This is a public service announcement about how to handle an email catastrophe. Should you become the recipient of a message with thousands of people copied, don't panic. Also, don't hit reply all. I'm hoping to provide some guidance if this happens at your company–and maybe squash any email chains that happen to invade my own inbox.
This one is all over the news right now.
An unknown person named Vince (no last name) sent an email yesterday by mistake to 33,000 Thomson Reuters employees. If you don't know what that means for your productivity level, watch any recent horror movie. It's quite a nightmare. Sending out a message like that creates a digital beast. It self-propagates.
Employees created the hashtag #ReutersReplyAllGate on Twitter and, at last count (according to one tweet) there were over 600 replies so far.
When some of the employees received the message, they didn't really think about the proper reaction, which is to not respond at all. Instead, a few of them did these things:
1. They tried to stop the chain as a lone commando
You want to stop the chain reaction, so you reply all and let the recipient know that he made a mistake. That means every person gets your message.
2. They tried to stop other people from replying to all (by replying to all)
The people who didn't know any better and replied to everyone fall under the derision of microscopically more savvy email users who let that person know, again by replying to all, that it is not necessary to reply all anymore and to just ignore the message.
3. They purposefully kept the chain going
Now, enter the cheeky employees. They know perfectly well that you should never reply all, but they decide to do that anyway, just for a laugh. Usually, it's not very funny.
4. They took the nightmare to Twitter
The hashtag #ReutersReplyAllGate trended quickly as people start posting their jokes there and called attention to the fact that they were part of the email catastrophe. At least it didn’t interfere directly with work, and some of the jokes are funny.
Now, there are a few things worth noting here. One is that it is a sign that email is outdated. Thousands of employees had to deal with the original email and all of the subsequent reply all emails. I imagine an app like Slack would have prevented this problem. There is no such thing as a reply all problem with social messaging.
More importantly, it's a good idea to let everyone in your company know about proper email protocol. If you received a message with hundreds or thousands of people copied, just delete it. Don't tell the original sender they made a mistake. Don't reply all.
If you are the sender, we all make mistakes. Don't try to correct anything. Don't try to recall the message. Just wait for the problem to go away. That's all you can do.
By the way, Gmail has a feature that allows you to cancel a sent message. Gmail holds the message for a while and, when you cancel, no one knows about it. Saved again.