The Ethics of Hate Mail: Should Bloggers Post Email Correspondence Without Permission?

“Melanie Kroll probably doesn’t appreciate the irony of her situation. She was fired this week from her job at 1-800-Flowers.com, a floral delivery service, after a death threat was sent to popular science blogger PZ Myers from her work email address. The irony stems from the fact that she most likely heard about Myers only because the Catholic League had attempted to get him terminated from his job at the university where he teaches.

Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, had published a controversial blog post on July 8 titled ‘IT’S A FRACKIN’ CRACKER!’ The cracker in this instance was referring to a Eucharist – a small wafer considered by Catholics to be the body of Christ – that had been smuggled uneaten out of a church by a Florida man. The incident caused public outrage from some Catholics and after the Catholic League condemned the action the man received multiple death threats. He finally succumbed to the pressure and returned the wafer to the church.

Myers is a vocal atheist and his blog post expressed incredulity and anger that a person would be harassed in such a way over what Myers considered a…well, cracker. At the end of the post he called his readers to action. ‘Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers?’ he wrote. ‘There’s no way I can personally get them – my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure – but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare.’

Eventually Myers’s writing reached Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, and in his typical fashion he went on the attack. The Catholic organization sent out a press release encouraging Catholics to email the president of the University of Minnesota and demand that action be taken. But Myers received a large number of emails as well, many of which were vitriolic and hateful. A few of those threatened the blogger with physical violence or even death. Citing a disclaimer on his blog that he has the right to reprint any emails that threatened violence, he posted two such messages on July 13, making sure to include the addresses and other identifying information of those who sent them.”

(via Bloggasm)

5 Comments

  1. What’s the normal journalistic standard for stuff like this? It seems to me that journos publish private correspondence and leaked memos all the time. What criteria are used to determine what’s fair game? I can see why this is murky, but what if, say, the editor of the New Yorker sent a black man a rejection letter saying he was rejecting the story because the black man is a n*gger? (Obviously something that would never happen, but bear with me). Would the New Yorker be able to say ‘hey, that’s business correspondence, you can’t print that?”

    Myers shouldn’t have published people’s personal contact info unless he could verify that it was indeed the sender’s real info.

    That said, Melanie Kroll should be suing her husband instead of Myers.

    And blaming the IT department for 1-800 Flowers? Yeah, maybe if they decided that e-mail accounts don’t need passwords or something, but probably not. I say this as an IT guy so obviously I’m biased (but also somewhat knowledgeable). Kroll almost certainly violated some company policy by allowing her husband the opportunity to use her e-mail (allowing him to use a company laptop, leaving herself logged into the company webmail, giving him her password, or something like that).

  2. “I have not received any death threats, but in the chance I would, I report them to the IP abuse number or contact the appropriate police authorities. Then it?s up to them to decide whether anything should be done.?

    I have recieved online death threats, and for the same reason: I questioned God. I turned it over to the Internet service in question but did not contact the police or feds.

  3. I’ve got my policy on that posted in small words on my blog–any e-mail sent to me becomes mine to do with as I please, and exceedingly stupid shit sent to me will be posted publicly.

    In the two or so years I’ve had this policy, I have done this exactly twice (not death threats, thank whatever, but fairly amusing stupidity), and I strip out all e-mail addresses and other personal information before I post them.

  4. I would usually say that I think emails should stay personal, but on the other hand.. how hilarious is it that someone lost their job because they are Christian activists? How often is it that people are attacked for being atheist or occultists of any kind? Atheists are considered the most untrustworthy people in the US.. I think that people believe that because everyone distrusts atheists you can go on and threaten them. Also did anyone think of this:

    If someone is stupid enough to email a death threat from their work email they may be TOO IDIOTIC TO WORK FOR THE COMPANY?

    I wouldn’t want anyone that idiotic working for me.

  5. Jonas Venture

    July 28, 2008 at 3:04 am

    HATE mail or DEATH threats?

    I mean 99% of the forums out there read as one rambling hate mail..

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