Legal matters – moderating message boards

6 Jul

I went to an excellent seminar last week on Social Media Law, led by David Banks. If I had to sum the message up in one sentence, it would be:

If you wouldn’t print it, don’t post it on social media.

Social media is publication. The same, historic laws apply to social media as they do to print. The courts are still working on how to apply them, but don’t presume that the online world is any more free than traditional publications. A personal Twitter account will not be protected by privacy law. Pictures are not public domain as soon as they go online. And yes, journalists will quote you and your students out of context. Content creators you are ‘borrowing’ from do track you down and sue. That covers the basics (have I put you off yet?).

If you are drawing up a social media policy and feel inspired to rock on down to your university legal support officer, make sure you cover:

  • Libel
  • Contempt
  • Copyright
  • Privacy
And please do seek legal advice. What follows is not a recommendation, I am not qualified to give legal advice, treat it as a heads-up!

Message boards

For me, the implications of libel law were especially interesting in relation to message boards. David described a case where Demon internet were successfully sued for libel when they failed to take down a post that had been reported to them. They hadn’t written the post, they hadn’t refused to take it down, they had just ignored him. The message is – you can be liable for other people’s posts, if you are aware of the content and you let it stay online. Libel laws punish not just the person who writes a comment, but everyone who re-publishes it.

You might say this is unfair, that only the person who made the comment is really at fault. But let that one go, we all know that allowing gossip to spread is wrong. This is where it really gets unfair – a claimant does not have to sue everyone involved, they can choose to only sue the one with the deepest pockets (NB the £250,000 legal costs of the claimant alone in that above case). So that troll on your message board never hears another word, but the university would be up to its eyeballs in expensive litigation.

Fortunately, David did have a suggestion to make for those of us who want to keep using message boards. Do not moderate comments before they go online. Once you have screened comments, you are responsible for everything. Similarly, if you, the message board owner, have been commenting within the online discussion, it will be clear that you have read and left the offending remarks in place. Instead, take a hands-off approach. Allow people to post, and build in a robust system for users to flag comments. Removal of reported posts should be swift and reliable. It would be helpful to have a policy on what is acceptable included in a user agreement.

It seems a shame to suggest that we, as providers, should not participate in the discussions we host. In the past I have been against moderating all comments before publications simply for the sake of speed, that users will go elsewhere if they cannot see an immediate post go up. However, I have also been very much in favour of joining in, and leaving up as many user comments as possible for everyone to learn from. I always believed that people would see who contributed what, and assign responsibility accordingly. The message board is a place where uninformed ideas can be exposed to critical view, and being able to participate allows an educator to contribute to this process. Unfortunately, I can now see that the law places different responsibilities on us, that in hosting a message board we cannot pretend to be at the same level as our users. We have the ability to control the whole board and so the law requires us to do so.

And if you are wondering when your comments are going to appear on this post…


QRious? What you need to know about QR codes

29 Apr

1. Do I really need to know about QR codes?

The short answer……… yes.

From a quick tour around the careers information room I found all these examples of QR codes. I have seen more around campus, at both ends of the scale from formal alumni relations posters to informal band posters.

Four employer and event leaflets featuring QR codes

What would you say if a student asked how to use these square barcodes?

2. So how do I use a QR code?

First you will need a smartphone with a camera. Some have a QR reader pre-installed, but others you will need to download one from a store – whether you have an Apple phone, Android or other, as long as there is an app store there should be a number of apps to choose from. Search for ‘QR reader’ or ‘QR scanner’, compare the reviews and install. I use the free app QR Droid.

To read the QR code you can either take a photo on your phone camera to save it to decode later, or you can go into the app and read it immediately.

It is common for the code to simply represent a URL, so when you read it your web browser will open and take you to a specific webpage. However QR codes can encode much more, for instance they can:

  • download a business card or phone number to your phone contacts
  • bring up your registration details to sign you into an event
  • take you to a video e.g. promotion for a careers fair
  • enter event details in your calendar – save the date
  • generate an SMS on your phone with pre-written text for you to send – sign up to text updates or a reminder before the event

Lots of possibilities for creative uses.

3. How do I make QR codes?

Once you have a QR app on your phone, it is very straightforward to make QR codes – it can generate them for you in moments from a URL or contact details. You can then email the code to yourself to get the image on your computer. Alternatively there are websites that can generate a code for you for free. The image will be a jpg or gif that you can incorporate into your print marketing materials in the same way as any image.

4. Why use QR codes?

I have to admit, I have been a little reluctant to invest in mobile for the careers service as I thought smartphones were expensive and not something every student will have. However I was impressed by my colleague’s htc Wildfire, and found I could buy one outside of my contract for only £130. The contract price is low too. Much more affordable and the apps available from the Android marketplace are similar in range to the iPhone. So it is easy to see smartphones continuing to grow in popularity.

The trouble is, with more and more manufacturers succeeding in the smartphone market and using different operating systems e.g. Android or Windows, students will have a wider range of handsets. An iPhone app will only work on iPhones, an Android app will only work on Android system phones (which are made my various manufacturers). So while apps are great fun and easy to use, you are guaranteed to only reach a limited number of students unless you make apps for each system – an expensive proposition.  This is where QR codes win. They can be read on all of these phones.

Yet I have been surprised at the resistance from some quarters to using them. In particular many felt it was a fad, that not many people actually use them. And why bother if they are just a URL?

Personally, now I have the app, I think even if it has just been used to encode a URL, it makes life much easier. Typing a URL on a phone is fiddly and time-consuming. If it is a long address, for instance to take me to a particular webpage for a promotion, I won’t bother and then I forget about it. With a QR code I can immediately check out the further details, wherever I am. It is about marketing flow – you smooth the path for people to move from noticing a poster to taking action, towards finding out more, towards signing up.

Is it just a fad? Well they have been around a few years and growth in usage has been steady, but not as explosive as some predicted. The problem is that initial barrier of learning how to use them and installing the right app – this could change if more phones come with a reader pre-installed. However I don’t mind if it fails to become mainstream because unlike apps, making them is free. Using them shows the careers service is technologically aware. They are quick and easy to make. Why not just give it a trial?

Judging by the conversations I have been having on Twitter with Elizabeth WilkinsonFiona Christie, James W and Andy Stevens, QR codes will soon be hitting a careers service near you.

Goodbye to The Careers Group. Hello Durham.

15 Apr

My (unusually tidy) desk at The Careers Group

Goodbye desk

Today I sadly said goodbye to my wonderful colleagues at The Careers Group. It has been a busy month since I gave my notice, and it is all still sinking in. I am writing this on my usual Friday evening train up to Durham, and I think a piece of me is still expecting to get on the usual train back on Monday. My team has been my family and I will miss them all so much.

I started at The Careers Group in August 2008. Just two days before I impulsively went on a first date with a man in my hometown Durham City, little expecting that it would work out long distance, and never imagining that two years later we would get engaged. But I still lived in London, and he still lived in Durham. One of us had to move, and with both of us working in universities and facing a tight job market, when I saw this temporary position of Information Co-ordinator come up at Durham University Careers, Employability and Enterprise Centre, I jumped at the opportunity.

So here I am, on my way to my new home and my new job and it feels like the start of a whole new phase in my life. I will definitely carry on with the web 2.0 in my new role, and I am excited to learn about a new careers service, a new student body, and new colleagues. And I will keep on blogging throughout!

If you are interested, The Careers Group is currently recruiting for a Head of Content and Information, closing date Monday 18th April. The role is focussed on digital content, and careers service experience is not required at all – they are looking for a new perspective. It all sounds very intriguing to me… hope they recruit a blogger/Twitterer!

First thoughts on my new Kindle (and why I didn’t go Sony in the end)

2 Mar

Finally, after much discussion on this great CILIP LinkedIn thread, and after seeing a colleague’s one, I went Kindle. Yesterday I spent a whole evening in a feeding-frenzy blitz on the Kindle store. I love it. Here’s why.

Look and feel

I have to admit the look and feel is the main reason I chose the Kindle rather than Sony. The Kindle feels smooth, lightweight and thin. The Sonys I tried in the shops were more boxy, although I have to admit my first impressions were coloured by the shop testers always looking well-worn and covered in greasy fingerprints. But whichever way you go, an ebook reader gives me that magical sensation I remember getting from my first iPod – “you can fit all that… in this?”

Convenience was my second reason for going Kindle. I already have an Amazon account and everything I need is just right there. With both wifi and 3G, I know I can choose a book and immediately it is ready to read, wherever I am. And when I was browsing Amazon in my lunch break I could buy a book and send it straight onto my Kindle at home – no  messing around with cables or switching on my PC later. Price-wise, the Kindle does well to provide all this functionality – the Sony Reader had a touchscreen but no wireless for the same money.


Reading ebooks is the obvious first answer. But it also supports .doc and .pdf files (amongst other things). Which means I can use it for work – perfect for meetings, for presentation scripts (notes), and so I can refer to a document while writing on my PC without having to juggle around windows. And since you can email documents to it, if you go out the office without your report, a colleague can email it to you on-the-fly.

Kindle vs books

I have to say, using a Kindle feels more like a book than a PC. The eInk is very distinct, and without the backlight it does feel gentler on the eyes. It also has a still, calm, object feel – no whirring fan or hard drive. And with the simplicity of the functions available to you, there isn’t the distraction of flicking to a web page for a moment, or fiddling with an MP3 player. This makes it good for a soothing bedtime read.

A lot of people say they’d miss the feel of holding a book, but here are some things I don’t miss:Big old fashioned, leather bound book

  • Losing my page – with books I bookmark, fold the corner, or balance it on the arm of a chair until later… none is quite as reliable as the Kindle’s automatic memory
  • Carrying a weighty tome
  • Carrying three weighty tomes in case I finish the other ones
  • Not having my weighty tome because I thought I might not need it and I didn’t want to carry it
  • Trying to balance it open while I do something else – and the infernal decision about whether to just crack the spine…
  • Pages falling out
  • When other people underline everything and make notes that are, of course, wrong
  • The number of bookcases I need to hold my full collection and the space this takes up.
  • Paying – there are so many great classics available for free as well as some more modern titles. For most books, Amazon is good at pricing eBooks lower than hardcopy.  And yes I know there is always the library, but I find the opening hours awkward.
  • Waiting for books to be delivered.

Remember when mp3s first came out and many people said they’d still buy CDs – for artwork, for reassurance, to lend to friends. Is that still true? Doesn’t the convenience and space-saving eventually outweigh all those nice-to-have sentiments?

Proprietary problems

The biggest disadvantage of the Kindle, which put me off for some time, was the fact it didn’t support EPUB. Yet this is the format which libraries use to support the lending of eBooks… While I don’t see Amazon rushing to change that one, there is increasing pressure in America for them to do so. Until then, if you want to explore information service usage then go for one of these options.

Personally, I haven’t come across ebook lending at my library yet, so don’t feel I am missing out. Yet. It was a compromise. The more people buy locked-down proprietary machines like Kindle, the harder it could be to implement ebook lending in the future. I’m hoping it will work out like iPods – at first there were a number of proprietary formats and proprietary machines, but eventually that opened out and DRM-free mp3s became readily and widely available to buy. It is a risk but my final reasoning was that £150 was a bargain for all the free books alone, and if I need to and EPUB lending takes off in the future I can always buy another ebook reader then – when potentially prices are lower and there is more choice.

But for now there is more than enough free and low-price reading material to keep me happy.

Coming soon…

My favourite ereads and recommended websites for ebooks.

Thank you, Phoenix

18 Jan

Just noticed today that my blog was mentioned in AGCAS Phoenix magazine in Lloyd Williams‘ web watch. A big thank you to whoever nominated/suggested me, it made my day!

So hello to anyone new who has come to have a look. It is fair to say I don’t update frequently enough. I would promise to do better this year, as I am not studying with the OU this term (my main excuse previously), but I am replacing that with wedding planning for September this year. I know promises of improved blogging are always broken as soon as they are made, so instead I will promise to be as sporadic and unpredictable as ever. But be assured that until I say otherwise, there will always be another post on the way, someday…

I do actually have one jotted down on a piece of paper somewhere, if I could only find it, so perhaps it will be sooner rather than later…

LinkedIn: security, privacy and CVs

15 Dec

I realise that in my last post on the LinkedIn CV generator I finished sounding quite negative about LinkedIn, which doesn’t feel fair. The trouble is, as soon as you start thinking about privacy, about a website holding large amounts of your personal details, you can’t help but start feel threatened – particularly due to Facebook and Google’s cavalier attitude to their users. But is privacy something we really need to worry about?

Yes is the short answer, if you take this stories like this into account:

The owner of XY Magazine and its associated website – which catered for young homosexual boys – filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

XY’s creditors have applied for the firm’s one remaining valuable asset: its database of one million users.

Although the move has been opposed by the US government no less, the possibility of a distressed company being forced to sell off data is still there and I have heard of it happening before (frustratingly can’t find the reference). What if the data had been less sensitive? What if it was already considered to have been publicly published in some form? Do you know where your data being stored? Is it in your own country or another jurisdiction? And as this story shows, even if you know who is holding your data now, and you feel happy with their User Agreement, what if they lost control of it? Do you even know what data they have stored? See LinkedIn privacy policy, Section 1J (my italics)

  • Rights to Access, Correct and Eliminate Information About You

    You have a right to access, modify, correct and eliminate the data you supplied to LinkedIn. If you update any of your information, we may keep a copy of the information that you originally provided to us in our archives for uses documented in this policy. You may request deletion of your information at any time by contacting LinkedIn customer service. We will respond to your request within 30 days.

This perhaps raises another question, relevant to career changers and those who want to substantially edit their professional image (that isn’t meant to sound sinister, I’m really thinking of students going from tentative job-seeking to settling into their career). Does it matter if your former digital identity is still stored elsewhere if no one can see it? I think it does if you don’t realise it, and I’m sure many users do not delve this deeply into the privacy policy.

Even if you set aside the risks of third-party data storage, what about the very concept of making your entire employment history public? LinkedIn does tell people they should only connect to people they know, but that does not much limit access to your profile. If you join a large group your details are shared with people you don’t know in that group. You also don’t know who your connections generally are connected to. I work on the assumption that anything I put on LinkedIn can be seen by anyone. And I wouldn’t put my full CV online in the public domain because of the risk of identity theft and fraud.

Returning again to the LinkedIn privacy policy, which I do find clearly set-out and straightforwardly written, Section 2a:

The information you provide to LinkedIn may reveal, or allow others to identify, your nationality, ethnic origin, religion, gender, age, geography, or other aspects of your private life.

LinkedIn does provide some settings allowing you to control what is visible on your public profile, but the default is openness. If you follow the encouragement of LinkedIn to upload your CV to populate your profile, and to update and fill out your details as fully as possible to use the CV tool and maximise your networking exposure, you could have a lot of personal information public before you know it.

Secondly, reading that list of information I can see elements that you would not even include on a job application. It is usually recommended that explicit statements of age and ethnic origin be omitted to mitigate both explicit discrimination and implicit prejudice (and to protect employers from accusations of such). For similar reasons, in the UK we do not usually require a photo to be added to a CV. The issue of whether this is successful in controlling discrimination is another question (especially in this open social media age), but the point is that users of LinkedIn will make this information more available simply because the boxes are there and everyone else is doing it, not because they have really considered these consequences.

I think I was always happy with using LinkedIn as an enhanced business card and a way of maintaining connections, however it is this drift towards its use as a job application tool containing full work histories that has raised my concerns. I can see why LinkedIn would want to do it – recruiters already find LinkedIn profiles a valuable source of candidates, and imagine the power LinkedIn would gain if its profiles became application currency, equivalent to CVs and application forms. It is also a very convenient tool for us, the users. But it is this very usage that substantially increases the privacy risks, as well as the increased potential for employment discrimination. As much as I love Web 2.0, it is the users who need to stay aware and protect themselves when it comes to privacy, and this does feel like an area which needs more flagging.

Interesting new CV tool available from LinkedIn labs

14 Dec

The new LinkedIn Resume Builder automatically slots information from your LinkedIn profile into a CV template. It is worth a try – very quick and easy to play with (assuming you already have a LinkedIn account).

While it sounds very handy and does give instant results, on reflection I’m not sure how useful it is.

It is fairly obvious the immediate result isn’t good to go and requires editing. But what to edit? I think it could be misleading for some people when it suggests sections that you may not need, or elements to include (listed interests? college societies?). It would be easy to view these templates as prescriptive. On the other hand, I did like playing with the different templates, immediately seeing the impact of different layouts and approaches.

I looks like it is a tool best used with a careers adviser (or trusted friend) to discuss what to include, what to edit, what to leave out. So it is not really that much more convenient or time-saving. It makes a starting point, but I think that is all.

I think the underlying intention, which is more successful, is to remind us that LinkedIn would be a really convenient place to store our entire career histories to make CV writing and applications much easier in future. And of course, for LinkedIn that means more data, more people filling out their profiles fully rather than just putting in enough to facilitate networking in their present role…  So they get more data for marketing purposes. And they get more filled out, CV-like profiles on LinkedIn which would enable the next logical step – why pull out a CV from LinkedIn when you can just send the employer/recruiter your LinkedIn profile in the first place? For now, I think this tool might benefit LinkedIn more than its users.