Misappropriation of email? or who owns an email list anyway?

Last Friday McKay Coppins, in an article titled Mitt’s Mormon Army: How It Works, looked at how grassroots Mormon support for Mitt Romney has managed to organize, despite the Church’s statements that its resources should not be used for election campaigns. Coppins points out, as most LDS Church members already know, that not everyone respects the Church’s wishes.

No surprise, I know. However, I also can’t say that I’ve seen many violations here in my ward and stake — perhaps I’m just out of the loop in some ways, but I haven’t seen emails from fellow ward members using the ward list for political or marketing purposes. Nor has anything appeared on the unofficial ward facebook group. Many years ago I did see one attempt to start an LDS bookstore by putting flyers up in chapels, but I haven’t seen anything since.

Nevertheless, I’m sure that this happens, as Coppins makes clear in his article. [I should point out that Coppins doesn’t make entirely clear the distinction between official resources, like the online ward directories, and the 3,500-strong “Colonial First Ward listserv,” which is likely unofficial given its size (10x or more that of a singles ward) and the fact that it is apparently an email group like you can set up with yahoogroups or google groups (and many other places).] Unofficial groups like the ones he discusses are particularly ripe for issues like this, since no one will be called into their bishop for violating the policies of an unofficial group.

What is perhaps confusing in the case of the “Colonial First Ward listserv” is that, apparently, those on the list didn’t complain about the clear violation of the listserv rules! Surely not all 3,500 in the group want the political adds and solicitations (assuming that they actually read the email from the list). I’m sure that there are at least a few Democrats in the group, and I’d bet that more than a few Republicans wouldn’t be happy about the violation of the rules, if they noticed it.

Despite my preference for following the rules, I think there are times when I would support some, limited, violations of the policy — like for the struggling member trying to find an audience for his catering business or something. I can see how some situations might be reasonable exceptions, even if it means that one member can do it and I can not.

Also, its not always clear that these messages ARE a violation of the rules. Did the offender spam the ward list? Or did he just collect the addresses of those he thinks are his friends? Can you make your own email list, and just use the ward list to collect information for it? Why? or Why not?

Regardless, I’m interested in how often others see violations by Mormons of Church policy like this, or even violations of the policies or norms of unofficial groups, blogs, websites, facebook groups, etc. Does it happen much? How do you feel about it? What, if anything, do you do? Do you tell the Bishop when the bulletin board is used for personal gain? or do you just take down the offending item? Or are there times when you simply leave the item in place?

How do you handle these things when you see them? What have you seen?


21 comments for “Misappropriation of email? or who owns an email list anyway?

  1. It should be no surprise that use of church e-mail and phone lists are used for a number of political and business purposes contrary to church policy. The first counselor in our Stake Presidency used the church e-mail list to drum up business for his own consulting business. When he got called on it he denied it.

    The highjacking of Church culture and community by the most conservative members and leaders over the past 30 years has resulted in a type of justification that such uses are for the higher good. I have found it amusing to hit the “reply to all” button when I get such e-mails and provide contrary discourses supported by a number of scriptural or general authority quotes. It is funny to read the reactions.

    Do you think those same conservative members would be upset if we used the tactics and highjackings for Brother Huntsman’s or Brother Reid’s campaigns?

    I vote that we make such transgressions of the CHI a disciplinary offense.

  2. In the past, I’ve seen abuse of the official ward RS email list (advertising for jewelry parties and other businesses), but nothing in the past year or so. I attribute that to the warning on the bottom of every RS monthly newsletter that appeared around the same time.

    While we’ve been in this ward, there have been no attempts at political organizing. I think we may finally have a critical mass of Democrats, because I’ve also noticed the anti-liberal comments in Sunday School are not as frequent.

  3. If I give my email address to the ward clerk so I can receive the updated schedule for Sunday School teaching assignments, and you take that email address from the clerk’s list to try to get me to support your candidate, then you have misappropriated my data just as much as if I had given my credit card number to buy something from your bookstore and you then used my credit card number to buy yourself a canoe. The cost to me is measured in something other than dollars when I’m spammed with your political email, but it’s a cost nonetheless.

    I don’t get anything inappropriate from my ward or stake email lists, though, unless you count as inappropriate the invitations to official but tasteless ward-sponsored parties.

  4. We added a big fat disclaimer warning to our RS e-mail (someone said that it looked like a lawyer wrote it… right in one!) and use blind carbon copy to cut back on the snatch & grabs.

    That, and the swift correction when a misuse happens pretty much keeps them from happening very often.

  5. “Despite my preference for following the rules, I think there are times when I would support some, limited, violations of the policy — like for the struggling member trying to find an audience for his catering business or something.”

    Slippery slope, though, right? It’s ok for struggling members to drum up business but not successful members? Define struggling members….struggling financially or struggling spiritually? Sounds like a blanket “this is not right” policy would be best.

    My ward has not bothered me ever with this kind of stuff. But we in the EQ Presidency do our best to send things bcc as often as possible to avoid temptations.

    My MIL lived in Bakersfield, CA, before she died. Never in my life have I seen a stake so into the above-mentioned stuff. It drove my MIL bonkers, but she was a liberal in a very conservative stake. I was shocked at the abuse of the email distribution list. This is really the only time I’ve seen it abused, however.

  6. I was an admin of an email list for a large student ward for a couple of years. We got a lot of these kinds of emails. The response was to send them a strongly worded email, ban for multiple offenses, and have periodic reminders every few months to the list of what were appropriate uses.
    I think political emails to a Church list are a pretty scummy thing to do in general. I would be tempted to reply all in a case like that.

  7. It helps to distinguish between the Mormon Church and just Mormons as individuals. If Mormons organize independently and pursue political goals, that’s just citizens doing their own political thing — like any other group of citizens who organize to achieve political ends, whether for a cause or for a candidate. Some people just object to any Mormon involvement in politics, whether by the Church (and churches can advocate for or against public policies) or by individual Mormons.

    Coppins did acknowledge the Church is not officially allowing the alleged activities: “While the church itself is politically neutral …” So if misappropriation of resources is occurring, it is without permission and sporadic, not some sinister campaign. And really, email lists are pretty tame stuff to use for a “those sinister Mormons” story. Sounds like he’s just griping about Mormon participation in politics. Maybe he’s just another “First amendment rights for me but not for thee” kind of guy.

  8. So does the LDS church then become a Super PAC not coordinating (wink, wink) with the candidate? As offensive as political use of the church and membership lists is, it pales in comparison to some of the outright lobbying I’ve seen go on over the years. I recall one time when the bishop and a counselor took over the Gospel Doctrine Class to lobby against a land-use planning ballot initiative in Utah.

  9. Those who send those kinds of emails to our ward list have get a warning and if they do not cease then are banned.

  10. The banner makes it seem like temples are full of secret call centers doing Mitt’s political bidding! That’s why no one can get in!!!

  11. I’ve had my household details hidden for a while now. Yes no one can find me when they need to; but I’m not spammed with worthless junk about the latest temple build-up/dedication. That being said, it is more often one is spammed with church information that does not apply to them (e.g: Primary event going on when I have no children of primary age) than political/business campaigns.

  12. #9 – It’s common courtesy online in a forum like this to use an initial or some other modifier when your name is in use already by a regular commenter. If you are the same person who has been commenting here and there at various sites in the Bloggernacle recently, please do so. I have been “Ray” on these sites for quite a while, and I don’t want people to confuse our comments (and that has nothing to do with content at heart). (Admins, will you please send the other Ray an e-mail explaining this? I’ve asked multiple times at multiple sites, but he probably isn’t following the threads and reading my requests.)

  13. As to the actual situations in the OP: There were a few members in a previous ward who used to forward the doom and gloom political crap they received, but I haven’t gotten any for at least four years or so.

  14. Ray #13 perhaps you could add your initial to your name? there’s no reason any other Ray will know you’ve been commenting for awhile, and every time you post your message like you just did, it makes you seem more and more like a jerk.

  15. Strictly speaking, no one ‘owns’ an email list, any more than anyone owns the list of names and addresses in a phone book. The only thing that can be done is establish a legal and/or ethical obligation for members not to disclose it or use it for private purposes. Otherwise you get into the murky regime of who owns a ‘fact’, an idea which is a bit on the problematic side.

    If people could own facts, family history research could be impossible, for example. I’m sorry, but you don’t have a license for your great grandfather’s birthdate, and I am not going to give it to you, and so on.

  16. “There’s no reason any other Ray will know you’ve been commenting for awhile…”

    Unless the other Ray ever bothers reading the comments. The real Ray has been around for a while, and is a frequent and insightful commenter on several blogs. If the real Ray starts using “Ray D,” for example, it will only create more confusion, as everyone will assume “Ray D” signifies someone new.

  17. Let me make this official, the other Ray (in comment #9) is requested to modify the name he uses on T&S.

    In addition, we ask that he use an email address that doesn’t bounce. We don’t publish email addresses or send bulk mail to them, but it is important that commentors provide a valid address so we can contact them when there are problems. When you don’t provide a valid address, we are much more likely to delete your comment or even ban your IP from posting in the future.

  18. In terms of breaking rules, I was a little offended when our Stake in Colorado cancelled all meetings last Tuesday night so people could attned the caucuses. There were only Republican caucuses that night (the Democratic caucuses are in March).

    In my mind, it was clearly in an attempt to promote Romney. It was done four years ago also whemn Romney ran – but never before.

    I was very pleased to see that it didn’t work as Romney still lost in Colorado.

  19. Considering that active participation in the civil and political sphere is a prominent teaching of the church, I don’t see any reason to be surprised at all. It would be nice if both major parties held their caucuses on the same day, but if it were me, I would say that a once every other year opportunity to participate in the political process preempts just about any non-Sunday meeting I can think of. To do otherwise would be equivalent to the church dispensing advice not to bother to vote either.

  20. I agree if church meetings are cancelled for all caucuses – not just for one with Mormon candidates. In this case, it was only done when Romney runs.

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