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Email fail leaves 29,000 students subscribed to gay porn and Sarah Palin



Rob Price

Internet Culture

Posted on Oct 9, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 10:51 am CDT

An email fail on Wednesday evening at the University College London (UCL) has left all 29,000 thousand students at the institution able to email one another—resulting in thousands and thousands of spam messages being sent overnight, as well as subscriptions for everything from the Sarah Palin channel to hardcore pornography.

Dubbed #Bellogate, it all began with an email allegedly from university provost Michael Arthur—though student tabloid The Tab reports that it was an impostor. The email was a single word—“bello!”—and was sent out to a student-wide mailing list to the everyone in the nearly 30,000-strong student population. 

Sparked by this strange email from the Provost #bellogate

— kadhim (@kadhimshubber) October 9, 2014

From there it spiralled out of control; reply-all messages abounded, the address was subscribed to all manner of mailing lists, and the student body  lost its collective mind. As of Thursday morning, UCL students and faculty members had received almost 3,000 emails.

Just a normal morning cleaning out my UCL email account of the nightly email #bello #bellogate

— Steven Gray (@frogo) October 9, 2014

Shoutout to whoever’s responsible for #bellogate! Nothing like waking up to 3000 emails

— Еmili (@Emili_Stevenson) October 9, 2014

Some of the initial reply-all responses didn’t veer far from the script, opting just for a “bello!”

@BBCBreaking UCL email accounts have gone mental, 400+ replies to our provost’s email saying bello. #bellogate

— ash_mohan (@Ash_Mohan) October 8, 2014

Others were particularly uninspired.

So out of the 1006 ucl bello emails someone has managed to inform everyone about a missing ruler #bellogate

— Nadzia (@Nadziaaa) October 8, 2014

Then people got a bit more risqué.

Someone @uclnews is going to have a fun morning cleaning up this mess #bellogate #bello

— Bo Franklin (@punderachiever) October 8, 2014

The opportunity was seized to rekindle some old university student rivalries.

Kings College just got an application from All UCL Students. They have to accept us, we got into UCL. #bellogate

— Naomi Barton (@naomi0_0barton) October 8, 2014

To the KCL student who emailed all 26k students of UCL just to ask if our emails were fixed yet – you’re a prize tool. #bellogate

— Victoria (@VictoriaMonro) October 9, 2014

Parody Twitter accounts sprang up.

Bello world!

— BELLO (@UCLBello) October 8, 2014

Sports fans got in on the action.

Bello supports the one, the only @SpursOfficial ! #bello #bellogate

— BELLO (@UCLBello) October 9, 2014

As did One Directioners.


— The Cheese Grater (@UCLCheeseGrater) October 9, 2014

And politics geeks.

@UCLBello on the other hand…

— Claire McNear (@clrmcnr) October 9, 2014

Thanks to the UCL email fiasco, UKIP has gained 30K new members. Unfortunately 1/3 of those are international students #dilemma #bellogate

— Greg Eydmann (@GregEydmann) October 9, 2014

Tone varied wildly between messages.

Meanwhile, official UCL administration emails were either compromised or impersonated.

Something tells me this email wan’t really from the service desk. #bellogate

— The Cheese Grater (@UCLCheeseGrater) October 9, 2014

They hacked the UCL Library email too 😂😂😂 #bellogate

— Shaima Sherif (@ShaimaSherif) October 9, 2014

Memes ricocheted across the Twittersphere.

We have a meme! Awesome #bellogate

— Danny West (@silencekid85) October 9, 2014

As did puns.

Looks like #UCL e-mail has officially contracted the ebello virus. #bellogate

— Sabbir Malik (@MisterSabz) October 8, 2014

Hey @uclisd, need to find someone to come and fix #bellogate?

— Bo Franklin (@punderachiever) October 8, 2014

Checked my emails this morning, now I’m belloing with rage #bellogate

— Jon Wright (@JonSnurrbart) October 9, 2014

The frenzied activity pushed the hashtag #bellogate to the top of the U.K.-wide Twitter trending charts overnight.

“Trending UK:01:31 AM BST” 1. #bellogate 2. #GBBOfinal 3. #AskJamesArthurAnything 4. #TOWII 5. #ThePointlessBookUS 6. Nancy

— TrendieUK – Trends (@TrendieUK) October 9, 2014

#bellogate is trending No.1 in the UK. At this point, UCL more or less has to capitalise on it and adapt all publicity to be bello based

— The Cheese Grater (@UCLCheeseGrater) October 9, 2014

Students then decided to bring bello into the real world.

Some took the opportunity to revel in the schadenfreude of it all.

Love it that UCL is trending through #bellogate rather than its recent Nobel prize….

— Matthew Ingleby (@matthewingleby) October 9, 2014

I feel really sorry for all the poor souls who didn’t set up an email rule when all this #bellogate stuff started. #2500Emails #UCL

— The Gar. (@GSC94) October 9, 2014

PhD student Carrie Behar has been one of the few voices of reason.

UCL students – avoid checking your email if you can. We’ve all been spammed with 2500+ emails & it’ll clog up your phone #bello #bellogate

— Carrie Behar (@LoLoStudent) October 9, 2014

Some students are taking a rational approach to the problem.

bye bye

— Raya راية (@RayaSharbain) October 9, 2014

UCL Political Theory lecturer Guy Aitchison, meanwhile, was particularly unimpressed by the entire situation.

If anything, the #bellogate UCL email hack flooding my inbox has exposed the dearth of witty one-liners among today’s students. Poor show.

— GuyAitchison (@GuyAitchison) October 9, 2014

Irony of people replying all to tell everyone else to “Stop replying all” does get a little tiring after 2000 spam emails…#bellogate

— GuyAitchison (@GuyAitchison) October 9, 2014

Not all the emails were harmless fun, as a tweet from another PhD student reveals.

With over 2,000 juvenile, racist and homophobic emails sent overnight it feels a bad time to email my students. #bellogate

— Ms Anonymous (@secretlondon) October 9, 2014

A statement issued by UCL on Monday morning acknowledged the “urgent problems with all student email—but significantly underestimates the scale of the problem.

UPDATE: The email address has been blocked and #Bellogate is officially over, a current UCL student has confirmed to the Daily Dot—and recriminations and finger-pointing have already begun.

CURRENT RECRUITMENT: Major London university seeks new Provost & IT Director following enormous cockup #bellogate #bello

— Chris (@InevitablyChris) October 9, 2014

The provost is currently traveling, the Daily Dot has been informed, and is not immediately available for comment.

Photo via William Wilkins / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

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*First Published: Oct 9, 2014, 5:44 am CDT