$70,000 Settlement for a Facebook comment

Minnewaska School District has agreed to pay Riley Stratton $70,000 to settle the 2012 case involving the former Minnewaska Area Middle School sixth-grader. Stratton is now 15 years old. According to the lawsuit Stratton was given detention after she posted comments about a teacher’s aide on her Facebook page. The ACLU claimed that the reason for originally viewing her page was due to claims that she was using school computers to talk to a boy about sex. However, Stratton used her own personal computer at home to make the post -not a school computer.
The nature of the comments which lead to detention about a teacher’s aide were supposedly disapproving. A disputed fact in the case was whether there was permission for the school to go through her cellphone and request passwords for her Facebook account. According to Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt “It was believed the parent had given permission to look at her cellphone,” but there was no signed waiver from the parent, and there was no policy requiring one.
The fact that the posting was made from her home was a deciding factor in settling the case, according to Schmidt. The reason for the lawsuit was because Stratton became too distraught and embarrassed to attend class or go to school. Since this settlement, the school has changed its policy. The school now requires parents to submit a signed permission waiver in order to look through a students cellphone. This case may be an example of schools overreaching their authority in punishing kids for activities outside of school, and especially for things that happen on social media.

Facebook’s questionable expansion further into mobile.

How does a relatively unprofitable company of about 50 employees whose product is a blatant copy of another’s get acquired for 19 billion dollars in five years?  The answer might not be entirely clear, but Facebook shareholders hope that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a good idea after Facebook’s acquisition of mobile messaging app “WhatsApp” for $19 Billion.  WhatsApp users also would like to know what this all means for the service they have deeply integrated into their lives.

WhatsApp had its start by offering a BlackBerry Messenger like experience for mobile devices other than BlackBerrys.  What that means is that this kind of messaging service offers a much richer experience and allows for enhanced speed and security by utilizing internet data services as opposed to a traditional SMS text message.  Today, WhatsApp has a user base of about 450 million monthly active users, with billions of messages being sent every day, and is growing at 1 million users a day.  The company charges its users a dollar a year to use the service, making a profit nowhere near the $19 Billion purchase price by Facebook.  Looking at Facebook’s current ad based revenue it enjoys through its other services it is not farfetched to suspect a change in the monetization strategy of WhatsApp.  Despite these concerns WhatsApp CEO assures the Wall Street Journal that he believes WhatsApp “will stay completely independent and autonomous.”

These kinds of changes may concern the millions who use and trust WhatsApp especially with all of this happening on the heels of a report by Canadian and Dutch agencies having concerns over the privacy of users of WhatsApp due to violations of international privacy law.  The report found that although WhatsApp had made some changes, the report still concluded that “The investigation revealed that WhatsApp was violating certain internationally accepted privacy principles, mainly in relation to the retention, safeguard, and disclosure of personal data.”  Facebook has been no stranger to privacy concerns and controversy and users of WhatsApp will have to take all of this information into account when choosing what mobile messaging app they will like to use.

For now it is uncertain what changes, if any, will come to WhatsApp after this acquisition by Facebook.  With more secure services like BlackBerry Messenger recently going cross-platform consumers will have to consider which companies they want to possibly have access to their conversations and personal information.

In the comments I would love to hear how you message friends (sms, imessage, bbm, whatsapp, kik, facebook messenger, etc) and why you use that service.  Should we be concerned about the violation of privacy laws by some of these companies?  What steps should be taken to protect consumers who utilize these services?

Facebook and Envy

As one of the few people my age (twenty-four) without Facebook (or any social media), I found an article published in The Economist in August 2013 to be pretty stimulating. The article, entitled “Facebook is Bad for You: Get a Life” summarizes several studies indicating that those who use Facebook are more miserable in life. According to a study recently published by the Public Library of Science, “the more someone uses Facebook, the less satisfied he is with life.”

According to the article, past studies have found that using Facebook causes jealousy, social tension, isolation, and even depression. Dr. Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan and Dr. Philippe Verduyn of Leuven University in Belgium conducted a study where they tracked eighty-two ‘Facebookers’ for two weeks and evaluated their changes in emotion. The guinea pigs were all in their late teens or early twenties and agreed to have their Facebook activity and real life encounters monitored for two weeks, reporting five times a day on their state of mind via a short questionnaire. When researchers analyzed the results, it was determined that “the more a volunteer used Facebook in the period between two questionnaires, the worse he reported feeling the next time he filled in a questionnaire.” While those who used Facebook more frequently reported a decline in satisfaction, those who had more direct contact with others, via personal encounters or phone calls, were more positive. “In other words, the more volunteers socialized in the real world, the more positive they reported feeling the next time they filled in the questionnaire.” The results led the doctors to conclude that Facebook actually undermines one’s well-being.

The article also cites a past study conducted by social scientists in Germany who surveyed 584 Facebook users in their twenties. “They found that the most common emotion aroused by using Facebook is envy. Endlessly comparing themselves with peers who have doctored their photographs, amplified their achievements and plagiarized their bons mots can leave Facebook’s users more than a little green-eyed.” The study concluded that encountering people in real life is much more realistic and thus more rewarding.

When I first read this article, I was skeptical of the results of the studies. However, upon more reflection, I recalled numerous people I know who have been ‘brought down’ after seeing something on Facebook. This is not why I do not have Facebook. I choose not to have Facebook because I believe in privacy– I do not think it is anyone’s business to know what I am doing, but even more so, I do not think that anyone would care. That being said, I can appreciate the connections people maintain through social media and would never criticize users. To each his own.

This article does, however, make a lot of sense. Why would anyone want to expose themselves to potentially being less satisfied with life because of nonsense read on social media? On the other hand, are these studies merely blowing Facebook’s effects out of proportion? I would be interested to hear responses from Facebook users. I would assume (admittedly ignorantly) that if you are confident enough in yourself, Facebook cannot negatively impact your life. Thoughts?


The Economist

The Birth of RoboTweeting

NBC News reports that companies are becoming “Twitter-savvy” when it comes to consumer complaints.  In some instances customers logging complaint are retweeted with patronizing responses.  For example, according to the article, when @OccupyLA tweeted “you can help by stop stealing people’s houses!!” The Bank of America retweeted “We’d be happy to review your account.”  Corporate manipulation of Twitter is yet another example of how “the system” can corral innovative technology for its own use.   Gen-xers, hipsters and naughts have fled Facebook in droves  once businesses hijacked the social media.  Now Twitter.  Can Instagram be far behind???

Think you have not revealed personal secrets on Facebook? Think again!

Even though Facebook users try to keep personal information private, it turns out, that is hard to do.  A recent Cambridge University  study shows that computer programs can track how a person uses Facebook, and undisclosed private information about an individual.  Private information that can revealed includes, Facebook users’ sexuality, drug habits, and users’ parents relationship status.  Financial Times reported on this study, and their article can be read here.

New York City Restaurants Banning Food Photography

Do you take pictures of your food at restaurants? Plan on taking a picture of your Valentine’s Day dinner? You might be banned from taking that picture this Valentine’s Day. This is because New York City restaurant owners are banning food photography by customers. The restaurant owners don’t want people  posting pictures of their food on social media sites.  Is this fair? Should the practice be banned?  Read the CBS News story here, and comment on this post with your thoughts.

Social Media Firms are Moving into the Middle East

Social Media firms are now increasing their presence in the Middle East. The companies hope to capitalize on the recent popularity of social media in the region.  They are asserting their presence via digital advertising. Digital advertising has traditionally not been used in the Middle East.  According to The New York Times, print advertising, and television advertising, have been the main methods of advertising.   It will interesting to follow whether digital advertising will take off in the Middle East. Click on this link to read The New York Times article about the topic.

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