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Demanding Facebook Passwords is the Same as Demanding Online Banking Passwords

April 3, 2012 2 comments

Employers Demanding Facebook Logins

A disturbing trend has ramped up over the past couple of years: employers demanding the login credentials for the Facebook accounts of their employees.  Another example of this cretinism reared its ugly head here in Cassopolis, Michigan at Lewis Cass Intermediate School District where teacher’s aide Kimberly Hester was fired for refusing to cough up her password to administrators after posting a nondescript and safe-for-work photo of a co-worker’s pants around her ankles.

What makes this case doubly-stupid is that was completely unnecessary: if the school needed documentation of the alleged transgression, it could have taken a screen capture from the account of the local parent who raised the issue with the administration in the first place.

Demanding the Facebook credentials of an employee is just as outlandishly-inappropriate as demanding the login credentials for an employee’s online banking account.  Employers should consider such a request with exactly the same level of caution (because they could open themselves up for liability).

Here’s why: Read more…

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O’Dwyer Runs Afoul of Wikipedia in Effort to Defame PRSA

January 15, 2012 3 comments

Jack O'Dwyer's Conspiracy Theories

In his zeal to advance his attack on the Public Relations Society of America my favorite curmudgeon Jack O’Dwyer has finally discovered Wikipedia.

Unfortunately O’Dwyer doesn’t really understand it, and now he’s attacking the Wikimedia Foundation and Jimmy Wales because of the articles on “public relations” as well as its “history” and the fact that Wikipedia strongly discourages PR pros from contributing directly to the vaunted online encyclopedia.

To this end, Phil Gomes with Edelman started a group on Facebook called “Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement” or CREWE.  It’s already made some excellent strides toward creating policy and procedure that everyone can follow for contributing to the entries in Wikipedia.  As he frequently does (which makes him a fantastic case study in how to be a spokesperson for an organization), Jimmy Wales actually joined the discussion on CREWE and has been active in helping address the concerns that some of the public relations pros have had with Wikipedia.

Unfortunately O’Dwyer’s lack of comprehension has led him to again don his tinfoil cap and allege a conspiracy where none exists.  He mistakenly believes Wikipedia is deliberately ignoring or censoring mentions of a disputed account of the Tylenol Case Study (it’s not).  He also described many of the standard conventions of Wikipedia entries as significant in the case of the entries on PR and its history (unaware that they’re automatic configurations).

O’Dwyer took it upon himself to edit these entries and when his entries were rejected for publication, he cried foul and demanded action (both publicly and trying to run up the chain of command inside Wikipedia rather than appealing directly to the editors that removed his contributions).

Here’s the response he received from Jimmy Wales (which I was so amused by that I published a sensational tweet about it, something I was rightly chastised by Wales for):

“Jack, I am unsure what you are asking for here. If you want to have a meeting with people to argue that your site is reliable, then I don’t think the NYC chapter is the right organization to do that, since they would have nothing to do with that. 

I checked our internal email system to see why you might think your email was ignored. It turns out that it was forwarded to Jay Walsh who has been on vacation. But nevermind, you have my ear now so if you can explain more clearly what you are asking I can try to help.

Your email to us claimed that you had been blocked from Wikipedia, but the volunteer who processed your email pointed out internally that that isn’t true – your account has not been blocked.

What did happen was that an embarrassingly bad edit you made to an article was reverted. The edit was blatantly promotional about a book that, news sources say, you are “supporting”. Is this a client? 

In any event, in this case, we have a lovely example of how the system works and how NOT to try to edit Wikipedia and WHY I think paid advocates should not edit articles directly, ever.” – Jimmy Wales, January 10 at 12:15pm

Too right.  O’Dwyer’s conspiracy theories aside, here’s what is ACTUALLY happening:

1. People don’t CARE about the definition of Public Relations, or the history of PR.  That’s why there is a dearth of content – it’s not a deliberate lack of inclusion from Wikipedia.  That’s also why there is a dearth of books on the subject (outside of textbooks or tactical manuals).  They care even less about the “Council of PR Firms” – another entity O’Dwyer complains about a lack of content for.  That’s one of the downsides of crowdsourcing – it produces content skewed populist (which is why the Wikipedia entries for Tim Tebow and Beyonce have more in-depth content).

2. Content published by public relations pros gets deleted by Wikipedia editors as a direct result of the non-transparent and dishonest way PR people have used Wikipedia in the past.  Unfortunately a combination of avarice and ignorance on the part of PR pros created a very hostile relationship with Wikipedians so that they are very mistrustful – I don’t blame them.

Since then, however, a process has emerged for PR people to contribute content to Wikipedia (some excellent detailed suggestions for PR pros are provided by Wikipedian JMabel here):

  1. Learn about Wikipedia (particularly spend some time observing the discussion forums where the specifics of entries, contributors and contributions are debated).
  2. Be open and transparent.
  3. Post your suggestions for contributions to the “Talk” section of a Wikipedia entry and appeal to some of the Wikipedians who have contributed to that entry or similar entries to consider your content for inclusion.
  4. Freely license any intellectual property (images, video) you’d like included under either a Gnu Free Documentation License (GFDL) or a Creative Commons license.  If you want something on Wikipedia – you can’t retain a traditional, exclusive license to it – because it will invariably be re-used by others for a variety of purposes (which is a good thing).

3. Wikipedia is decentralized and lacks a hierarchy – which is the POINT.  As he’s accustomed to bullying his way to preferential treatment, O’Dwyer actually attempted to go right up the chain of command at the Wikimedia Foundation and have his way:

“E-mails to NYC WP leaders inviting them to my office have been ignored. E-mails to Wikimedia are ignored and someone told me in a live WP chat that only volunteers handle the media.” – Jack O’Dwyer, January 10 at 11:57am

4. Dexterity is the point of wiki tools; after all, the etymology of the word is Hawaiian for “very quickly” – which is why it was chosen by Ward Cunningham for the first “Wiki” he created back in 1995.  This has two very important ramifications for how content will appear on Wikipedia:

  • It must be DIGITAL.  Any sourcing for Wikipedia must go to either webpages or digital versions of photo, video and documents.
  • It must be OPEN.  As a crowdsourced innovation, Wikipedia allows for democratic participation by all – and that means that everyone gets to see not only the final product but the sausage-making that took place to get there.  That’s why it’s important for ORIGINAL sourcing to be used as opposed to secondary sourcing.

What we Learn

O’Dwyer is failing at interacting with Wikipedia because he tried to link to content in the subscriber-only section of his website, and rather than publish his sources online – he wants to try to coax someone into his office to pore over the mouldering stacks of paper documents and books he has.  Not only that, but O’Dwyer doesn’t understand that he can’t simultaneously profit from his paywalled content AND have people actually read it – you have to choose one or the other.

This should be instructive to anyone who wants to be successful in the digital world: in order to spread, content must be freely shared and easily-accessible.

The Internet in many ways rebooted our world to Year Zero; by that I mean the credibility and reputation earned by certain organizations over the past thousands of years of human interaction were rendered less important.  The web, instead, bases reputation and credibility on MERIT.  That’s why Wikipedia is searched and cited far more than Encyclopedia Britannica.  O’Dwyer stridently attempted to cash in on his years of print publications, but the editors of Wikipedia would have none of it:

“WP needs to acknowledge O’Dwyer’s as a “reliable” source since we are the only ones ever to cover PR Seminar, the 65-year-old very important “secret society” of top corporate and agency execs. ” – Jack O’Dwyer, January 10 at 11:57am

A hilarious footnote to this whole situation is that O’Dwyer has continued to use the CREWE group to wage his war against PRSA, and he’s been specifically asked to stop doing this by the moderator of the group and several of its members because it’s irrelevant to the actual discussion at hand (he’s not just posting irrelevant replies, he’s been publishing irrelevant wall posts).  Sigh.

AllThis Seeks to Test the Adage “Any Press is Good Press” With Dick Move

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Internet startup AllThis drew fire recently after it was discovered (by writers like Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing) that the site scraped content (including profile photos) from the social media profiles of prominent tech pros and created profiles for them in its service.

The service seeks to sell ten-minute chunks of “time” with individuals that are bid on in an auction by other users.  The implication is that the time of these experts is available for sale to the highest bidder (though they would have to claim their profiles in order for the transaction to actually take place).  It’s tantamount to defamation for any tech writer considered to be a journalist who needs to appear to be impartial because it implies their attention (read: coverage) can be bought (David Pogue of the New York Times was disciplined for a similar practice – offering PR pros a chance to learn how to pitch him at a seminar).

Another implication nurtured by the way the company handled its launch is that these tech figures endorse the service … which is similarly problematic.

It’s pretty hard to imagine that AllThis didn’t intend for either of those implications to manifest, or that the structure of their service wouldn’t nurture them.

For its part, AllThis claims that it didn’t intend for either of those things to be the case and that the profiles were created when other users expressed interest in the time of the figures (who include some of my favorite tech figures like Tom Merritt and Leo Laporte).  That isn’t necessarily problematic in and of itself – but the execution is where the problem lies.

As Joel Housman extensively documents on his blog – AllThis scraped his profile details and images (which is copyrighted content) and used that to sell its service.  It’s the equivalent of me cutting-and-pasting content from someone else’s blog and hosting it on my site, siphoning away some of the traffic from their site to raise awareness of my own – only removing it when they object.

Dick move.

It will be interesting to watch this story to see if the adage “any press is good press” holds true for AllThis.

Turnitin.com Vindicated by Court Decision on Fair Use

April 20, 2009 Leave a comment

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck a blow to students who were attempting to shut down the website/service Turnitin.com (which allows faculty to compare the work submitted by their students to other established works as well as the works submitted by other faculty) with a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement.

The decision is a good one, because services like Turnitin.com are valuable for faculty who are increasingly pressed for time and cannot interrogate every student they suspect of lifting material without attributing it. The phenomena is disappointingly-common (as I’ve found in my own personal experience) – usually as a result of naivete about the need to properly attribute cited material, but also too often as a result of graft on the part of services that buy and sell papers previously submitted by other students.

Services like Turnitin.com have been successful enough that the services selling papers to lazy students have moved to specializing in custom-written papers that would elude detection (having not previously been submitted for a grade).

The students’ concern about Turnitin.com holding on to their work isn’t completely without merit, however; one could envision a future incident where Turnitin.com might try to profit from those papers if it were ever strapped for cash (say, by publishing them for other students as “study aids”) – so it would be good to see the courts articulate some sort of provision that narrowly restricts the interpretation of this decision to the limited use of the archived papers to comparing them for plagiarism.

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