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How to Hide Email Addresses for Action Alerts or Mailing Lists

From NetAction News, Issue No. 63, November 16, 2000

If you've been using email for a while, you've undoubtedly received at least one of those annoying action alerts with a long list of email addresses at the top. There's an easy way to avoid this, but a surprising number of activists don't know how. In this issue of NetAction Notes, we provide a guide that explains how to set up a simple email alert list using common email software programs like Eudora, Microsoft Outlook, or Netscape Mail.

This guide was prepared with assistance from Internet consultant Michael Stein <> for an email activism workshop that NetAction recently conducted for CARAL, California Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, as part of its Activists for Choice on the Internet project <>. Based on the comments we received from CARAL, we think this guide might be useful to other organizations and activists.

To create a "Bcc" email list, you will need to use the address book feature in your email software program. All email software programs have a feature that lets you set up an address book where you can store email addresses of your friends, family, and business associates. Most address books will allow you to store hundreds or even thousands of names and email addresses. As a result, this is a very useful email activism tool for individual grassroots activists and organizations in which the staff has limited technical expertise. Used correctly, it's possible to create a simple announcement-only mailing list which can then be used to distribute action alerts, press releases, and other messages to a large group of people.

For example, if your organization periodically sends out press releases, you can set up a personalized address book, labeled "Media," that includes a list of the email addresses of all the reporters you know who are interested in the issues your organization is working on. Using the address book feature makes it possible to send the press release to all of the reporters at once, rather than emailing the message individually to each reporter. (And if you normally distribute press releases by postal mail or fax, email distribution will save you time and reduce the cost of distribution.)

If you plan to use your address book to create an email list, you will need to know how to send email without disclosing the recipients' addresses. So if you haven't already been introduced to the "Bcc" field, it's time to get acquainted. ("Bcc" is an acronym for "blind carbon copy." Along with the "Cc" for "carbon copy," the term has its origins in the days when typists made copies of documents by placing carbon-coated paper between sheets of regular paper before typing.)

At the top of every email message, you'll (usually) see these fields:


NOTE: In some email software, "Bcc" is not included in the default setting of the header display. In some versions of AOL's software, for example, you will have to open the address book and select "Blind Copy." If you don't see it, check the "Help" file or the User manual that came with your software, or contact the company's support services by phone or email.

Returning to our example, to send a press release to your "media" address book list, type "Media" in the "Bcc" field of the message header and put your own email address in the "To" field. That way, all of the recipients will get the message, but only your email address will be disclosed. (Also, you'll receive a copy of whatever you send, since your address will be in the "To" field.)

NetAction recommends that you ALWAYS use the "Bcc" field if you are creating an email list in your address book. If you type the address book's name in the "To" or "Cc" field, all of the addresses will appear in the "To" or "Cc" field of the recipients' email browser. There are two problems with this. First, some people prefer not to disclose their email address and will be upset when they see that you've disclosed it. Also, if there are a lot of individual addresses in your address book the header will be very long. This is annoying to some people because they have to scroll past all the addresses before they get to the actual message.

Here is an example of what you might see if you receive an action alert with all the names in the "Cc" field instead of the "Bcc" field:

Date: Mon, 11 Sep 2000 09:07:38 -0700
To:,, Vintage
Computer Festival <>, "Noelle@Women Count"
<>, Showtyme
<>,,, ""
<>,,,, Cad,, "Ad List"

Would you want to see all these names when you open an email action alert? Or would you rather see something like this:

Date: Mon, 11 Sep 2000 09:07:38 -0700
From: "Jane Doe" <>
Subject: Urgent! Action Needed

Most Web email services, like YahooMail and HotMail, also offer address books as part of their free service. These can also be used to store large numbers of email addresses. If you use a Web email service, be sure to check if there is a limit to the number of email addresses that can be stored in the address book.

Another important issue to deal with is backing up the email addresses that you have stored in your address book. A fatal crash of your computer's hard drive could wipe out months or years of collected addresses.

(This recently happened to a nonprofit organization that was using a commercial list hosting service. The organization had about 2000 subscribers on its action alert list. Just two weeks before the election, the company that hosted the list experienced a server crash and lost the organization's subscriber list. Unfortunately, the group did not have a current backup and will now have to rebuild its subscribe list.)

If your organization has a network administrator, make arrangements to have your email address book backed up regularly. If not, copy the address book onto a floppy or zip disk regularly, or buy and use a commercial backup software product, such as Retrospect Express. If you are using a Web email service, find out how you can back it up.

We encourage NetAction Notes readers to save this guide for future reference. The next time you get an action alert with a long list of names in the "To" field, forward the sender a copy of this guide!


About NetAction Notes

NetAction Notes is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction to promote effective grassroots organizing on the Internet.

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Permission is granted for organizations to download and reprint this article. Reprints must provide full acknowledgment of source, as provided:

Excerpted from From NetAction News, Issue No. 63, November 16, 2000.

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