Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
The "Report Spam" and "Junk" link serve an important function in the war against spam. However, used improperly, they can do much more harm than good.
As I was dealing with my email the other day, a friend was with me. He nearly when ballistic when I used the "Report Spam" button to get rid of some email in my in box. He said I was using it wrong. There's a right and wrong way? Why shouldn't I just use it?
Oh my. Yes, there is most definitely a wrong way to use it. In fact, it's so wrong, that you could be contributing to other people not being able to get their email.
Their legitimate, non-spam email.
The concept behind buttons like Junk in Hotmail, Spam in Yahoo Mail, Report Spam in Google's GMail, and similar buttons in different mailers is simple: let users decide what is and is not spam and then use that information to build a better spam filter. Spam is notoriously difficult to identify, but the theory goes that "you know it when you see it." As more and more people tell the mail services, "This is spam," these services can then use various characteristics of that mail to make their spam filters better.
Unfortunately, the flaw in this scenario is the users. As it turns out, they often do not know spam when they see it and report legitimate mail as spam. If enough people do that, then eventually legitimate mail starts getting blocked by spam filters. You and others cannot get the mail that you asked for because it was reported as spam.
Let's use an example. Let's say I'm a newsletter publisher (which, coincidentally, I am). In order to get my newsletter, you have to a) provide your email address, and then b) reply to an email sent to that address to confirm that you really, truly meant to sign up and you want my newsletter. That's referred to as "double-opt-in" and is the industry standard way of making sure that you really mean it when you sign up for an email newsletter.
So far, so good.
Now, you receive my newsletter. Maybe you don't like it. Maybe it's not what you expected. Either way, you explicitly asked to receive it and confirmed that you wanted it. By definition, it is not spam - spam is email you didn't ask for.
If you want to stop receiving this email, then the thing to do is hit the Unsubscribe link. Because you asked for this email and confirmed that you wanted it, the right thing to do is to follow the directions to unsubscribe from it.
If you use the "Report as Spam" button, you are harming both the publisher of that newsletter and the other subscribers to that newsletter. How? Because you've told the mailer that it's spam when it is not. The mailer may eventually start blocking that newsletter, not only from you, but from other recipients using the same service.
Think that's far-fetched? Think again. I know of several newsletters that are having delivery issues with some of the larger mail systems because a few people hit "Report as Spam" instead of unsubscribing as they should have. I know of at least one who's stopped supporting recipients of one mail service, and I know of another that's stopped accepting subscribers from Hotmail and Yahoo completely because of these types of deliverability issues.
"Report as Spam" is not a substitute for "Unsubscribe." If you asked for the mail, then use the proper steps to unsubscribe. If you know you did not, if you know that what you're looking at is truly spam – unsolicited email – then by all means, report it as spam.
But on behalf of all the legitimate newsletter publishers out there and their subscribers, please know the difference and act accordingly.