If ‘Lord of the Rings’ took place today…

9 04 2013


Mommy gets it.

12 02 2013


It’s complicated.

8 02 2013


Grants for Teachers sidebar ads crack me up.

7 12 2012

I admit it. I’m a Facebook user. And with that comes a lot of invasive advertising where they scan your personal information and attempt to match your interests with appropriate advertising.

Often with hilarious results.

Recently, my sidebar was hit with a couple of advertisements for “grants for teachers,” both featuring images of people that I can say with 99% certainty are not actual teachers.

Take this one for example. I’m fairly certain this chick, who looks a bit on the youngish side (she looks kind of like my friend Laura at age 19), is about to assault the photographer. And who can blame her? I believe she’s in the middle of saying, “you’d better not sell this picture to someone who will use it in a Facebook sidebar ad!”

And then there’s this super villain. He looks like an older version of Bryan Cranston from ‘Breaking Bad.’ If he shaved off the goatee, he could probably utter, “To me, my X-Men!” and convince someone that he works in education teaching “gifted youngsters.” As of now, he might be up for the bad-guy role in the next ‘Die Hard‘ movie.

As ridiculous as these ads are, I’m hoping for more. They’re highly entertaining!

– dEV

FAILBlog: Role reversal.

17 08 2012

MSNBC: What makes a troll tick? You can ask Dr. Troll

14 06 2012

By Nidhi Subbaraman, FastCompany.com

Whitney Phillips hunts trolls. For the past four years she’s watched them on forums and Facebook, studied patterns in their behavior, chatted online with a few, and even met a small handful.

It’s no small feat. These are tricksters prone to digital disruption and online hijinks for all kinds of reasons or none at all. And their dependence on anonymity makes them harder to track down than their Grimm namesakes. “You can’t just walk up to a troll and have a heart-to-heart,” Phillips says. But over the years, she’s built up relationships with trolls of all stripes and gotten as close as anyone to understanding what makes their tribe tick.

A troll once described a troll as “a normal person who does insane things on the Internet.” “Insane” could mean a whole range of different things — from mildly annoying behavior like Rickrolling to vicious attacks on Facebook memorial pages dedicated to dead children. So what, exactly, makes a troll a troll? That’s been the focus of the last few years of Phillips’s academic life, leading up to her newly earned Ph.D. She’s Dr. Troll now.

It takes one to know one
Trolling has been around in some form since the beginning of the Internet, but took on a very specific meaning by the mid-2000s. Phillips says there are four characteristics that distinguish trolls from other mischief-makers on the Internet (“I’m not responsible for assholes,” Phillips clarifies).

True trolls self-identify and think of themsleves as a troll. They mark their territory on forums with very specific references — a “trollish vernacular” — to let other trolls know that trolling is on. They seek “lulz,” “a particular sort of amoral laughter” at inappropriate jokes (think: disaster humor, racist humor or just plain cruel humor) once confined to private living rooms or clubs but now amplified by the web, Phillips says. “It’s sort of similar to schadenfreude except it’s much more pointed.” Schadenfreude would describe your glee if someone you didn’t like fell down, but with lulz, “You either participate in that misfortune or you’re living vicariously through the people who are. It’s much more active.”

And, although they’re willing to refer to themselves as trolls, they’re always anonymous, which is what makes trolls as a group hard to study — unless you’re Whitney Phillips.

4 Pillars Of Trolling Not all trolls are the same, but here are some calling cards, according to Whitney Phillips.

1. Self-ID. Trolls think of themselves as trolls and usually aren’t afraid to say it.

2. Vernacular. It’s always changing and often grammatically incorrect on purpose and has previously included terms such as “plox” (please), “fap” (masturbation), and “sauce” (asking for the source of an image).

3. Lulz. This pointed laughter is the troll reward, virtual troll food, an acknowledgement and reaction to a troll attack that is more participatory than regular laughter.

4. Anonymity. The center of a troll’s power, it’s the virtual cloak that lets a sane person acts a little insane online.

The spirit of trolling traces its roots to the beginning of the Internet, but organized itself in the online community 4Chan. “4Chan was the place where term ‘troll’ fixed itself,” Phillips says. Trolling lives on in the community today, most prolifically in the /b/ forums — a “trollspace” Phillips describes in a recent paper as “(A)n epicenter (arguably the epicenter) of online trolling activity, and consistently pumps out some of the Internet’s most recognizable, not to mention offensive, viral content.”

Of course, trolling’s come a long way since its early days on 4Chan. It’s become common enough now, though, that it’s often confused with other disruptive behavior on the Internet. In an age where laws are being crafted to define and punish behavior on the Internet, being able to understand and distinguish trolling from other behavior is all the more critical. “Knowing what you’re dealing with before you legislate is almost always a good rule,” Phillips says, and her four-pillar theory is a solid start. “It wouldn’t just be trolling speech that gets caught in that dragnet, it would be political speech, unpopular speech…. We’re going to start seeing more and more state laws that overreach.”

(Full Story)


MSNBC: School officials’ Facebook rummaging prompts mom’s privacy crusade

19 05 2012

The school where I currently work had an incident recently that culminated in a fight that sent one student to the hospital and led to multiple expulsions. What lead up to this altercation? Threats, bullying, rumor-mongering, and other assorted trash-talk… mostly on FaceBook. It’s a huge challenge for school administrators to deal with behavior that occurs off-campus, and especially online. Students — and often parents — have the attitude that, if it happens off campus, it’s none of the school’s business. Well, when the off-campus and online activities lead directly to on-campus issues, it is absolutely the school’s business.


The following article discusses a parent taking action against a school that she claims has a regular habit of demanding students turn over their FaceBook passwords to administrators, and are known to occasionally rummage through students’ personal information looking for dirt.


I have a hard time believing it. Well, I know there are rogue administrators out there that will abuse their authority and abuse their power. Sure. But it looks like the school’s policy is very straightforward, and their standard operating procedure for dealing with online issues is very sound and typical of how most schools deal with these sorts of issues, at least in my experience.

So, yeah. I’m a bit cynical about this article, but it definitely warrants reading and discussing

– dEV

#     #     #
By Bob Sullivan
MSNBC Red Tape Chronicles

A mother who says her middle-school daughter was forced to let school officials browse the 13-year-old girl’s private Facebook page is speaking out against the practice because, she says, “other parents are scared to talk about it.”

Pam Broviak, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Geneva, Ill., says her daughter was traumatized when the principal of Geneva Middle School South forced the child to log in to her Facebook account, then rummaged through the girl’s private information.

“What a violation of my daughter’s privacy this whole episode was,” Broviak said. The incident took “a huge toll on my daughter, who ended up crying through most of the rest of the day and therefore missed most of her classes. She was embarrassed and very upset.”

There have been several descriptions lately of Facebook prying by schools – and one lawsuit was filed recently by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of an anonymous plaintiff against a school district that allegedly demanded a student’s social media passwords. But Broviak may be the first parent to go public with concerns about what she sees as serious violations of student privacy.

In a conversation with msnbc.com, Broviak said she confronted school officials about the incident involving her daughter soon after it occurred last fall and was told that they routinely investigate student issues by asking kids to log into their social networking pages — or cellphones — in the presence of administrators. And she said her daughter and other students told her they are frequently called into the principal’s office and told that they can’t leave until they surrender their passwords or unlock their phones and allow school officials to browse their personal information.

“(Students) let them see the accounts because otherwise, they are not allowed to leave the room. And that is just wrong,” she said.

Kent Mutchler, superintendent of Geneva schools, said in an interview with msnbc.com that he couldn’t comment on Broviak’s daughter because privacy rules prevent him from publicly discussing an individual student’s situation. But he said Broviak’s description of district policy is inaccurate.

“We would never demand someone’s password. When you have someone’s password, you open yourself up to other issues,” Mutchler said. “But if we have a disruptive situation, a school (official) will ask to see the page, and if the student refuses, we call the parents.”

But principals only request access to students’ social media pages under extreme circumstances, Mutchler said.

“There are different levels of concern. If there is a drug trafficking suspicion, we’ll get the police involved. If it’s something like cyberbullying, we’ll say, ‘This has been reported to us,’ and ask to see the page,” he said.

Often, students volunteer before they are even asked, he said.

“We ask, ‘Is there something you want to show us?’ that sort of thing. And they volunteer,” he said.

Such incidents are very rare among district middle schools, he said, contradicting Broviak’s assertion that the inspections are commonplace.

“It happens a half-dozen to a dozen times per year,” he said.

Broviak’s public complaint comes at a time when schools, employers and lawmakers around the country are wrestling with sticky privacy issues surrounding social networks. The state Legislature in Illinois is considering legislation that would make it illegal for employers to demand access to workers’ or applicants’ private social media information. That law is silent on the issue of schools and social media snooping, but federal legislation introduced last month by Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., would extend the protections to students, too.

(Full Story)


‘SNOPA’ would ban employers, schools from demanding Facebook passwords

29 04 2012
By Bob Sullivan

A New York Congressman has introduced federal legislation nicknamed “SNOPA” that would make it illegal for employers and educational institutions to require a potential or current employee, or a potential or current student, to divulge personal online information as part of the hiring, enrollment or discipline process.

The bill, with a full name of the Social Networking Online Protection Act, was introduced Friday by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).

“As you know, social media and networking has become such a widespread part of communications in our country, and around the globe. However, a person’s digital footprint is largely unprotected,” Engel said in a letter to Congressional colleagues asking that they support the proposal, which was obtained by msnbc.com from Engel’s office.

“There have been countless examples of employers requiring an applicant to divulge their user name and password as part of the hiring process. Additionally, some universities, and even secondary schools, have required the student either divulge their personal information, or grant the institution access to the personal account by ‘friending’ the student.”

The legislation would ban employers from requiring that employees or job candidates share social networking passwords or “other means of accessing a private account”; it would also ban post-secondary schools from disciplining students for failing to provide such access, or from discriminating against applicants who refuse to provide such access. Local educational agencies would also be banned from requiring login credentials.

“These coercive practices are unacceptable, and should be halted,” Engel said in the letter. “We have to draw a line between what is publicly available information, and what is personal, private content. I think we would all object to having to turn over usernames and passwords for email accounts, or even worse, to bank accounts. User-generated social media content should be no different.”

The Facebook password issue has been bubbling up for years — in 2009, a Maryland state employee complained that he was required to provide his Facebook password during a job interview. But the subject has gained much more attention in recent weeks, after several news reports, including an msnbc.com investigation.

(Full Story)


HuffPo: Kimberly Hester, Michigan Teacher’s Aide, Files Lawsuit For Losing Job After Denying School District Access To Facebook

4 04 2012

Posted: 04/ 1/2012 12:16 pm Updated: 04/ 1/2012 8:48 pm

A Michigan teacher’s aide is fighting a legal battle with the Lewis Cass Intermediate School District for removing her from her position after refusing to give the district access to her Facebook page.

Kimberly Hester was a teacher’s aide at Frank Squires Elementary School in Cassopolis, Mich. last April when she jokingly posted a photo of a coworker to her personal Facebook page. The picture shows a pair of shoes and pants around the ankles, WSBT-TV reports.

“It was very mild, no pornography,” Hester told the station.

A parent who was Facebook friends with Hester, and thus could see her posts, notified the school about the image. A few days later, Lewis Cass ISD Superintendent Robert Colby asked her repeatedly for access to her Facebook. Each time, Hester refused.

In response, the district’s special education director wrote to her that “…in the absence of you voluntarily granting Lewis Cass ISD administration access to you[r] Facebook page, we will assume the worst and act accordingly,” according to WSBT-TV.

Hester went on paid administrative leave, to collect workers’ compensation, before she was suspended. She is now on unpaid leave and is scheduled for arbitration in May.

“I stand by it,” Hester said in a statement. “I did nothing wrong. And I would not, still to this day, let them in my Facebook. And I don’t think it’s OK for an employer to ask you.”

Hester’s battle resonates with Michigan Republican state Reps. Matt Lori and Aric Nesbitt, who reportedly contacted the teacher’s aide Thursday to include her story in House Bill 5523. The legislation would make it illegal for employers to request employees’ login information for social networking sites.

(Full Story and Video)


SFChronicle: Scholarship providers vet students’ social networks

20 03 2012

Kathleen Pender

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Here’s another reason not to post photos of your high school beer bash online: They could cost you a college scholarship.

About one-fourth of scholarship providers who responded to a survey said they use sites such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter to check out applicants, primarily just finalists. Of those who do:

— About three-fourths are looking for behavior that could reflect badly on the scholarship provider, such as underage drinking, provocative pictures, illegal drug use or racial slurs.

— About one-quarter wanted to verify information on the application.

— More than half wanted to know the applicant better or were looking for positive traits such as creativity or good communication skills.

— About one-third have denied an applicant a scholarship, and a quarter have granted an applicant a scholarship, because of something they found online.

FastWeb and the National Scholarship Providers Association sent surveys to the association’s approximately 300 members in September. The 67 members who responded provide a cross-section of privately funded scholarships.

Not common yet

Although only a handful of providers – fewer than 10 – denied a scholarship based on their online sleuthing, the practice could become more common, as it has in employment.

“In the free-form comments, a couple of (scholarships providers) said they didn’t think about it until they got the survey,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org.

None of the providers were doing “real extensive research or background checks on applicants,” he says. “They are looking for red flags.”

Providers “are looking at whether the individual has good sense and will reflect well on the organization. There is the recognition that kids will be kids and will occasionally cross the line,” Kantrowitz adds. “Where they have zero tolerance is if they find information online that is inconsistent with what is on the application. If you are applying for a scholarship for poor students and your home is in a ZIP code with million-dollar homes, that will raise some questions.”

Kantrowitz could not disclose which providers review online profiles. He has heard, anecdotally, that some admissions offices also do it, but he knows of no research on that subject.

Deborah Fox, who helps families devise college funding solutions, says she was at a continuing education seminar where admissions officers discussed using online resources to screen applicants for admission and financial aid based on merit (but not need).

However, none of the colleges or scholarship providers I spoke to said they do it.

(Full Story)