Friday, 21 March 2008

Growing Protests in Canada

Most predictions are that protests will increase in the coming years in Canada and North America as the demographic shift of power from the retiring baby boomers to the millennial generation causes structural tensions in all sectors of society. For example, many university faculty members are increasingly concerned about the administrative change to favour contractual labour and sessional positions as retirements increase, versus the more permanent positions of tenured jobs. Along with that dominant issue are the other pressures of increased class sizes, and more expectations for publication and committee work being linked with those contracts. On the student side of the issue are increases to tuition fees, decreasing quality of education and higher student debt.

We are most likely starting to see the beginning of these structural tensions spilling into formalized protests from examples such as the following:

1) University of Toronto non-violent student sit-in over new 20% tuition fee hikes that captured the police violently removing students from outside the President’s office on campus (today):

2) York University Sweat Shop Policy sit in that was peaceful and successful:

3) York University protest over the Iraq war in 2005 that similarly captured police violently removing students from Vari Hall on video tape, and led to two students being sent to hospital:

Perhaps surprisingly, no large student groups at Ryerson have organized around the Chris Avenir case in a similar way, but this might best be explained by the fact that Ryerson student groups are still developing at the relatively young university.

Beyond student groups, one of the main issues in North America that we may see more protests developing around concerns the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) that the Infoscape Lab has found to be growing in the Blogosphere and on YouTube:

1) A media mash up by a Vlogger concerning the SPP that has become highly watched on YouTube can be found here:

2) Compare that story to CNN’s coverage of the same SPP story:

3) The Montebello Summit Protest and the use of Miami Police Tactics:

4) NAFTA-gate with Obama and Clinton:

Fallout from Facebook Decision at Ryerson

A blogger on the AoIR listserv posted this summary of the University's decision not to expel Chris Avenir, the Ryerson student who was up to be expelled for using Facebook:

Overall, the student won't be expelled, will receive zero for the assignment, and will have to take an Academic Integrity course:

Avenir is still going to appeal the decision, and as of yet, Ryerson has not made any formal announcements from its own university portal, and have not addressed if anything would happen to other students in the group.

For more see on the back story:

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Tools from MaRS and other places

Happy post-St. Patty’s Day to ye all,

I hope everyone is still feeling the luck of the Irish today, and are not too under the weather from the cheer last night.

I thought I’d just quickly post some new interesting tools coming down the pipe and also some other items that people might find interesting. First off, here are some of the tools that were demonstrated at the MaRS “Permanent Campaign” event that the Infoscape Lab attended today with Greg Elmer being the keynote:

1) aideRSS:

This seems like a generally useful tool for those who read a large number of blogs. However, at the moment, aideRSS are keeping their ranking heuristics hidden, and they do not allow readers to set up their own advanced ranking methods. For instance, it would be useful for someone to just choose to read blogs that have a lot of comments, or that have a large number of blogs linking to them. It would also be useful for the aideRSS tool to present such information as comments and links in an easily readable manner along with the other statistics they offer. Test it out to see what I mean exactly, of course.


Blog surveillance technology from the U of T. These folks have even automated tone judgments of the postings on blogs in the beta version, which sounds pretty sketchy to me, especially since once again they do not share their heuristics for how they judge tone. Their plan so far is to also make it the blogger’s individual duty to de-list their personal information from their network tracking software, which profiles every blogger on the web. This could be potentially very controversial.

The company linked with Blogscope is:

3) Iotum:

Free conference calls for everyone, using Facebook or otherwise. This might be useful, especially if they add video calls some day. It appears to be a step up from plain old Skype.


Here are some other items not connected with the MaRS event, but connected with political tools in general:

1) Microsoft’s Blews:

This software seems similar to the platform above, but it appears to have a more elegant user interface. However, the team that has worked on it does not include any political scientists or sociologists, so I’m not sure how well it will target specific user needs to drill into political blogs and news ("blews") in the social media space.

2) Interesting use of data visualization software, and there is a TED video of Hans Rosling from the group on their powerful use of data visualization here:

3) Morningside Analytics:
John Kelly from Columbia University who was at the OII SDP this summer has officially launched his company with the help of Leonard Lidov, who is a Torontonian. Their business looks interesting, and I wish them well.

4) Michael Zimmer’s bibliography of ethical and privacy dimensions of web
search engines:

More to come on the MaRS talk when I get a second to write in April.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Breakfast Club 2.0: University Facebook Policies

Here's a link to a Ryerson Student newspaper article on the changing Facebook policy that’s been circulating in the news and is currently a hot topic nationally and internationally:

I truly think it's going to be difficult for students to change the policy proceeding along the lines that this author is arguing. Students need to understand when on-line activity is "public" -- we've never been able to defame our bosses, openly cheat on examines and assignments, steal content and call it our own, and then document those crimes for all to see in an easily traceable manner back to the individual. Many of the acts they’re documenting here are the equivalent of cheating on an exam, and taking a picture of it, then showing it to the professor... How do they expect a school to react?

I think the school administration will definitely listen to arguments about voices of protest being stifled, academic freedom being infringed, and intellectual innovation issues along the lines of the Creative Commons movements, Open Source and other such things, especially if there are pertinent cases to draw upon. I think though what is more at issue in the above article is the draconian punishments that are being handed out, and the lack of using those opportunities to teach students about what does and does not cross respectable and lawful student or citizen activity. Completely destroying a student's life because they're exploring the possibilities of a new technology is different from using the moment to guide the student's poor decisions into a more productive activity within reasonable limits.

Some people were asking for some background on the Ryerson case, so here goes. Every university has a Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct, and here are some links to Ryerson's:


These codes serve as blanket liability protection for, among other things, cases when a student does something in public that makes his or her university look bad in some way and the university wants to distance themselves from the student (or expel the student completely). Some general examples of when this code might be used is if criminal behaviour occurs off of the campus or destruction of university property occurs while the student is not actively engaged in "academic" behaviour, which would be covered by the Student Code of Academic Conduct. Most professors list links to these codes on their course syllabi, but many students don't know what their actual rights are on campus because like the plagiarism policy, those sections are often glossed over. In truth, these codes also exist for Faculty, and students and instructors alike should know that they overlap in many ways to create community panopticon to favour the university administration, but at the other end of the spectrum they also protect all of the academic community.

All universities have been trying to reformulate these codes in light of the Web 2.0 challenges. At Ryerson in 2006, a business professor, was "owned" on YouTube, and the university admin moved fast to squash the video, which was taken off YouTube fairly quickly, but they never delivered any universal university statement about the event and they only dealt with the event internally to that business class from what I know. However, they have been working on this policy since that time.

Most recently, at Oxford students have been fined for posting incriminating pictures of "disorderly" behaviour on Facebook, and the university has warned students to set their settings to friends only privacy levels:

In other words, the Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct has always had protections against any negative forms of university publicity which could affect the "value" and "reputation" of a university's degree conferring status. After all, who would want to go to a university where “x” happened? While that seems to be the line universities use in these cases, the code has obviously been abused in the past, and perhaps is being abused in these current cases.

I hope this background helps. I believe Ryerson’s code at this point is at a nascent phase, and if the university will ever be at a point where they will consider student input, it will be now.

Good to hear people are interested in these policy issues! I would definitely recommend writing your own response to the admin, and formulating how the code should be used if you want to change things now.

Here are two links to some previous posts on this topic from last year where I was harder on High School students for abusing Facebook for similar things, but having been familiarized with High School suspensions myself (for artistic reasons, of course), I believe university suspensions are of a whole different degree because they can affect a student for the rest of his or her life, whereas High School suspensions really never affect a person again afterward, unless of course, it’s The Breakfast Club:

1) Michael Geist:

2) Supplement: