The “reply all” email chain is one of my favorite corporate oddities. If you’ve never experienced one, you’ll need to understand the setup. Companies that use email groups will frequently have an “all-employee” group. Companies that have even a modicum of decent email security will lock that shit down so that only a couple of people at the very top have send access to that group. I’ve never worked for a company that locked it down, and I know of many companies that don’t.
This becomes an issue when one well-meaning dolt accidentally sends an email to the all-employee group. Most right-minded individuals will see that the email does not pertain to them, notice the all-employee group, and ignore it, but humans being what we are, a percentage of the corporate population will, inevitably, hit reply all. Also, me being what I am, I grab the popcorn because I know this is gonna be fun.
The first few reply all emails are basic: “I think this was sent in error;” “Why did I receive this?” Dull, both in the sense of boring and in the sense of, yeah, everyone knows it was sent in error, you’ve helped no one by sending that, Karen.
The next ones are where you really start to learn something about the people in your company: “Please remove me from this distro.” Distro is short for distribution list and the person asking to be removed from it has no idea that they’ve just asked to be removed from the all-employees group. It’s never clear if this was a simple oversight or proof that the person should have been removed as an employee already. At this point, the original sender will have sent out a hurried “Sorry for sending to that distro” as a reply all, but the damage has been done.
Then comes the anger, the wrath, the base hatred of people stressed to the gills and begging for someone to give them a reason to snap: “STOP REPLYING ALL!!!!!” with 5 exclamation marks, not intended to show exclamation, but so they are easily identifiable as needing a padded cell; “If you STOP hitting reply all, this MADNESS will STOP!” because this is madness, you see, pure and utter chaos. There are many things in this world that need to stop, but right now, this is the most maddening, or at least the one that our sender believes will be resolved by what would to the untrained eye seem like hypocrisy.
Lastly, and here I suspect my readers will be most familiar, come the trolls. As soon as you see a meme hit the chain, you’ve reached the nadir of corporate email. By now, the original sender has already tried to correct their error, but to no avail. They’ve received an email from their direct manager, director, and senior director asking what the hell they were thinking. Their teammates have thrown them dirty glances (and maybe harder objects), but to the trolls, this person is a hero. It takes no time at all for a screenshot of the original email to become a meme in its own right.
If the corporation’s IT is engaged, they can find the system’s “kill switch” for such things, but I certainly won’t be the one to share that information. Several people within the company will have already setup an email rule to filter out anything with that email subject before it reaches the MADNESS level, but that’s nothing for the truly vicious trolls. “Re:re:re:re Subject Line” becomes “Re:re:re:re Subject Line “ with the two spaces at the end, and like the mythical hydra, the chain doubles. The last reply all email chain I experienced in the wild had four different subject-line streams squirming through the system.
It gets worse. What I’ve just described is for a company in one country. Imagine the chaos in an international corporation. The sun rises on the east coast of a continent and on workers who open their email to find hundreds of emails: “STOP THE INSANITY!!!” [Spongebob Meme]. Over time, while the original sender lays in bed, dreams haunted by TPS reports, the reply all meme grows, sweeps across the globe like a wave of wasted workhours. There’s even a term for it: Email Storm.