University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


What was up with all the 'unsubscribe'-mails from the University Post?

The University Post crashed the University of Copenhagen’s mail server Tuesday when we accidentally sent upwards of 30 e-mails out to everyone at the university. It was no virus, it was no flaw in the mail system. It was us, and we deeply regret it. This was what happened

Tuesday 11 October, at 2:40pm – in connection with the release of our English-language University Post newsletter – we made two blunders:

1) We forwarded an ‘unsubscribe’-mail to our whole mailing list of staff and students. And 2) we also forwarded, immediately after this, 30 responses to the first mail that University of Copenhagen employees and students managed to send to the mailing list in the belief that they were writing directly to the original unsubscribe responder.

The error was stupid and entirely our fault: We pressed the wrong button. Several times.

Chinese water torture

We became aware of the error Wednesday morning when a stream of frustrated e-mails came in, and the phones started ringing. Around 10 am we had found out what was happening, with the aid of the University: This was not a virus. Nor was it a mistake in the mail system which was suddenly forwarding all responses to the first mail. It was us who had manually sent out 30 e-mails on in the period 14:40 to 15:30 the day before.

We immediately issued a new newsletter with an alert that explained that the problem was identified, contained and resolved.

And this is where it gets sticky and ironic: Our forwarded unsubscribe-mails had overloaded the mail server so thoroughly, that it was working through the task by forwarding the 30 forwarded mails one at a time into people’s inboxes, several hours apart, like a kind of Chinese water torture.

So while the flow of e-mails in reality had been stopped Tuesday at 15:30, for everyone else it looked like the triggered mail storm had gone out of control.

Our newsletter, explaining what was happening, was at the back of the mailing queue. And UCPH could not stop the Chinese water torture without erasing all the other e-mails that had been sent out through the system.

Sorry and thanks

Meanwhile, we answered the phones and e-mails from helpful, puzzled and dissatisfied UCPH citizens. In the evening it dawned on us that 1) our newsletter with an explanation of what went wrong did not get so far, and 2) that we were far from the only ones who had been bombarded with phone calls. IT support on central campus and in the different faculties were at the front of the firing line, and we then informed them – too late – about the situation, so they could give on the reassuring message: ‘The problem is solved, but the annoying e-mails may drip into your inbox for a while’.

Thursday morning UCPH managed to stop the remaining drip when about 10 of the remaining ‘water torture’ e-mails had yet to been delivered.

We apologize to all the University of Copenhagen’s students and staff who have received the flow of unauthorized mails. We apologize deeply to the staff and students whose mails were forwarded – and to the UCPH-employees in IT support units who were besieged by calls and emails and who subsequently helped us to clean up.

At the same time we say thanks to all of those who helped us clean up – and the hundreds who contacted us to inform us of the problem.

We will now return to our normal University Post job: Servicing the inhabitants of this University throughout its different departments, institutes and faculties with open discussion and independent journalism, not with e-mail goof-ups.

Yours sincerely
Dennis Christiansen
Chief Editor