Sunday, December 19, 2004

Lesson: Don't Tell Me Anything

Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor, writes an article in the NY Times Magazine. It's about privacy rights, looking at "dating bloggers" and law student bloggers in particular. Since I don't post about dating for obvious reasons - women are evil, women are the devil, etc. - you know which part of the article interested me the most.
As blogs expand, people will need to develop new social conventions to resurrect the boundaries between public and private interactions. Consider law professors, in whose privacy I take a special interest. There is a growing category of blogs, known as blawgs, in which law students across the country record their musings about their daily experiences in law schools. Professors have always had to assume the risk that performance in class will be publicly evaluated: a Web site called posts anonymous rankings of teachers across the country.

But unlike course-evaluation sites, many blawgs focus on far more than their teachers' public performances: they are essentially gossip sheets in which anonymous students transcribe conversations in and out of class with their professors and fellow students. For example, a blawg called Open and Notorious posted by students at a Washington law school was taken down after it posted graphic transcripts of conversations between professors and sycophantic students, as well as speculation about who was sleeping with whom.

At the law school where I teach, George Washington, I recently discovered that there are two anonymous student-run blawgs.... The bloggers also include verbatim transcripts of their conversations with my colleagues not only in class but during office hours, augmented by unkind (if sometimes wickedly accurate) comments.

Now that I know that students may be reporting my after-class comments without my knowledge, I'm more likely to be circumspect in private conversations. Do I have any other remedies? One possibility might be to announce at the beginning of each term that all comments in the classroom are off the record to bloggers. But this kind of strategy is likely to backfire. In an Internet law class at Yale Law School, for example, Reed Hundt, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, agreed to speak on the condition that no news media be invited; during his talk, he discovered that student bloggers were enrolled in the class and asked them not to blog his remarks. This had the effect of enraging the bloggers, who insisted that they hadn't agreed not to blog in advance and had a First Amendment right to blog whatever they liked. (Prof. Al Gore made the same mistake when he unwisely tried to block the media from one of his classes at the Columbia Journalism School.)

''Once burned, twice shy,'' Hundt said, reflecting about his experience. ''I no longer try in any group larger than two or three people to establish any rules of confidentiality at all: what are you going to do, ask people to sign pieces of paper?'' Hundt said he has abandoned the idea that he can control his audiences and assumes that everything he says might be posted. But in a small act of revenge, he has started an anonymous blog of his own. ''It's in the nature of a private diary, but to tell you more would compromise its anonymity,'' he said coyly.
Reminds me of Trini's story about how she mentioned to Prof. Horwitz at the Student/Faculty Mixer that she was a contributor to this blog and he responded by saying that he'll be sure to be quiet around her.

Anyway, so who wants to hear the story about The Chub?

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