What Happens When You Reply All to 22,000 State Workers

Subject: #ReplyAll-pocalypse

From: julie@nytimes.com

Date: December 10, 2018 at 1:43 p.m.

To: allreaders@nytimes.com

Reply All, the scourge that has afflicted office workers everywhere, has hit 22,000 government employees in Utah, demonstrating that decades into the invention of email, many of us still don’t understand its etiquette.

This is a public advisory: PLEASE DO NOT REPLY ALL.

For at least 20 years now, emailers everywhere have received those pesky group messages, and for at least 20 years, they have tried to resist the allure of the Reply All button. They have often failed, with the first messagers asking to be removed from a list, the second group pointing out that the first group should really stop emailing everyone, and the third group deciding now was just the right moment to show off their wit.

Why don’t we stop? This is the grand era of social media. All of us, it seems, just want to be heard.

Which brings us to Maria Peterson and Utah’s preholiday ReplyAll-pocalypse. Or Potluckgate. Or Reply All Madness. The state’s internet pundits, including Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, are all over this. “This is real and it’s an emergency,” Mr. Cox deadpanned on Twitter on Friday. “I fear it will never end.”

Ms. Peterson, 37, is the deputy director in the job training section at the Utah Department of Corrections. On Friday, she sent out a calendar invite for her division’s annual potluck. It was meant for 80 people. But someone in the technology department had been tinkering with her listserv email, a variation of everyone@utah.gov, and suddenly the invitation went to more than 22,000 guests. That’s nearly every employee in Utah government.

Ms. Peterson quickly sent a correction email to her division. Except that, too, went to all 22,000 people.

“Hey team! So fun times... Google Calendar automatically added every single person in the state of Utah address book to our Holiday Potluck. (And we don’t have room for all those people!)”

The party wasn’t canceled, she added, and she would be sending out an updated invitation.

Utah’s employees, unable to resist that button with the jaunty backward arrows, quickly replied all.

9:30 a.m. Becky in tourism: “I think you added the wrong Becky to your contact list.”

9:31 a.m. Bonnie in alcohol control: “Shucks we were all planning on coming. LOL.”

9:31 a.m. Shaleece in the rehabilitation office: “Read the message. Please stop replying all.”

9:32 a.m. Karla at the health department: “I think you got the wrong Matheson!”

9:36 a.m. An unnamed writer in tax waivers: “STOP THE MADNESS!!!!”

9:39 a.m. Bridgette in prison records: “Please bring a $5 white elephant gift.”

Ms. Peterson, watching her inbox grow, went into a panic. “We flipped out,” she said of her office. She called the state’s technology department, where someone explained that an employee had accidentally added the entire government staff to her division’s group email. Then she started to laugh.

“It happens,” she said in an interview on Monday. People are nice in Utah. Since Friday, she has received dozens of emails from people thanking her for adding levity to their day. “What can you do about it but laugh?” she added.

A spokeswoman for the state technology department, Stephanie Weteling, confirmed that an employee had made a mistake, and said that her department removed most staff from the group list within 12 minutes. After that, anyone who hit Reply All sent a message only to Ms. Peterson and a select group of her colleagues.

No one would be reprimanded, she added, but the employee would receive additional training. Luckily, there was no confidential information in the original message. “We are fortunate with that,” Ms. Weteling said.

Ms. Peterson urged future victims of email storms not to take the messages so seriously. “It opened the door to have a little fun,” she said. Many government jobs are, after all, repetitive and thankless.

“We’re still having the potluck,” she added, clarifying that Utah employees outside of her division are not invited. “We might order a few extra meat and cheese trays just in case we have some extra people show up.”