Lighter side: ‘Reply all’ blunder clogs 40,000 inboxes

Many users in your company have probably made the mistake of accidentally using “reply all” when responding to emails. Hopefully, those incidents didn’t lead to thousands of messages being sent among 40,000 people. 

That’s exactly what happened at New York University recently after students found a way to send emails to a list containing 39,979 addresses.

It started when one student accidentally used reply all when trying to forward a message from the university asking students to opt for paperless tuition forms. The student tried to send the message to his mother along with the message “Do you want me to do this?” but ended up replying to every student at NYU.

Normally, the university uses a system for mass emails that doesn’t allow recipients to respond to other members of a list. However, some NYU departments still rely on an older system that does, according to the student publication NYU Local.

The student quickly apologized for the error, but others realized they had the power to reply all to 40,000 people, and many of them took advantage. Students sent messages to the list, doing everything from complaining about the cost of tuition to sharing photographs of actor Nicolas Cage.

Other reply all responses, sent before NYU realized what had happened and deleted the addresses from the list, included:

  • Bizarre questions such as “Does anyone have a pencil I can borrow” and “Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses, or 1 horse sized duck?”
  • Positive messages for the student body, including one that read, “Because I’m graduating next month, I thought I’d use this opportunity to say thanks for the memories, and good luck with everything,” and
  • Many pleas for everyone to quit sending so many annoying emails.

While we hope nothing of this sort would happen in a company full of professionals, a third of office employees do admit to having accidentally used reply all during work.

Most of those instances are likely harmless, but it’s possible for that error to end up putting sensitive information in the wrong hands or causing other problems. IT may want to take some time to help users avoid this and other common email mistakes.

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