in Education

Censorship and the Personal/Professional divide

In May 2008 I wrote a post entitled What is a VLE? In it, I discussed the ins and outs of various VLEs and linked it to an EdTechRoundup podcast in which I was a participant. I made a passing comment that compared one type of VLE to another. The company whose VLE product I did’t rate very well threatened me (via my school) with legal proceedings. :-o

The upshot was that I felt it was in my best interests to remove the ‘offending’ paragraph so as to not cause difficulties within my school. I replaced it with one that, in my eyes, was more damaging to the VLE vendor: that they’d almost forced me to remove any criticism (however slight) by referring to ‘legal proceedings’ in their communication with my school.

I’ve now added a disclaimer to my blog, saying that my opinions are not that of my employer (school or Local Authority). It does, however, bring up the issue of where the personal ends and the professional begins – and vice-versa…

Have you any experience of this? What was the outcome?

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  1. For what it's worth Doug, I had to remove a post before when someone took exception to a comment that a visitor of mine had made. I'd always regarded myself as only responible for the words that I wrote, and not that of others on my site, but it seems that's not the case in the eyes of the law. Quite tragic, and quite pathetic on the part of the company you're having issues with. Don't they realise that times have changed?

    • That’s actually a photo from my Flickr stream from when I accidentally left the guard off when shaving my hair. Then I decided I quite liked it so kept it like that!

      Thanks for calling me ‘ballsy’. I’m going to use that as a comeback one day… ;-)

  2. That's actually a photo from my Flickr stream from when I accidentally left the guard off when shaving my hair. Then I decided I quite liked it so kept it like that!Thanks for calling me 'ballsy'. I'm going to use that as a comeback one day… ;-)

  3. Hi Doug – so sorry to hear about your experience. It doesn’t surprise me however.

    It is (sadly) just the thought of thing I was trying to relate (though not very well) at the EdTechRoundUp flashmeeting on Sunday night when I mentioned I’d removed as much as I could from FriendFeed because you don’t want to make it too easy for people (and hi to the guy who I know is tracking this comment now – you’ve still got nothing on me because there is nothing!)

    By this I mean, there are those out there who are looking to make mischief, looking to twist words/statements and however squeaky clean and unashamed of ourselves we may be, once we put our opinions/activities into the public arena we are open to this sort of thing.

    While I think the disclaimer you have added makes excellent sense, particularly professionally, isn’t it a shame we have to do these things?!

  4. For what it’s worth Doug, I had to remove a post before when someone took exception to a comment that a visitor of mine had made. I’d always regarded myself as only responible for the words that I wrote, and not that of others on my site, but it seems that’s not the case in the eyes of the law. Quite tragic, and quite pathetic on the part of the company you’re having issues with. Don’t they realise that times have changed?

  5. Hi Doug – so sorry to hear about your experience. It doesn't surprise me however.It is (sadly) just the thought of thing I was trying to relate (though not very well) at the EdTechRoundUp flashmeeting on Sunday night when I mentioned I'd removed as much as I could from FriendFeed because you don't want to make it too easy for people (and hi to the guy who I know is tracking this comment now – you've still got nothing on me because there is nothing!)By this I mean, there are those out there who are looking to make mischief, looking to twist words/statements and however squeaky clean and unashamed of ourselves we may be, once we put our opinions/activities into the public arena we are open to this sort of thing.While I think the disclaimer you have added makes excellent sense, particularly professionally, isn't it a shame we have to do these things?!

  6. Nothing that Google’s cache hasn’t sorted out for me already. What a silly company, and SUCH bad press for them (I hadn’t even registered their company the first time round – most VLEs are cumbersome).

    Legally, I should add, they don’t have a leg to stand on. Had it been me, I wouldn’t have changed the blog post, because they wouldn’t have got it off the ground. You explained why you didn’t like it – they should be asking for help to make the product better.

    • It depends what type of situation you’re in, I suppose, Ewan. A few years ago I’d have fought tooth-and-nail, but times and circumstances have changed. In the end, they have they ended up with a worse outcome through what’s happened anyway…

  7. It depends what type of situation you're in, I suppose, Ewan. A few years ago I'd have fought tooth-and-nail, but times and circumstances have changed. In the end, they have they ended up with a worse outcome through what's happened anyway…

  8. I blog a bit, on blogs directly linked to the business, and always have to be careful too – because everything I say could be turned around into some sort of official comment from the company. But if everybody stayed safe all of the time, then we’d all have a much duller life online.

    I don’t blog with a legal “personal opinion” disclaimer, because I expect people to read it knowing it’s me talking, not a lawyer.

    I do take care to try and not offend anybody, but still express my own opinion.

    If you’d stated that it was your personal opinion in the original post, then do you think that might have changed the reaction?

    If somebody says they hate your product, then I’d always take the view that it’s an opinion. It would be different if the view was expressed by somebody who’s supposed to be impartial (for example, a civil servant speaking in an official capacity) – but that isn’t what you’re doing…

    I’ve been on both sides of the fence – once I worked for a company where a specific teacher in a school was constantly writing online about the poor experience his schoopl had with a product. The rest of the school were happy with it, and this had been confirmed by the IT team and the leadership team, but he wrote in a way that presented it as his school’s opinion, not his own. In that case, there was a conversation with the school, not to stop the teacher saying what they wanted, but to ask them to ensure that it wasn’t presented as the school’s view.

    All the research says that the most valuable source of advice and information that schools listen to before buying a product is other colleagues. If teachers aren’t positive about your product experience, fix it or help them find the positive, and you’ll get more people wanting to buy!

    We’re entering a world where real world opinions count much more. Imagine if Tom Clancy got his lawyers to write to everybody who gave his books a panning on Amazon.com…

  9. I blog a bit, on blogs directly linked to the business, and always have to be careful too – because everything I say could be turned around into some sort of official comment from the company. But if everybody stayed safe all of the time, then we'd all have a much duller life online. I don't blog with a legal "personal opinion" disclaimer, because I expect people to read it knowing it's me talking, not a lawyer.I do take care to try and not offend anybody, but still express my own opinion.If you'd stated that it was your personal opinion in the original post, then do you think that might have changed the reaction?If somebody says they hate your product, then I'd always take the view that it's an opinion. It would be different if the view was expressed by somebody who's supposed to be impartial (for example, a civil servant speaking in an official capacity) – but that isn't what you're doing…I've been on both sides of the fence – once I worked for a company where a specific teacher in a school was constantly writing online about the poor experience his schoopl had with a product. The rest of the school were happy with it, and this had been confirmed by the IT team and the leadership team, but he wrote in a way that presented it as his school's opinion, not his own. In that case, there was a conversation with the school, not to stop the teacher saying what they wanted, but to ask them to ensure that it wasn't presented as the school's view.All the research says that the most valuable source of advice and information that schools listen to before buying a product is other colleagues. If teachers aren't positive about your product experience, fix it or help them find the positive, and you'll get more people wanting to buy!We're entering a world where real world opinions count much more. Imagine if Tom Clancy got his lawyers to write to everybody who gave his books a panning on Amazon.com

  10. Nothing that Google's cache hasn't sorted out for me already. What a silly company, and SUCH bad press for them (I hadn't even registered their company the first time round – most VLEs are cumbersome).Legally, I should add, they don't have a leg to stand on. Had it been me, I wouldn't have changed the blog post, because they wouldn't have got it off the ground. You explained why you didn't like it – they should be asking for help to make the product better.

  11. The VLE company in question have now contacted me directly (through the contact form on this site). I’m not going to repeat what they said in it, but let’s just say that there’s some backpeddling going on…

    My reply is below. I’m sure you can read between the lines:

    Thanks for your email. First of all, may I iterate the fact that I am not a journalist and to treat me as such would be to fundamentally misunderstand the way that the world works in these days of Web 2.0.

    An opinion cannot be ‘fundamentally inaccurate’. My comments that I found it ‘cumbersome’ and that staff at my school weren’t using it because it’s so un-userfriendly I stick by. Because of this opinion, which I have now removed from the blog post, my school was contacted by xxx xxxxxx from your organization. She said, and I quote:

    “We may want to ask Doug to issue a press release withdrawing his comments and likewise on his podcast and blog, we may want to seek legal advice. I think Doug’s comments are very contentious at best.”

    That doesn’t sound like a company who wants to enter into dialogue to me or to improve their product. Threatening me with legal action unless I remove something through my website and – even worse – going through my employers to do so is tantamount to censorship to me.

    Please note that any reply to this email may find itself in the public domain.

  12. The VLE company in question have now contacted me directly (through the contact form on this site). I'm not going to repeat what they said in it, but let's just say that there's some backpeddling going on…My reply is below. I'm sure you can read between the lines:Thanks for your email. First of all, may I iterate the fact that I am not a journalist and to treat me as such would be to fundamentally misunderstand the way that the world works in these days of Web 2.0.An opinion cannot be 'fundamentally inaccurate'. My comments that I found it 'cumbersome' and that staff at my school weren't using it because it's so un-userfriendly I stick by. Because of this opinion, which I have now removed from the blog post, my school was contacted by xxx xxxxxx from your organization. She said, and I quote:"We may want to ask Doug to issue a press release withdrawing his comments and likewise on his podcast and blog, we may want to seek legal advice. I think Doug's comments are very contentious at best."That doesn't sound like a company who wants to enter into dialogue to me or to improve their product. Threatening me with legal action unless I remove something through my website and – even worse – going through my employers to do so is tantamount to censorship to me.Please note that any reply to this email may find itself in the public domain.

  13. I was going to write this up as a blogpost on my own blog but will add here as it’s probably more relevant. Recently I started a project with Softease using their new Honeycomb project. I have been given free access to the software and am running it with years 5 and 6 at a Manchester Primary. I decided to blog about the experience and you can read my initial thoughts on Honeycomb here: http://tinyurl.com/5ug3bb The point is my review, though balanced (at least I thought so) did point out some shortcomings. A couple of days later I was contacted by email by the local area manger for Softease thanking me for my blog post and assuring me that they read my criticisms with interest and were feeding them into the product development team. Compare and contrast with the actions of the VLE publisher in question: who would you rather do business with?

  14. I was going to write this up as a blogpost on my own blog but will add here as it's probably more relevant. Recently I started a project with Softease using their new Honeycomb project. I have been given free access to the software and am running it with years 5 and 6 at a Manchester Primary. I decided to blog about the experience and you can read my initial thoughts on Honeycomb here: http://tinyurl.com/5ug3bb The point is my review, though balanced (at least I thought so) did point out some shortcomings. A couple of days later I was contacted by email by the local area manger for Softease thanking me for my blog post and assuring me that they read my criticisms with interest and were feeding them into the product development team. Compare and contrast with the actions of the VLE publisher in question: who would you rather do business with?

  15. I have heard of several PR companies engaging in ‘below the line marketing’ – creating fictitious internet based profiles on a range of sites and using these to promote a range of products and services on behalf of their customers.

    If mild negative comments are censored through threats of litigation, the aggregation of false positive praise and the absense of a critical voice does not bode well for the online consumer in the future.

  16. I do some work with 3rd year UGs and we use a free wiki tool (PBWiki). One particular student let off steam, on a blog, about how she couldn’t make the wiki do a specific task. Imagine her surprise and delight when a developer from the wiki commented on her blog; thanking her for the feedback and assuring her that the improvement was already on the development roadmap.

    As I’m mentioned elsewhere I worked for many years in the IT industry and I understand the value of reputation – it’s a shame that vendors who simply don’t get how the web works don’t work out how to use it properly.

    I now work for two universities and I’m also employed as an elearning consultant for a number of HEIs and FEIs in the South East. Anyone want to make a guess at platform vendors I might not consider supporting if anyone asks my opinion? It’s not just about the software but it’s about the company selling the software and even if the kit tears up trees if you can’t trust the vendor it’s simply not going to happen.

  17. I have heard of several PR companies engaging in 'below the line marketing' – creating fictitious internet based profiles on a range of sites and using these to promote a range of products and services on behalf of their customers.If mild negative comments are censored through threats of litigation, the aggregation of false positive praise and the absense of a critical voice does not bode well for the online consumer in the future.

  18. I do some work with 3rd year UGs and we use a free wiki tool (PBWiki). One particular student let off steam, on a blog, about how she couldn't make the wiki do a specific task. Imagine her surprise and delight when a developer from the wiki commented on her blog; thanking her for the feedback and assuring her that the improvement was already on the development roadmap.As I'm mentioned elsewhere I worked for many years in the IT industry and I understand the value of reputation – it's a shame that vendors who simply don't get how the web works don't work out how to use it properly. I now work for two universities and I'm also employed as an elearning consultant for a number of HEIs and FEIs in the South East. Anyone want to make a guess at platform vendors I might not consider supporting if anyone asks my opinion? It's not just about the software but it's about the company selling the software and even if the kit tears up trees if you can't trust the vendor it's simply not going to happen.

  19. I’ve been recently tasked with shortlisting VLE platforms for implementation in my school. Guess which company is NOT going to be on that shortlist.

    As it has been expressed here , they actually don’t have a leg to stand on (I have checked with my wife the solicitor) as you were only expressing a personal opinion / preference.

    Don’t mark too hard Doug!

  20. I've been recently tasked with shortlisting VLE platforms for implementation in my school. Guess which company is NOT going to be on that shortlist.As it has been expressed here , they actually don't have a leg to stand on (I have checked with my wife the solicitor) as you were only expressing a personal opinion / preference.Don't mark too hard Doug!