Online Rights and Safety

Picture of several European newspapers with Wikileaks-related headlines
Photo Credit: The War Logs by Alex Covic

Wikileaks Iraq and Afghan War Diaries (note: since December 3, 2010, it has been impossible to reach the site through this URL. For more information on this, see here.) has once again dominated broadcast news in recent days, not only in the U.S., but elsewhere around the globe. Aside from the short- and long-term political, military and economic ramifications from the leak of these documents, one thing is clear: the Internet has made it extremely easy for anyone just about anywhere to virally disseminate information on a global scale.

So what does that mean for you, your colleagues and your students? In this week’s session we’ll take a look at concerns related to online rights and safety as reflected in the multiple perspectives found in our readings. We’ll discuss here how these issues impact us personally and professionally. We’ll all read In Defense of Open, Online Communication in Education by Jason Welker and divide up the rest of the readings among us. You’ll post a summary of your reading selection and your reaction to your reading, especially as it relates to our common reading for the week. During our Friday class we’ll have a chance to discuss this further and our first four presenters will share their class projects with us. I look forward to our Friday session and your blog posts here!

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23 Responses to “Online Rights and Safety”

  1. carsten01 Says:

    Thinking about digital footprints, read this headline from Time Magazine in October 2010, “Who’s linked in? 7% of Babies Boast their Own Email Address.” To avoid leaving a digital footprint is almost impossible for someone who grew without internet but pursues a career. It sure is impossible for someone who was born when the internet was all around them.
    But leaving behind a digital footprint does not need to be something negative. If it is purposely left, it can be highly beneficial. As Jason Welker stated in his article “In Defense of Open, Online Communication in Educatin”, “my digital profile is very important to my personal and professional life. I think it is safe to say that to some extent, it was my proliferate online presence that got me to where I am in my career today.” But consciously building a digital reputation takes some strategy.
    David Truss provides a guide to build a digital footprint. His main points are to select and follow people and networks, share your ideas , and engage in online discussions.
    What becomes evident is that leaving behind a digital footprint is active work and takes monitoring. As Sarah Edson argues in her blog “Learning off the Beaten Path” , one needs to “explore and, if necessary, clean up [one’s] digital footprint.” Checking privacy settings, cleaning up one’s friend lists, and thinking before posting, seem necessary steps to her to monitor one’s aperance on the web.
    Talking about 7 % of Babies having already eMail means that we encounter generations for whom virtual environments are second nature. This means that we as educators have to remind our students that the footprint left behind by them can be used for good or misused for bad. To demonstrate just how much everyone can find out about a specific person, Clarence Fisher gave his students the task of finding as much information about people of whom they only had a name and a picture. Fisher’s students found quite a bit. This experiment demonstrates how important it is to monitor what we do on the web. As one of the persons Fishers’ students were asked to find remarked, “they found basically the same things; which is exactly the things I have shared and want people to find.”
    But what about content that we do not put up ourselves but is posted about us? How much control do we have about what other people think about us? Technology does not only provide us to put information out there, it also provides others to do the same and by multiplication, how much of this can we actually filter and clean up? How much time do we actually have to engage in online discussions or to write meaningful blogs or responses? I feel that there is a tremendous amount of pressure that builds up in order to create a digital footprint. And if this already “starts” when you are a baby, we do not only need to consider content but also management in order to get some life-quality and free time.

    • Eleonora Boscolo Camiletto Says:

      I found Welker’s article very interesting and useful and I understand the point that you make in the end but I think that is a problem that people have always faced, even before the internet and before digital footprints. Sure, the internet raises again the problem of privacy, but you can never ‘control what other people think of us’. It is a hard job to keep you digital footprint ‘clear’ and alway take control of what information you are posting out there about yourself but like you said, it is impossible for our generation not to have one.

      • carsten01 Says:

        Ja, I agree with you. There has never been a way to control what people thought of you, but it was limited to a certain range.
        Thinking about facebook. One negative post by one friend and maybe hundreds of people know about it in an instant. The multiplier effect is just way higher, using social media than face to face. For social interaction in our everyday life this might not be so different from 10 years ago, but I think it is very different when it comes to our professional life. More and more companies search your footprint and base their assumption of you on that data. Thus, a first impression is formed that is hard, if not impossible, to be changed.

        • Eleonora Boscolo Camiletto Says:

          Using Facebook, as your example, you have the option to disable friend’s posts on your wall. My point is you need to be very careful and know the tools that you are using online and how you can strategically ‘protect’ your digital footprint. This is actually the topic of the article I read.

      • Karen Zook Says:

        Absolutley, Eleonora. The issue of anonymity isn’t one confined to the internet, either. I listen to Car Talk regularly, and they frequently have callers give their first and last names, even though there’s a clear expectation that they use first names only.

        It’s certainly understandable that a parent would be concerned, but there seems to be something about the internet that inspires this sort of over-concern; if the student in Welker’s article had had her name published in, say, the newspaper for an op-ed or as part of an article on a class project she’d done, the father probably would have reacted quite differently, even though odds are good that article *also* would have been online. There’s something about digital media that seems to inspire fear of a loss of control; the current generation of students (and I include us in that, of course) need to be learning how to manage our online identities, not how to avoid having them.

        • Karen Zook Says:

          (yikes, and I’m replying to myself. I am a rude digital citizen!)

          The one thing that wasn’t clear from Welker’s article was whether posting on his blog is an expectation/requirement of the course. A cursory glance around Economics in Plain English gives me the impression that it isn’t; that is, the students aren’t necessarily expected to comment on the blog posts. It seems, then, that if the father in question has a problem with his daughter’s participation in an online discussion, he’s the one who needs to make his expectations clear to her; it sounds like Welker himself has addressed issues of digital privacy and anonymity with his students, and left them with the avenue to make their own choices about the extent to which they choose to participate in a digital learning community.

          I personally maintain two online identities; this one, obviously, is not anonymous, but I also have a non-identifiable pseudonym I use for participation in political communities and things that I wouldn’t necessarily want to turn up in a google search by a potential employer. Of course, from the fact that that’s the way I’ve chosen to conduct my online life it’s probably apparent that I think it’s a good way to manage my online presence, so I may be biased… even so, it seems that instruction in that type of identity management might be a useful skill to teach young students who may not have the necessary developmental stages to make informed choices.

          • melinaanne Says:

            This idea of having two online identities is an interesting one. I wonder if even something as simple as a pseudonym would have solved Welker’s problem with his student and her father. Maybe if he had encouraged (but maybe not required) his students to come up with some kind of clever pseudonym (also giving them a chance to explore their own identities a little) for their posts, they would have been a little less “exposed.” Of course, the downside to this is that not using their own names could have a negative effect on their professional, intellectual online identities, making them less recognizable and more difficult to follow for potential employers. In any case, I agree with you, Karen, that we need to teach students this kind of “identity management.”

        • jarcastillo Says:

          I think we can all agree that there might be a generational difference between what is private and what is “fair game” for the world to know about us. I also agree that perhaps it might be a matter of learning to to manage our online identities as Karen describes it, but what if we have reached a point of no return where it might no longer be up to us what we are able and/or willing to disclose about ourselves? A few things come to mind: Facebook facial recognition app and interactive advertising. While we can “opt-out” of the Facebook facial recognition app, until we do so, there is a chance that unwanted pictures of us might be “tagged” until we try to do something about it. Also, every time we give our phone number or email address at a store (if we lie or give a fake phone number, paying with a credit card also gives them basic contact information) we are putting ourselves “out there” in that world without privacy. An article from ten years ago that posed the question, “Is privacy possible in the digital age?” more relevant today when we are “volunteering” ourselves through an array of social networking media. A simple search of “flip camera” I did a few months ago still has me receiving emails on special offers to purchase one. Even if you erase your history or set your browsing to private, or forget what you were looking for, someone or something in cyberspace won’t let you forget.

  2. claudiopi Says:

    My reading is by Wesley Fryer, who I picked on purpose because he was presenting one of the sessions I attended on Elluminate. And even this time I haven’t been wrong. The article is worth a moment of reflection. He is incredibly attentive to security and privacy online, which is something that has or that has to be considered of an enormous importance in an era like this one, where you can actually write, say, post, communicate EVERYTHING about you. It’s sort of become something, for various reasons, necessary. No matter if it’s stupid or serious necessity, but the more you have on the Internet, the more are the chances that your information is at risk if you don’t use your sense of caution.
    So, the problem described by Fryer is very concrete and can be summarized in few words: do not log into any websites (Facebook in primis) if you’re on a public Internet connection! Or at least, if you do it, be aware of the risk, because people can access your account or, in other words, stalk you. And Fryer, who is clearly not a pro hacker, proved that, installing this software called Firesheep. This works as a Firefox extension that through the browser cookies can (re)access anyone’s login information. And this happens especially and extremely easily for those websites like Facebook that have no persistent https connections. These types of https are more secure and avoiding the technical part, it seems like they help the creation of these cookies, which are basically the storage of our private information!
    Fryer suggests then 3 tips to help us avoiding the risk:
    AVOID LOGINS ON UNSECURE NETWORKS: which means, to log out from Facebook (yes, we blame it all on Facebook, but it’s only one example) if you’re on your computer on an unsecure connection. Also avoid logging in to on public computers.
    USE HTTPS EVERYWHERE WITH FIREFOX: This is a free add-on for Firefox. It forces the browser to always use secure http(s) (“hypertext transfer protocol” in case you wonder. It’s the protocol through which we navigate on the web with a browser).
    USE A VPN SERVICE: This seems the best choice for Fryer. VPN stands for virtual private network and one possible service is the one offered by Astrill.

    These are all very good advices since, before such an abundant resource of information like the Internet, we can forget about keeping our information safe. Don’t you think people are too careless? And I don’t know if you actually heard or knew about this danger of posting pictures on Facebook that will never be completely deleted even when your account is closed? We can actually go further in the subject and see that bugs of security are present in different types of forms. So please, let’s start thinking about Fryer’s reflection!

    • aljarrash Says:

      It is really an interesting topic since all of us are using the internet and posting pictures,articles and personal information .We have to be careful on how to keep all the information posted save and away from hackers.I always login into my facebook account without any fair because I didn’t know that others can get to my account and see or may use my personal things.Fryer 3 suggested tips are very important to be taken in consideration to avoid being in trouble using websites.When I came to US and started using the net ,I was surprised on why they have two internet access like the ones we have at UCONN”Uconn secure and Uconn public.I was asking myself what is the difference.My friend explained that when I tried to register my computer into Uconn network.He told me that the secure one is safe and keeps all information you put.From claudiopi article I understood more that using the secure access to the net is safer and must be used to stop to get worried about what is posted. I know that some of the threats are real, others are fears based on misconceptions. But the distinction hardly matters.As I know that not all people will be under a threat to be stolen.Not all what you post are in danger as well ,so we should ask ourselves some questions.Which online segments are most at risk?and
      Will the threats abate or get worse?The answer maybe difficult but there should be one answer at least to help us know more how to protect ourselves when online.The three tips Fryer mentioned:-AVOID LOGINS ON UNSECURE NETWORKS ,USE HTTPS EVERYWHERE WITH FIREFOX and USE A VPN SERVICE are all good and I think enough this time to get a good privacy and security .I agree with claudiopi when saying it is time to think of Fryer’s speech and have a good step towards protecting our privacy.Everytime I think of networking and internet ,I think of those hackers how could they develop new ideas to destroy the good built in the net and the future is the only one knows about itself.

  3. melinaanne Says:

    The article “Hitting Pause on Class Videos” brings up an issue that would have a significant effect on my own personal teaching style and philosophy, and I imagine that I am not alone. The article brings up the conflict between copyright law and technology in the classroom, citing as an example a situation at the University of California Los Angeles. As of January, the university is no longer allowed to include copyrighted videos on password-protected course websites, as this has been recognized by the Association for Information and Media Equipment to be in violation of copyright laws. According to the group, the exemption that allows professors to show videos in class does not translate into the online environment as access may be unlimited. The university maintains its innocence, and also makes the point that by allowing students access to films, they are expanding their worlds and thus making more possible—and probable—that students might actually purchase some of the films on their own, thus boosting sales. I feel like this is very similar to the reaction that the music industry had to illegally downloading songs: Instead of finding a way to embrace the new medium, they dragged their heels and tried to play the copyright card, only managing to make an example of a few people while the rest of the world continued to demand free—or at least very cheap—online access to music. At this point, using films, movie clips or even music videos is a part of the curriculum, especially for us as foreign language teachers. Classrooms are equipped for technology so that we as teachers can show students things we never could before. I understand the complaint of the copyright group because I understand why artists would want to protect their work. But using their art is an homage to them—and it is increasingly available at little or no charge online. I honestly don’t know how to satisfy both sides, but I do know that my own lessons would suffer without the films clips and music that I use so often, and my students’ exposure to culture in particular would be so much less.

    Jason Welker’s article also shows this reluctance to embrace 21st century tools and educational philosophies. While I understand the father’s concern for his daughter’s privacy, I think the interesting thing to note is that SHE was not worried. And here we have the generation gap. I know from talking to people of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations that privacy online is incredibly important to them, and one of their biggest worries. They are alarmed when advertisements appear on screen that are geared towards their interests—it’s that fear of Big Brother watching and they are thoroughly uncomfortable with it. But I’ve seen with my own students and the high school and college levels that privacy isn’t much of an issue for them. They post suggestive pictures of themselves on Facebook without giving it a second thought—why would they worry about what they post on an Economics blog for school? People are now making their personal lives increasingly public, and I think that making their academic lives equally so might provide the kind of balance that some students might desperately need, to show them that there is a place online for their ideas as well as their drunken photos. Experimenting intellectually in an online environment probably feels much safer for many students than a face-to-face class, and in using the blog Welker is making his students a part of a global community. I think that’s pretty “cutting edge.”

    • beatebirkefeld Says:

      Melina, I share your thoughts about the generation gap. Every generation has serious worries when a new medium arises. In our parent’s generation it was the internet, in our grandparents the TV and in other generations it was the motor vehicle. It was not until we had serious accidents that people starting thinking about the dangerous changes that can come along with new innovations. We cannot stop those changes, but we can introduce policies to ease the transition. Our generation grew up with the internet, but still I can’t imagine having internet or music on my cell phone, but it’s natural for most teenagers. I remember my parents telling me how they could not talk to their friends via phone when they were young: They criticized how much time I spent on the phone with the people I see every day in school: “What did you talk about? We weren’t able do that when we were young.” Most social patterns have changed – the telephone and internet have changed how we define friendships. Some people have hundreds of friends with who they don’t even talk in real life. But strangely it seems to be working out for everyone and in some cases it even benefits our careers, like networking on Diigo. How did people to that 20 years ago??
      It is important that we have discussions about the cons, too!

  4. Eleonora Boscolo Camiletto Says:

    Wesley Fryer’s article “Google Profiles, Online Reputation Management, and Digital Footprints” introduces the question of digital footprints, how we should be aware of the existence of personal digital footprint and its importance, how we should learn about it and ‘control’ it, and how we can deal with it in the ‘digital natives’ era.
    Fryer discusses some tools that we can use to create a digital identity online where we can condense all the information about ourselves that we want to be on the web and limit and control those that we don’t want.
    The article touches an important point: we’ve all started accounts, blogs or profiles online with a nickname, but when should we start using our real name?
    The question is legitimate, if you are a professional and you are trying to leave a digital footprint of yourself when people ‘google’ your name, you should really start using your real name. You can also claim your digital identity by collecting your alias(es) under your name and have a complete digital footprint of your life online.
    Unfortunately I can’t seem to figure out this last tool (and I will keep trying until I do) but it seems like a really interesting way to keep track of our digital footprint.
    In a generation of digital natives this becomes almost necessary. Here is a video from the “digital natives project” that will open your eyes on the notion of digital footprint and its importance for the new generations. It is thus important to instruct digital natives to protect their identity and to well manage the tools that we have available on the internet.

    • beatebirkefeld Says:

      Eleonora, thank for the video. That was really mind-blowing! That would basically mean, that we can’t escape our digital footprint. Every information is now stored online. Credit card companies think they know us from archiving our purchase information and credit scores since the day we were born. Employers review our Facebook. How do we protect ourselfes from bad reputation, different interpretation, or even misrepresenations? I remember hearing or reading a story about a woman who lost her job because she made a facebook status about how much she hates her work and called her boss bad names. Most of us have their Facebook privacy settings very secure and feel safe, even private (with their 1,000 friends…). Unfortunately for her, she forgot that she was friends with her boss, who commented on her status, saying she does not have to return to work starting tomorrow.

      • melinaanne Says:

        Our discussions in this class have really made me think about certain things in terms of privacy, and this video illustrates them so well. Namely, that younger generations (especially those born now) will likely have a completely different concept of it (if they have one at all). I look at my friends who post their sonograms on Facebook, and it makes me think, “Wow, that child is all over the Internet before he/she is even fully developed!” They have a digital footprint before they actually make footprints in the world. I wonder what children who grow up in this “sharing” kind of environment will think about privacy, or IF they will think about it.

  5. beatebirkefeld Says:

    I read the article by Jeff Jarvis, who wonders why we have a line between private and public. He has observed German’s strange behavior when it comes to protecting our privacy: “They’re going after Facebook on privacy. They say that Google Analytics violates privacy. They even enable convicted killers to expunge their names from Wikipedia out of privacy. […] Yet go into a German sauna, and there the Germans are, male and female, together, sweaty and naked. Germans protect the privacy of everything but their private parts.” While I personally agree with one of the article’s commentators and the theory that there is a historic reasoning to this awkward German behavior, Jarvis suggests that “control might be the key to the phenomenon.” A place like the sauna is a “private” place because there is (hopefully) no intention of documenting the recent visit on the internet. However, a lot of Germans fear that Google street cars might catch them in the act of sitting naked in their car’s trunk or seeking help from a drug addicts shelter when they really thought nobody was watching them. Those are serious privacy issues that are beyond our control. My Google Picasa has an automatic face recognizer. After returning from a recent trip to a larger event with a couple of thousand people, the program wanted me to name the zoomed in (!) faces of a couple hundred strangers. Of course everyone runs the risk of being part of a family snapshot wherever we go on vacation, but “back in the old days” we knew that we would most likely only end up in someone’s private family album.
    After reviewing the story of the naked man in his trunk somewhere in Germany, I discovered another recent article about our digital footprints – Meanwhile the naked man may have found out that he was featured in one of Germany’s largest online newspapers. There might even be a chance that his neighbors read the article and identified him; plus he is a major argument for better privacy control in my comment here – The other article by Thomas Tuma talks about how the journalist took a self-test and googled his name. He found a couple thousand hits plus a “Verkehrspädagoge in Hessen” (something similar to a psychological behaviorist for car traffic, I suppose, somewhere in central Germany, but that is not too important to tell the story.). The name he googled was what he called the “digital me/self”, a digital person created of “bits and links” designed by Google, but not the same person he is in real life. Similar to Mario’s Nintendo, he continues, Google created this person many years ago, without asking him – the original. For Thomas Tuma the internet has become a place where people use his name to create fake identities with obscure ideologies; Amazon and Apple’s iTunes electronically store Tuma’s preferences; the internet suggest him vacation trips, friends and love interests. Once someone has publicized our information, it is difficult, if not impossible to reclaim it. Even after Tuma dies, the internet will still remember.
    Today, I am using the power of my laptop and the internet to leave a digital footprint for Thomas Tuma: Thomas Tuma is a journalist for the German online newspaper Der Spiegel. In one of his articles “Kampf ums Ich”, he argues why Germany’s current discussion about the implementation of Google Street View is not about the company’s innovative technology itself, but about identity issues. In his free-time, he enjoys breeding guinea pigs. Rock on, Thomas!

  6. Karen Zook Says:

    Wesley Fryer’s Unmasking the Digital Truth is a wiki designed to explain some of the reasons why organizations (specifically, school administrators) might choose to block access to particular sites.

    The reasons given are wide-ranging, from bandwidth concerns to FERPA to parental and/or administrative fears about student safety. Fryer explicates the reasoning behind these content bans and follows up with a clear explanation of precisely the issue at stake (so, for example, the page on FERPA lays out what administrative concerns lead to the blocking of particular sites, and then explains that these concerns are not necessarily even in line with FERPA regulations, which he also explains in detail).

    I view this wiki as a useful tool in gathering resources to argue against justification for blocking particular sites. With the exception of bandwidth concerns, which I see as an unavoidable-but-unfortunate reality, I personally don’t think schools should block anything but really explicit material*; even things like Facebook, which administrators block as potential distractions, occasionally have useful educational purpose. In addition to which, the reality that almost every student in the building is carrying a cell phone and most of those likely have some web capability really makes excessive control of the physical network a bit beside the point.

    The question we need to be asking ourselves (and I think Fryer would support this) is: to what extent do the regulations and controls we are establishing benefit students?

    *a few weeks ago I tried to access a site at the high school that happened to contain the word “adult,” referring to mature humans in a not-at-all-problematic context, and was prohibited from doing so by the school’s content filters. No one had bothered to evaluate the eventuality that students might have a legitimate need to access information, and instead had let the fear that one of them might, potentially, access something inappropriate dictate a decision that prevented me from accessing a resource that would have been useful in my classroom. So, yes, we need some content filters, but we also need a functioning brain behind the keyboard at which those filters are set up and maintained.

  7. Niko Says:

    In addition to the text “In Defense of Open, Online Communication in Education” by Jason Welker, which we all read, I read the text “The German privacy paradox” by Jeff Jarvis.
    The authors expresses the opinion that Germans are more private that anyone he knows. According to Jarvis, Germans complain about Google Streetview, don’t like facebook because of privacy issues but don’t have any problem being entirely naked in unisex saunas. He thinks this is very paradox: “Germans protect the privacy of everything but their private parts.”
    The issue is, according to Jarvis, not privacy but control. As long as people (in this example: Germans) can control what they want to make public it is ok for them. We do not want to make information public that could be negative for us. We do not want anybody to be able to steal our identity, we do not want to feel embarrassed because somebody know something we would have never told this person.
    In a German sauna everybody is naked, you know what to expect and there is no reason to feel uncomfortable with it. It makes a difference if we choose to be naked or if somebody decides for us that we have to go though the body scanner when we want to fly.
    This article is very interesting because it does not only address Online Rights and Safety issues, but because it also deals with cultural differences in interpreting view on privacy. I still remember the day when I asked my parents to register for facebook – to make it easier to keep in touch while I am in the US. Of course, they refused to register because someone might steal their private data. Also, I was so happy to see that I can finally see German cities on google street view (after months discussions in the media – and only because they gave Germans the chance to fill out a form BEFORE the service started.. to say that they do not want their house to been seen). I talked to my friends and family and thought they would be as excited as I am. Of course, they were skeptical and only wanted to talk about privacy.
    The other article shows us that we have be very careful using online-tools (which need private data) with our students. We need to make sure that the platform we are choosing is secure and reliable. This is especially important for online grade-books.

    • claudiopi Says:

      This whole question about privacy is so interesting and it will never stop blowing my mind.
      I like that you take the German sauna as an example. Privacy is at some extent very subjective. It depends on generations, on one’s own cultural background, etc.
      My parents, although they are both still young, they’ve never been seriously introduced to technology. They basically never needed it and they are literally out of the loop. To them, every single information that goes or that it’s somehow transmitted through a computer, is a matter of privacy. They will never (maybe, hopefully) have a facebook account and I don’t know how they’d feel if I tell them that from Google StreetView we can see our house (that happened recently).
      What I feel is that we have to find a way to fill and control this gap of wanting privacy at all costs and the Internet (thus, the world) wanting to know everything about us.

      • Niko Says:

        Thanks for your response, Claudio. It is very interesting that you say that you don’t know what your parents would feel like if they see their house on Google StreetView. I arrived in Germany a couple of days ago and showed my mother that her house is on there. My mum and her husband just rented a new home which they had to renovate at lot. I looked like a desaster when they bought it and they spent a lot of time rebuilding parts of it. Of course, the Google team took the street view picture before they started renovating. She was very upset that the house is online like this, that everybody can see it AND.. this is the most importat point.. that she was not asked.
        Actually, she had the chance to say that she does not want her house on there (as mentioned in the post before). And many people did. I was shocked when I uses google street view in class the week before finals. There were so many houses which were not visible. At first I thought this was very negative for my class… but I was very positive. I was able to integrate culture in the classroom and shared the sauna article with them. As you said, and I totally agree with you, privacy is very subjective.
        But especially because it is subjective, we should address this issue in class, when we use technology. We need to make sure that all ok with registering for tools we are using and sharing videos they created on YouTube.

  8. jarcastillo Says:

    Margaret Soltan’s article The Online Amplification Effect discusses her personal experience with blogging and how universities across the United States are dealing/fearing the Internet’s ability to “grab a story and, in a matter of hours gigantify it.” Both blog writers and readers have the power to direct the media’s attention over the stories (and angles of certain stories) that they find more interesting, which is a power/control that some Universities are still learning to deal with. As Soltan points out, some universities are “accustomed to operating with a great deal of secrecy” and are also “highly localized…committed to the particularities of their own history.” Universities want to present themselves to future students/parents (and even current) as “perfect” institutions of higher-learning. In order to maintain this “image,” many universities go long and expensive ways to create this illusion. I worked as a resident assistant (RA) as an undergraduate student at a small private, Catholic university. The life of undergraduates living on campus is of no surprise to anyone; we even romanticize it through the many teen films. But universities always made use of their “public relations” office in order to deal with any “inconsistencies” with the image they were selling. As an RA, I dealt with students’ “issues” (for lack of a better word) that in the “real world” would have been considered criminal, but because that would go against the image the university wanted and often arguing that they were “isolated” instances matters were handled “in house” through the office of public relations. While some instances are isolated though, shouldn’t students (and their parents) have the right to know as much of the university where they want to attend (or send their kids to), both all the wonderful things in the brochures and those things dealt with by their PR department? Soltan discusses how the “combination of secrecy, parochialism, and autonomy” is something universities are unprepared to deal with the amplification effect that the Internet creates through blogs and other tools. A few days ago, reading the Huffington Post, I came across the story of a young lady, Lizzy Seeberg, who after being sexually assaulted by an college athlete committed suicide, but whose story was swept under the carpet for what we can only assume was to preserve the “image” of the university. Soltan’s blog is University Diaries.

    • claudiopi Says:

      This seems like an important issue that I’ve never thought about in these terms. I guess that with the spread of social networks and students having at least 3 or 4 facebook-like pages where they usually read and update their own status’, universities can’t rely on the good old secrecy anymore.
      On this matter, I actually recall an event that I have heard happened in a college where I worked last year (this one also private and catholic) not many years ago. A person committed suicide there, but – objectively – not in an ordinary way. I don’t think knowing the story would make any difference, but in other words, this person killed her/him self without wanting it.
      The voice spread out but the college still dealt with it somehow.
      I’m wondering what the consequences would be if that would have happened now.

      • jarcastillo Says:

        I think the problem is that universities are afraid of losing control of what image they want to present. It is similar to what Niko stated previously regarding “The German Privacy Paradox” paraphrasing Jarvis that the issue is “not [about] privacy but control.” It is also a matter of what spin the story will be given either by the media or by bloggers. I think it might be naive to think there are no dangers in universities. Universities should give students (and parents) a little more credit. The more informed we are as to where we are going, the better prepared (hopefully) we will be. I agree with Claudio that knowing what is happening would probably not make any difference. If universities are managing to cover truly major dangers to their student population, then the issues are bigger than the spin bloggers can give them. I think part of our current “condition” is that we expect to have access to information and if we as individuals are willing to give up some of our privacy so should institutions.


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