Etiquette and the BCC field

An unnamed relative, learning the ways of the Internet, might have written:

Recently I sent out a message to friends and family regarding the upcoming election. Instead of the supportive reply I expected, an upstart relation chided me not only for putting the recipients’ addresses in the To field of the message but also for replying to the group. What’s his consarn problem!?

My guess is that he was, as gently and respectfully as possible, alerting you to the idea that in polite society, one does not plaster dozens of email addresses in the To field. This is considered both rude and a breach of privacy.

Messages of this nature are often passed around, and when they are, all those addresses can be passed with them. Suppose such a message is passed along to a spammer, phisher, or other Internet ne’erdowell. With one message you’ve violated the privacy of anyone hoping to keep their email address under wraps.

A packed To field can also be inconvenient for the recipient. For example, every so often I get a hunk of business-related email with dozens of recipients in the To field. Reading such a thing on my iPhone is a bother when I have the Details field open (as is my habit). I either have to hide details (and remember to turn them back on) or scroll, and scroll, and scroll some more to finally get to the meat of the message.

To avoid getting gently spanked in the future, use your email client’s BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) feature. Put one recipient in the To field (and that can be your own email address to keep other addresses really private) and put all other addresses in a BCC field. That way everyone gets the message but no one can see the other recipients’ addresses.

If you routinely send messages to the same group of people—your coworkers, for example—consider creating a group for those addresses and then send to the group rather than individuals.

And how exactly do you do these things? Like so:

To expose the Bcc field in Leopard’s Mail, choose Bcc Address Field from the View menu. This causes the Bcc field to appear in all new messages. Alternatively you can click on the Customize pop-up menu just to the left of a message’s From area and choose Bcc Address Field. This too exposes the Bcc field.

Now all you have to do is enter the addresses into the Bcc field that you want to send blindly to. Recipients of your message won’t see these addresses. Or, you can open the Address Panel by choosing Address Panel from the Window menu, selecting the addresses you want to send your message to, and click the Bcc button. All selected addresses will appear in the Bcc field.

To create a group for Apple’s Mail, just open Address Book, click the Plus button beneath the Group column, name your group, and drag addresses into it. When you’re ready to send to the group, just type its name in the To field.

As for your relative’s admonition about replying to everyone in the group, if you’d like to make and keep friends on the Internet, you’ll want to reply just to the sender rather than banging the Reply All button. In your case, while the group was probably interested in the initial message, not everyone may be thrilled with the follow-up political spat between you and one other member of that group.

This applies to business email as well. If the boss sends out a welcome message to a new employee or congratulations missive to Rosco for the fine work on the Friday doughnut project, resist the temptation to hit Reply All. If you’re particularly pleased with Rosco’s choice of crullers and maple bars, by all means, send along a personal—and individual—slap on the back. Trust me, the group isn’t interested.

Note that I’m aware that many regular readers of this blog would never unnecessarily fill a To field with umpteen addresses or needlessly tap the Reply All button. But perhaps your friends, relatives, and coworkers are less clueful. If so, feel free to casually forward a link to this entry.

Updated to include instructions for exposing the Bcc field in Mail.

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