reads "Bulletin Board Rule: Only one
copy of an a flyer may be posted."  This is a public
bulletin board--anyone can hang things on it.

Now, let's say someone comes along and decides to plaster
the entire bulletin board with 25 big blue sheets that each
read "Make Money Fast!  Call 555-1212 for details!".  These
25 big blue sheets cover up most of the other announcements
on the bulletin board.  Let's also say that whoever made
these big blue ads used "free" university photocopiers,
where the cost of each copy is paid for by the university.

Personally, I would consider it quite a service if someone
ripped down 24 of these big blue sheets and put them in the
recycling bin, leaving only one remaining sheet either on
the "for sale or trade" or "miscellaneous" portion of the
bulletin board.

I claim that this analogy is reasonably close to the
usenet: the bulletin board has limited space (bandwidth), is
divided into topics (newsgroups), has some rules of use
(netiquette), and has some distributed costs associated with
using it (everyone pays indirectly for the copy machine).
Since this is an analogy, and not the actual usenet, there
will be differences between the real-world bulletin board
and usenet.  I'm sure these will be pointed out to
demonstrate why taking down the 24 blue sheets is censorship
and limits the free flow of information.

What about the information on the bulletin board that is
covered up by the 24 blue sheets?  Is that information not
effectively censored by the blue sheets?  On usenet, spam
takes up server space that could otherwise be used for
legitimate articles, thus causing those articles to expire
much faster than if there were no spam.  The legitimate
articles are "covered up" (censored) by the spam.

Is it "free expression" to walk into a restaurant and start
yelling and screaming so loud that no one else can carry on
a conversion?  Even if it is, you'd better be prepared for
the management to ask you to leave.  If you fail to comply,
they would likely call the police and have you removed for
disrupting their business.  What if you yell just loud
enough to be annoying to everyone in the restaurant, but
they can still converse if they make an effort to ignore
you?  Any reasonable restaurant management would still ask
you to quiet down.  The "management" of usenet has made a
simple request: don't post the same message to 1000
newsgroups or your messages will be asked (or forced) to

I agree NoCeM is better than cancelbots.  But I think
objective cancelbots (anything posted to more than 10 groups
and not crossposted is cancelled, etc.) are better than a
server full of spam.

Robert W. Brewer  PGP 2048-bit Key ID: 03E0E635
Jesus rules!      FP: 6327 8034 7BDA D144 B40C C5E2 F760 13BB