Maybe someone just thought it was funny, a good way to put a Halloween scare into a close friend, the cyber version of a fright wig.
But that's not the way I -- and a large number of other women -- saw it. We'd call it cyberstalking.
It was one of those electronic greeting cards you order online in which you fill in a few facts about the intended recipient (hair color, eyes, street where they live), and the personalized card pops up in their e-mail. Happy Halloween! Except that it wasn't a very good joke.
The card takes more than two minutes to play out, and it opens with a black screen. Eerie, menacing music plays in the background. And then the following words appear -- one line at a time ... in stark white typewriter type:
hi. how are you?
you don't know me
but I know you
I watch you
your every move
your every breath
does this make you uncomfortable?
I know all this because I sent one to myself to check it out. It was creepy. Bad creepy, not holiday creepy. And it went on:
you don't know me but I know you
does it bother you that I know your beautiful blue eyes
your soft blonde hair
you can turn this off, you know
and I'll be gone
or will i?
maybe I'm nearby
oh, where is that again?
that's right, Columbus avenue.
i'm watching you.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author and a founder of Ms. Magazine, was one of those who sent a protest letter to American Greetings.
She explained her reaction in an e-mail to me: "Even though I sent the message to myself as a test, and even though I knew I'd put in my personal information and knew what I'd filled in, and where, I got the chills when my name came on the screen with that threatening music in the background. And when the text typed out my eye color, hair color, and street name, I swear I couldn't watch. It felt much too real."
I even showed mine to a colleague who had to turn her head from the screen.
I don't know how many women contacted American Greetings to express their anger, but it must have been a flood, because the company said it pulled the card from their Web site last Saturday at 7 a.m. That didn't ban the nasty little zeroes and ones from continuing to wreak havoc: I sent mine to myself this afternoon. As of now, it seems to be gone. From that site.
American Greetings sent this official response to ABC News:
"We are truly sorry for any concern this e-greeting has caused and never meant for it to be offensive. Domestic violence and stalking are very serious issues, and ones that we certainly never intended to diminish in any way. Sadly, we realize that they affect many people each year."
And who knows how many more, courtesy of the e-card.
As Sharon Ferguson-Quick, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women put it in an e-mail: "Halloween is supposed to be about fun candy and cute kids dressed up, not serious illegal matters such as stalking."
Another outraged woman took a more optimistic tack, in view of the removal of the card from the site. "Thank goodness for the power of women's advocacy."
Still, you have to wonder. An American Greetings customer service representative named Joshua M. ended his note of apology to one complainant this way: "In addition, we are refocusing our creative efforts to take into consideration issues such as these when developing new products in the future."
You have to wonder why it never occurred to them in the first place.
Have a happy, and safe, Halloween.