Those of you signed up to my mailing list will have been receiving emails from me every fortnight or so, containing advance previews of photo galleries and videos which the site will include at launch, and news and updates on the progress I'm making. All of you except the people who have AOL email addresses, that is. Why? Because AOL hates spanking porn.
When the first and second newsletters were sent out, I got a handful of failure notices from a small number of addresses. Fine: some people probably mistyped, others might have given a fake address, no way to tell. I emailed each address individually asking for confirmation, and received replies from some, but not all.
Two weeks later and my mailing list was growing. This time, when I sent the third newsletter out, the problem was immediately obvious: six failure notices appeared in my inbox instantly, all from AOL addresses. Clearly, something was going wrong between my email and AOL's server.
This time I noticed that the error messages contained a code and a link. I clicked through and read:
There is at least one URL or domain in your e-mail that is generating substantial complaints from AOL members. Resolution will require opening a support request.
Oh, boy. I instantly guessed what had happened. One of my 'recommended links' was on their blacklist. At a guess, it was one of the big sites - not a small, independently run spanking site, but one of the Kink.com sites.
I submitted a support request with AOL, emphasising that my newsletter was opt-in and each person had willingly subscribed to be sent these mails. Then I emailled each AOL user and explained the situation. I sent them the link to the online version of the newsletter so they wouldn't miss out, and waited to hear back from AOL.
They replied the next day... and yep, it turned out my suspicions were correct: Kink.com was indeed the culprit. The block had been placed on MeninPain.com, but the AOL technician informed me that it had now been removed. Cool - I was pretty happy with their quick response. I wrote again to my AOL subscribers to tell them that the problem had been fixed and that they should recieve newsletter #4 to their inbox with no trouble.
Sadly, I spoke too soon.
Two weeks later: newsletter goes out; a dozen AOL failure notices appear in my inbox. The error message was the same: another blocked URL. This time I was seriously unimpressed. I wrote a firmly worded email to AOL support filling them in on the history, asking why the second blocked URL wasn't picked up on the first time, requesting that they remove the block, and asking what I can do to avoid this happening again. In the meantime I have to send yet another round of emails to my AOL subscribers apologising for the trouble we're having. This time, I ask if they have any alternative email addresses which I can add to the mailing list instead of their AOL one.
It took AOL support a few days to get back to me. When they did, they informed me that:
The domain spankingtube.com which is listed in your email is blocked due to high spam complaints.
HVU:B2 is generated if any URL present in the body of the email has been blocked by AOL for complaints.
Please remove that domain from your email and then try sending, it should go through.
In other words, this time they aren't willing to remove the block; nor are they willing to notify me of more than one blocked URL at a time. I could be going round this loop for months and still not hit all the blocked URLs. In the meantime, AOL users aren't getting my emails.
Is it me, or is putting these blanket blocks on URLs like SpankingTube and MeninPain coming perilously close to censorship? Especially when you then refuse to remove that block in order to allow AOL users to receive emails they have asked for and want to receive. Am I being targeted because this is sent out to a mailing list, or would an individual email sent to an AOL user containing a SpankingTube link be blocked too?
I don't see a way I can strip my newsletters down so as not to contain any 'risky; URLs. My video trailers are hosted using SpankingTube. I could self-host those, but I like the embedded player provided by SpankingTube (and the extra exposure for my trailers doesn't hurt). As for the recommended links ... I guess, to be safe, I could remove that section completely - but at that point the censors have won.
Fuck censorship, frankly. If you have an AOL address and like spanking porn, I'd seriously consider signing up for a second email address with another provider in order to get round the censors. And if you want to sign up for the Dreams of Spanking mailing list (and please, do - a lot of work goes into each issue, it's the first place I release advance preview content and between now and launch it's the only place I'll be sharing new free photogalleries!), I'd strongly advise you to do so with a non-AOL email address.