Constant's pations

If it's more than 30 minutes old, it's not news. It's a blog.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

School website authentication -- how to track inappropriate student use and communications

Reader tip: There is an Archive for the HW articles.

In the wake of the Harvard Westlake incidents, there's been some discussion of "what to do" about students using school facilities and computer resources to send hate mail.


To be clear, the students at Harvard Westlake were allegedly posting hate-related speech to website, and not apparently using e-mail; and the problems also related to publishing details in the school newspaper about the students new location.

However, the issue is that school equipment was used. Further, students have used e-mail to send hate speech at other schools.

The accountability problem is compounded when students can anonymously create a commercial e-mail account using non-traceable or invalid information.

Insurance Liability Issues

Regardless the issue with website, administrators are faced with a challenge: What to do to ensure the school missions are served, while at the same time limiting liability. Bluntly, this relates to insurance rates for liability.

Specifically, one problem has been the anonymous e-mail systems. There is a workaround. Rather than ban all access, another approach is more appropriate.

There are systems that allow school administrators to ensure that only authorized uses can get access to the computers.

Once the students or school officials authenticate, they then can go about their business.

If someone uses an anonymous e-mail account, their access to the school system is still logged. This means that even though someone may have used a false name to set up their Hotmail or Yahoo account, they still can be traced because of their authentication.

Downside of banning e-mail

There is another approach. This it an outright ban on e-mail use. However, this is troublesome.

Students are relying on e-mail to engage in school related activities. Thus, it seems a reasonable solution to the hate mail-problem is to require authentication.

That way, anyone who uses an anonymous e-mail to send hate mail, can still be traced using their authentication sign-in.

Remember, the goal here isn't to use a few rotten apples to justify cutting down the entire apple orchard.

Yes, it does cost money to set up an authentication system. But I'd rather the students who are going to be contributing to society know that there are ways to track inappropriate conduct.

That way, those who abuse their privileges can be targeted and banned from the system.

We've got cameras at ATMs. We could have authentication on public information technology.

More on the Boston banning

Litigation mitigation

Boston School bans e-mail. [Cite: SCHOOLS PROHIBIT PERSONAL E-MAIL SITES May 28, 2005, Saturday THIRD EDITION METRO/REGION; Pg. A1, Tracy Jan Globe Staff]

some students recently used school computers to e-mail threats, hit lists, and pornography to other students and teachers, school officials say. There were four incidents during the past four months, but school officials would not provide further details.


"rule prevents them from e-mailing teachers and classmates for group projects, communicating with employers or potential employers during study halls and lunches, and staying in touch with college admissions officers"


To get around the problem of "being unable to trace who uses the anonymous sites," use a sign-in procedure requiring students to authenticate to get access to the internet. If there are problems with inappropriate use, this information will be available for discovery purposes only.

Here is the Newsweek article discussing e-mail bullying. [Cite: Jessica Silver-Greenberg. Newsweek. Schools: Battling 'E-Bullies'. 5 July 2005]


Currently assigned to Newsweek the NYT. Former Student at Harvard-Wastlake, assigned to the Chronicle, the school newspaper which published the information about Caplin's son.

Following information from Coro:

B.A. in English and American Literature, Princeton University An avid writer, Jessica Silver- Greenberg concentrated on literature at Princeton, adding a minor in American cultural and political studies.

At Princeton, she created a magazine aimed at reviving political debate on the Princeton campus, engaging students and professors in a bi- partisan discussion of one particular issue, such as American Empire.

While working at a non- profit dedicated to eradicating teacher attrition in East Los Angeles public schools, she started a newspaper to strengthen the pipe-line between teachers and policy makers in Sacramento.

She has worked at the Village Voice with senior editor, Wayne Barrett.

Jessica stated she would like to work as a journalist after Coro, committed to the notion that journalism is the fourth estate.


Ms Magazine writer.

Awarded: 2000 Gold Circle Award

Columbia Scholastic Press Association presents 2000 Scholastic Gold Circle Awards:

12. Health Features
1. Danielle Hemple, Tia Sherringham and Jessica Silver- Greenberg,
"Bye Bye Sweet Dreams,"

The Chronicle, Harvard-Westlake School, North Hollywood, CA.

Reminder: The Chronicle is the Newspaper at Harvard-Westlake that published the information about Caplin's son.

Constant's Editorial

Harvard Westlake: Does Newsweek have a conflict?

Congratulations to Jessica Silver-Greenberg for her landing a prestigious job at Newsweek. After graduating from Princeton and attending the Coro Public Relations studies program, she's achieved her dream: Being part of the 4th Estate and in a position to do something about public issues.

I read her article with keen interest. It was interesting to read about the other schools who were also reviewing the matters related to e-mail.

I reviewed her relationship with Harvard-Westlake. Indeed she has many awards while writing for The Chronicle, the HW newspaper.

The Chronicle is the newspaper that released the details of Caplins son and is a party to the Caplin v. Harvard Westlake Lawsuit.

If we review her article in light of this information, we might ask: Should Newsweek disclose when its journalists have a prior relationship with the issues, parties, or institutions they are covering?

I think Newsweek should have included a simple statement, "The author is a graduate of Harvard-Westlake and a former writer for the Chronicle, both parties to the litigation."

The reader could make a decision as to whether the journalist is independent, or whether the issues need to be examined more fully using other sources. At that juncture, perhaps some might have looked at the information in a new light:

  • Is there something that hasn't been covered?

  • Are there issues which the plaintiff has raised that are not getting attention?

  • Does Newsweek have a relationship with Harvard Westlake, Latham and Watkins, or any members of the HW board?

  • If the Newsweek periscope piece discusses what happened in Louisiana and Texas, why not also mention San Diego and other e-bullying?

  • Is there a goal to broaden the issues of "what happened at Harvard Westlake" to shift the attention from the student conduct and alleged school negligence, to something less specific?

  • How would a non-HW-graduate or reporter not associated with the HW Chronicle have covered the issue?

    To solve the problem we need to look at the real issues. This isn't simply about online misconduct. Nor is the issue narrowly what the school allegedly did or didn't do.

    Rather, the Caplin's complaint is also against the law enforcement and district attorney for their alleged failure to investigate the matters. Thus, to remedy the problems with online harassment, we have to look at what is permitting the harassment to occur; and what institutional weaknesses both in academia, law enforcement, and government are falling down.

    We cannot narrowly discuss the technology solutions to e-bullying without considering the umbrella of issues allegedly feeding the problem: Inaction, negligence, lack of seriousness, and failures to follow prosecutor guidelines in re hate crimes.

    The Caplins have taken on a heavy burden they did not ask for. But they are carrying a heavy load rather well.

    There are compelling reasons to believe HW defenses may fail. There are two factors suggesting the Caplins' allegations have merit: [a] The DoJ-FBI and LAPD investigations into the issues after the LA District Attorney allegedly failed to follow procedures in refusing to investigate/prosecute the case; and [b] The case has not been dismissed.

    Further adding to the potential damage award in a settlement is the cost the Caplins had to incur in transferring their son to another school. The Chronicle, where the Newsweek reporter once won awards for her writing, released details on where the Caplin's son is now going to school.

    Conflicts: Newsweek should disclose them

    Indeed, there are conflicts in many things. But when there are conflicts and those are not disclosed, questions arise.

    Recall, within just a few hours of Newsweek disclosing the allegations that a Koran in Guantanamo was urinated on, it retracted the statements.

    Subsequent investigations have substantially supported the initial allegations, making Newsweek's retraction at best curious and at worst responding to Administration pressure.

    White House pressure can make some in the media sway. Is that is what is going on behind the Newsweek coverage? I have no idea.

    However, there are a number of curious connections between the White House and Harvard Westlake; it remains to be understood whether someone is independently reporting the news, or is shaping the news to support someone they hope to please.

    I am suspicious. For example, the Detroit polls on "whether schools should be held accountable," appear to be a pre-litigation effort to shape the legal issues.

    The issue is not what the public thinks; but what is alleged in the complaint -- what the school was required to do under the existing statutes.

    It was the perception of "we have no problems at HW" which allegedly contributed to the apparent lack of action by both the Los Angeles DA and HW Administration. Let's hope we get the full story when the case goes to trial and the DOJ investigation reports their findings to the US Attorney's office.

    It is disturbing that there is much momentum to "make the problem go away," and not address the issues: Whether the rule of law standards as a credible deterrent to dissuade those intent on allegedly harassing those who are simply different; or whether it stands as a meaningless catalyst for needed oversight, investigations, and reasonable solutions.

    On the contrary, the larger issue is to what extent American citizens are required to expend their own funds to ensure that the national leadership and those charged with position of authority are going to follow the law.

    In the end, one might conclude that the real objective of the current coverage isn't to solve problems, but to shift the debate from corporate responsibility to whether the public has a reasonable expectation their students should put up with bullying.

    It is not above the White House to meddle, especially in cases where members of the Harvard-Westlake board are alleged to have paid funds and been members of law firms that are curiously closely connected to Administration Officials.

    The Caplins have had to take the dispute to the court. A private institution, the district attorney, and the media have no votes in this forum.

    I would hope that Newsweek is not allowing itself to be used to shape the issues. Those issues are a matter of law for the court to decide, not one for the public to assume based on perceptions.

    With the Fitzgerald Grand Jury investigation in Chicago, soon we will see what role the media plays in reporting the news or shaping the news.

    Newsweek online: Limited space and not well-integrated with Technorati?

    Yes, there is limited space in the media. But there is also room to disclose potential conflicts, especially at the bottom of an internet page that affords bloggers the chance to have their links posted.

    For those of you who are wondering about Technorati: I've posted the Newsweek link and pinged Technorati 24 hours ago 10 Aug 2005, but there's nothing showing up in the Newsweek's Blog Talk.
    "Read what bloggers are saying about this Newsweek article"

    There are no posts that link to this article yet. See the most blogged about articles on Newsweek.

  • Post your comments

    Detroit News has a question you may want to review: "Do you think schools should be held responsible for students who bully via school computers?"