Are you afraid that old e-mail could come back to haunt you?
You ought to be!
No matter how diligent you think you are about deleting your e-mail from every nook and cranny of your computer, it still can come back to haunt you. Chances are that nasty note you sent in a rage is still lurking somewhere — even if you can't see it.
Many people are learning that the hard way. In recent years, e-mail has become a key component in disputes, harassment cases and even lawsuits. People have been fired over e-mail gaffes, and others have lost friends. Wall Street crime-buster Eliot Spitzer, New York's attorney general, has publicly joked that other people's e-mail is his best friend.
Regina Lewis, AOL's consumer adviser, appeared on The Saturday Early Show to offer some tips on preventing the ghosts of e-mails past from coming back to rattle their chains at you.
The best tactics are preventive:
Think before you type.
Don't ever write anything you wouldn't say to anyone's face. It is an odd fact of modern human behavior that careless statements, gossip, insults and threats are much more likely to be sent by e-mail than to be spoken out loud.
And there's a lot of e-mail going around — literally. Roughly 700 million people now use e-mail, and they send 60 billion e-mails every day.
Think again, and then hit "unsend."
The "unsend" button is one of AOL Mail's most popular features, Lewis reports, and for good reason. If you regret firing fast enough, you can withdraw that e-mail bomb before it blows up in someone else's mailbox.
Keep business and personal e-mails separate.
Whether your boss has mentioned it or not, many companies track employee e-mail. Almost all companies have the ability to read what you send from your business e-mail account.
Don't send confidential information via e-mail.
It's too easy for a recipient to forward your message, save it, or print it out and leave it lying around. Keep your personal and financial information out of e-mail.
Don't send e-mail when you're angry.
When you get an e-mail that makes you angry, squash that human impulse to hit back hard. Wait. You'll be glad you did.
Lewis notes that you can buy sophisticated e-mail management tools designed for consumers — many are available — that let you track and delete your e-mail, to prevent it from being forwarded or printed or stored, and to "unsend" a message even after it's sent.
But ironically, in this increasingly sophisticated digital age, your best move may be picking up the telephone. Or, better yet, if the subject is tricky, try a face-to-face conversation.