Putting the 'B' in 'BCC'

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June 16, 2003 // UPDATED 10:51 am - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

When e-mail is not for your eyes only

\"As far as I\'m concerned it\'s just a form of executive tattletaling,\" spewed a very unhappy Angela. A colleague had recently sent an e-mail accusing her of not helping with a project. There was no truth behind it, but the colleague sent blind copies (BCCs) of the defamatory e-mail to Angela\'s boss, her boss\'s boss and the boss of Angela\'s boss\'s boss.

Angela said such BCCing is common in her office.

\"It\'s the ultimate CYA [cover your a**], and when you BCC in our office, you cover it wide,\" Angela said.

How common is it for people to send evil blind copies to the powers that be? Hard to tell, but Joan\'s office must have had a problem with BCCing because that e-mail function has been disabled throughout her office.

\"Of course,\" Joan said, \"If I really wanted to send the e-mail to other people I could simply forward it to them. Turning off the BCC function really wouldn\'t be a deterrent to spreading or sharing malicious e-mails.\"

BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy. The invention of carbon paper - black or blue stuff we used to put between sheets of paper to make copies - is credited to both an Englishman and an Italian. Working separately, each created their version of carbon paper in the early 1800s. Both invented the carbon paper for machines to help people who were blind or partially sighted write (as opposed to the prevailing quill and ink method).

Today the BCC is the Jekyll and Hyde of electronic mail. Used correctly, it can actually protect people. Used incorrectly, it can destroy. \"Let\'s say you are one of 70 people that I\'m inviting to a party. By sending the invitation as a BCC to everyone, I protect your e-mail address from 69 other people,\" said Ducky Sherwood, e-mail expert. \"That\'s using BCC for a good purpose.\"

Using my trusty electronic survey tool, SurveyMonkey, I asked people in my Outlook address book to weigh in on the BCC issue. Clearly, Angela is in the minority. Almost 90 percent of people indicated that they like having the BCC function, mainly for mundane tasks.

One respondent liked to use it to keep certain individuals up-to-date on a situation without requiring a separate conversation or a forwarded copy of the message.

Another used the BCC function to send copies to himself. \"I also use the BCC when I am concerned about a position that I have taken and want my supervisor to be aware of what I have said; however, the person receiving the message does not know my supervisor.\"

None of these arguments impress Angela. She\'s still trying to clean up the damage from the BCC\'d e-mail. \"It doesn\'t matter what you say, once it gets into print, it has an air of truth about it.\"

As far as she\'s concerned, the disadvantages of the BCC outweigh any advantages.\" BCC is a great tool for gutless whiners who lack the capacity for eye-contact, direct confrontation or human involvement. If the \'e\' in e-mail is for \'evil,\' the \'b\' in \'BCC\' is for \'ball-less.\'\"

However, as in most situations of this nature, the real problem isn\'t that a co-worker sabotaged her, it\'s that the managers allowed it to happen. Management should make sure coworkers don\'t use such tools for nefarious purposes.

Being upset with the BCC function is kind of like killing the messenger.

If you have a good workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact Elana Centor at ecentor@mn.rr.com. You can remain confidential, as can your company.