Email Containing Sexually Explicit Information

The Federal Trade Commission has issued its final rule regarding the CAN-SPAM Act. The FTC was asked to define how to determine the purpose of an email message, specifically commercial email messages. If your library sends email messages to non-patrons (i.e., a mass email message) concerning fund-raising or commercial services you provide, you might want to read it — just to be sure there will not be a problem. (There is a good summary on the FTC website.) In my relatively brief perusal of the rule, I did not see a reference to governmental entities (or non-profits) being exempt.

In addition, this rule finalized the phrase that should be used as a warning label on commercial email that contains sexually oriented material. This phrase should be the first characters used in the subject line:

Note that:

  • there are 19 characters — you must include the colon and the space after the colon in the phrase.
  • there is a hyphen between the two words.
  • the letters are all capitals.

This phrase must be exact. So, you might see a subject line that looks like:
Subject: SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT: Care to trade?

Apart from being interesting, how can this help you? Find the filter in your email software package and filter all email messages with a subject line that starts with “SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT: ” This will not get rid of all sexually explicit email messages, but I’m hopeful it will decrease the number.


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