Mis-Directed E-Mail, the 21st-Century Faux Pas

This morning, one of the editors at work accidentally sent ME an E-mail (meant for another editor), saying what she thought of Eve and her future here. Needless to say, it was NOT pleasant or complimentary.

Last year, I was to have dinner with a Famous Person and his boyfriend. Boyfriend accidentally sent me a vicious E-mail about me to me, rather than to FP. I suddenly had “something else” to do that night.

I have not yet—kina hora!—misdirected an E-mail, though I do have a sudden moment of panic whenever I hit “send.” How about y’all? Any E-mail horror stories?

Oh, Eve, I’m sorry! Well, I guess you know where you stand, now, eh?

I’ve not mis-directed any email that was terrible - mostly just wrong issue to wrong person or inclusion of someone who had absolutely no idea what was going on. No harm, no foul.

However, I have had some email that I was so absolutely, freakin’ afraid of being found or misdirected that when answering it, I checked the address multiple times and then not only trashed it after sending, but went through and cleaned out my Recycle Bin and my Sent file.

<shivers> Ooooh, scary thought, the possibility of discovery!

I’ve done it, but fortunately it wasn’t too embarrassing.

I emailed my girlfriend after we had spent the weekend together. A lot of "had a great time"s and "I love you"s, but nothing explicit.

Well, I addressed to the nickname that I always call her, thinking that’s what I had assigned as her nickname in my email program. It wasn’t. Instead, the letter went to someone with that name who used the same ISP as me. She was confused, to say the least. I wrote back and explained what happened.


Forgot to mention:

Ever since then, I’ve always set my email program to “show full address.” No problems since.


Mis-directed email is my mortal fear! I’m forever checking my Sent folder to see where any particularly good emails actually went.

The reason for my fear? My manager and I both received an email from the CEO of our company. She was a troll of a woman and she had been making our jobs miserable by rejecting our work, but refusing to tell us what she really wanted from us. The email was about how sorry she was that things had been so crazy and that if she could be any help, her door was always open. She ended the email saying something to the effect of “but you’re the professionals, I don’t know how much help I could be. You’re doing such a great job already.”

I sent an email to me boss saying “Man, can she lay a guilt trip or what?!”

And to whom do you think I sent that email? The intended recipient? Au contraire. I sent it to the CEO and only found out a day or two later when it leaked down the ranks of management until it hit someone I was friends with. The CEO never looked me in the eye again. Kind of a bonus, really.

I’ve seen a couple of those go by. Very cringeworthy, even when it doesn’t happen to you.

Eve, did you take a vicious pleasure in responding to these people, thanking them for their kind words?

I received quite a juicy misdirected email several years ago because someone had mistaken me for another member of a mailing list (jessica vs. jessika)

And I had the pleasure to learn I was pregnant with a fairly famous drummer’s baby!

I simply deleted it, figuring if it wasn’t true I didn’t want to spread the rumor and if it was true, I didn’t want to mortify jessika.

but I do still wonder to this day!


Mis-directed email is the great neurosis of the modern era. Or my personal modern era.

My boss once sent a blistering review of a job candidate to the candidate herself, instead of to another colleague. The worst past is that the candidate was hired anyway, and this poor woman had to see my boss just about every day.

I once received an eye-popping pornographic email from a vice president of a rather large company. I had exchanged emails with him several years ago, because the company made a donation to one of our scholarship programs. I have no idea why my email address was still knocking around in his email program.

Listserves seem to be fertile ground for this kind of thing. Huge scandal on one of my literary listserves a few years ago when someone sent a mean and catty cut-down of another member to the entire list, instead of an individual.

Knock on wood, the only times I’ve sent email to the wrong recipient it has always been harmless. Emily Post (I think) once advised that you should think twice before committing anything to writing that you wouldn’t want to see printed on the front page of the New York Times. I think she was talking about love letters, or hate letters to ex-lovers, that have a way of resurfacing at uncomfortable moments years later. I always think about this when I’m tempted to send nasty emails. Even if you send them to the correct person, there is always a chance that that person is going to accidentally (or maliciously) forward it to someone else.

Having worked at various interactive companies over the years, I’ve experienced this first hand several times and have several funny stories.

  1. This girl I knew in college was fond of sending e-mail updates to every one she knew every time she had some sort of life-defining event. Over time, it got to the point where I was getting an e-mail from her every time something significant happened to her, which meant I’d hear about stupid things like where she and her boyfriend went to dinner and all sorts of other crap I wasn’t interested in hearing. So, I e-mailed her and asked her (nicely) to please take me off her distribution list. A few days later, I was still getting e-mail from her about the stupidest things. So I got pissed and hit “Reply to all” and typed something to the effect of “Did your mother take Thalidomide or what? I told you to remove me from this list immediately!” Within five minutes, she replied: “Why don’t you ask her yourself? She’s on the list.”

  2. The Executive Producer at my old agency (let’s call it Spiffy.com) sent a recommendation to one of our clients. A couple minutes later, he received an e-mail back from the client, carboning several people on the client side. At the top of the e-mail was the following: “Here’s what the pip-squeak at Spiffy.com says…” Needless to say, this producer got really pissed at having been called a pip-squeak. Normally in this business, one would exercise some self-restraint, but for some reason this guy decided to administer a most gratuitous e-mail ass beating unto said client. And he still received an apology.

  3. A few months after I left an interactive agency for an Internet startup, I contacted my old agency and asked them if they would like to pitch our business. Normally, agencies are very grateful for this kind of opportunity, so I expected to hear an affirmative response back from my old company. Instead, I saw a piece of communication that was clearly intended for internal eyes only at my old company.

My old CEO wrote something to the effect of “I don’t think this is the type of business we should be pitching. There are a lot of issues surrounding Tom’s departure from this company that still remain unresolved. We should decline the invitation because I’m not personally comfortable with it.”

Before I could fire off an angry response, I got another e-mail from the executive chairman of the company, who had seen that the CEO had accidentally hit “Reply to All” instead of “Forward.” It was very apologetic, believe you me.

  1. When negotiating my salary with my current company, I sent an e-mail to my boss with my salary requirements. Instead of forwarding it to the COO, she hit “Reply to All” and ended up carboning me on her comments. Something to the effect of “Well, he’s expensive.” A few minutes later, I got another e-mail from her after she realized her mistake. It quickly became one of those “things that are best forgotten and not brought up ever again.”

I work for a Major Financial Institution. I am merely a cog in our invincible move towards world domination.

However, I share the same last time as our Chief Counsel. In the Global Adress List, my name comes first.

I have received some very interesting emails. To point that I’ve practically had them swapping out my computer so they could be sure I didn’t have a copy in some cache.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the financial resources to capitalize on these mistakes. (Actually, I rarely read them but the couple I have were impressive.)

I used to work for a branch of the Department of Defense, and when we first got hooked up to a base-wide email system, it turned out there was someone at another command with same name as I. So for about a month I was receiving misdirected mail.

The funniest thing I got was a pornographic picture (of the humorous variety), obviously intended for my namesake, since I did not know the woman who sent it. I also had to marvel at the complete stupidity of sending porn over a government messaging system that monitors traffic … I sent her back an email saying that she really might want to consider not doing that any more. If I’d been in her shoes I’d have been cringing for a week.

One day I received an email from my (now ex) girlfriend that was meant for a female friend of hers. She was bitching about an email I’d written her and was talking about how the relationship wasn’t going to work. She had intended to forward my message to her (tacky, huh) but hit “Reply” instead. I replied stating, “I think you meant to send this to someone else.”

We’re no longer dating, although I was the one who ended the relationship.

I once worked for a large financial services corporation with an intranet noticeboard for company bulletins. The person responsible for updating some regular status information on company performance recieved the data by email, as usual, from a friend of her’s who’d recently returned from holiday.

Unfortunately, she forgot to clip the paragraphs detailing said friend’s sexual conquests during the holiday, and cut and pasted the whole lot onto the company intranet.

My own mis-directed mail has been limited-- like sending some amusing article to a few friends and getting an address wrong via the nickname vs. actual name kind of thing.

However! Co-workers of mine have had a couple doozies. One guy, let’s call him Bob, was working with another guy, say Chad on some alumni and development type stuff. Chad is pretty openly gay, and it’s never been an issue. Until Bob got pissed off at some suggestions Chad made in a group e-mail and fired back a response (meant for one person, but it went to all) in which he ranted about Chad being “such a lady about everything!”

Chad, being a great guy and true gentleman, didn’t raise a fuss but from what I’m told did manage to refer to himself as “ladylike” at the next actual meeting, which evidently caused Bob to turn six shades of red while everyone giggled.

The other one involved my boss and a really bitchy woman she works with sometimes. Bitchy Woman sent her mother an e-mail in which she referred to my boss as “that crazy lady” among other things. Only she did not, in fact, send the note to her mother. She sent it to my boss. And ended up trotting into our suite near hysterics to apologize, since my boss outranks her big time. My boss was admirably gracious about it, but I think it tipped the balance of their working relationship. Prior to this little mishap, B.W. had been consistently rude, pushy and generally obnoxious. Since then, she’s been nothing but friendly and helpful since, to my boss’s face anyway.

I received yet another one of those irritating “Don’t open any email with the subject ‘How to Give Your Cat a Colonic’, it’s a virus and will erase your hard drive” messages. Being in a foul mood already, and hating those damn things, I did a “reply all” and said

Unfortately, it had come to me via the corporate “everybody” address, and it had come from the CFO of the company that owns our company.



I’ve done it but purely by accident.
I was Outlooking a person from another department who I used to work with. I type in his name, Joe Blow, forgetting to use his middle initial.
We’re good friends so I mentioned a few personal things, such as “It’s good to hear you finally broke it off with that psycho hosebeast.”

I didn’t realize amongst the 3000+ employees my company has, there is another Joe Blow, no middle initial. I got a polite reply asking me to check the address and try again.

I’ve done it a few times, and usually involving listserves. Luckily, it has never been with anything sensitive, or hideously evil or embarassing. (Just something that might better be done off list, but on list was a valid choice as well.)

butI’m on a mailing list that happens to have an address that many people seem to guess as what their friend’s email address might be. (I’m sure that many of us have done it, you type in first letter of first name+last name@company.com or something like that, and hope it gets where you want it to go.) Over the years, we’ve gotten many letters for a high ranking person at a school about various matters that should have been confidential, but instead were spread over a nationwide network just like that.

Short background for anyone here that doesn’t know: I work for an agency that serves people with developmental disabilities.
The Assistant VP of the vocational part of our agency had received an email with a picture of a very obese woman standing in a shower and wearing nothing but a bikini. I am told that this picture was quite hilarious, although I fail to see what’s so funny based on the description. Anyhow…she was forwarding this picture to a bunch of people at work, and accidentally included the address of the mother of one of our clients. This particular mother is very snooty and upper-crust, and tends to not have much of a sense of humor. The Asst. VP still has her job, so I assume nothing too horrible happened. I would have paid twenty bucks to see the look on Mrs. Snooty’s face, though :slight_smile:
Not an email mishap, but a voicemail story: Back in college, all of us students had voicemail (I didn’t live on campus, I just had a voicemail box). I had given the number to a couple of people, just in case they ever needed to leave a message during the day, since I didn’t have a cell phone or pager at the time. No one had ever left me a voice mail in almost four years, though, so I didn’t much bother with it. When I started dating my husband, I gave him the number. One day, knowing he would call, I left an outgoing message for him. It was nothing dirty or anything, but it was pretty sappy and full of a lot of “Shmoopy” type stuff. That was the day my boss called. She had to leave a message about a change in schedule, and I was so embarassed when I heard her message on there. I apologized for it when I saw her again, but she thought it was pretty funny.

Oh, man. Not yet, but soon!

Catalyst and ARose have the same basic email address…

it’s EmailAddress@hotmail.com and Emailaddress@aol.com

Other than the ISP, it’s the exact same. I’m terrified that one day I’ll wake up and realize I sent some horribly embarrassing, all-revealing letter to the wrong person. shudders

Similar, but not matching. Several years ago, I worked for an absolute horrid woman, who, as far as we could tell, did absolutely nothing for her $120K and $100K bonus. Anything sent to her disappeared, and anything told to her was dismissed. Anyway, she went out on maternity leave, and called to ask me one day to check her e-mail for a document somebody was supposed to have sent her that I needed to work on. Imagine my surprise when I opened up one of her recent e-mails to discover my own termination paperwork! Apparently, she’d forgotten that THAT had also been sent to her!

So, armed with three days notice, I was able to get documentation on everything that had transpired, back up and delete anything that might have been even remotely incriminating (frivolous e-mails) and back up important corporate information. Never used it, but it was nice to know it was there if I needed it.

Just how little did this woman do? Eight months later, the CEO’s Admin called me frantically, telling me that one of the contracts I’d been working on couldn’t be found, and my ex-boss was threatening HER because she couldn’t find it. I told her where I’d put it when I left (our offices had just been remodeled, so nothing was where it had been before) and it was STILL THERE! Eight months later. Untouched. Needless to say, the company lost the client.