Recap: BlogHer ’12

I’m back from BlogHer ’12, and in the lull before the storm of my preliminary exams and the beginning of my first Teaching Assistant position. As always, I left the BlogHer hotel feeling inspired by the wonderful women I met, even more by the friends I saw, and ready to take on the world.

A few highlights:

  • My panel was a lot of fun, as were my fellow panelists, Lindsay LaVine, and Divya Jayachandran, and our wonderful moderator Lisen Stromberg. Presentations, in-room questions and discussions, and the Twitter stream were all lively.
  • My next most-favorite panel was on getting women elected. Not only was it successfully bipartisan, the Twitter stream conversation inspired me to blog, and I have an academic crush on the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. And it featured one of my favorite people, political author and pundit, Joanne Bamberger.
  • I met a completely hilarious woman named Cindy, who somehow proceeded to explain to me that she used to be the number one hit for Pterodactyl Porn on Google, not that she produces the stuff herself. She just blogs about whatever random things she finds amusing. I spent the whole morning with her, laughing.
  • I cried my eyes out while my dear friend Dresden read her Voice of the Year winning post. And while my also wonderful friend Vikki read hers, although I was mercifully less sobby for that one.
  • Briar made me laugh, spent ages chatting with me, and when I was tweeting that we were afraid we were going to be stuck in NYC overnight (#BlogHerTarmac), offered crash space.
  • I spent fantastic time and had wonderful conversations with too many other people to count.
  • EDITED TO ADD: I almost forgot the MOST AMAZING PART! The President of the United States accepted the invitation to address 5,000 women bloggers, via live satellite feed! You can watch his address — and hear our roar of welcome — on (Romney was invited too; he did not speak to us.)

In T-9 days, I begin my 60-day long preliminary examinations. I’m glad I had so much fun before they get started.

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Professional Development

Over the last few days, I’ve been working very hard with one of my colleagues, a post-doc, to organize a panel proposal for a major academic conference. It was a fun project, but challenging in some ways I didn’t expect.

We put out a public request for additional potential panelists, and the response was a little bit overwhelming. On the one hand, this was fabulous. We submitted a panel that was diverse by many reckonings: multidisciplinary, international, seniority of scholars, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. On the other hand, there were people who responded just slightly later than others, who also would have been great additions.

The other challenge was in writing up a panel description that reflected both the common themes we see in the panelists work, and our belief that we can all benefit from the diverse perspectives on these themes, without losing anyone’s unique viewpoint.

Left to do this on my own, I probably would have written a pretty boring: X looks at Y using Z theories and methodologies. A also looks at Y, but through the lens of B and C theories. … Thankfully, my post-doc friend has much more experience in this area, and was able to frame and integrate the individual ideas in a much more interesting way, which she also commented was how it should be done in a lit review.


And now we wait.

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Blogger Liable for Defamation

This is an excerpt from a post I originally published on BlogHer.

Last week, blogger Crystal Cox was found liable for defamation in a trial before a federal judge in Portland, Oregon. The civil award was based on a blog post Cox posted, accusing Obsidian Financial Group and Kevin D. Padrick, a bankruptcy trustee, of corruption. The court awarded the plaintiffs $2.5 million dollars.

What does this mean for other bloggers?

Unfortunately, the answer is not simple. There are a number of factors bloggers need to consider.

First Issue: Is Cox a Journalist? One of the things the judge had to consider was whether or not Cox was a journalist. She claimed that she was, and that she had an inside source for her corruption allegations, but that she should not have to provide information about that source as a journalist. Cox claimed protection as a journalist under Oregon’s “media shield” law.

Read the full post on BlogHer.

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Net Neutrality Principles Should Apply to Wireless Access Providers

The FCC will vote on “preserving the open Internet” today. This will be a high profile vote – more than 37,000 comments have been filed with the FCC on this particular rulemaking procedure.

Internet neutrality, the debate over whether or not the companies owning the infrastructure through which we get access to Internet may slow or accelerate certain Internet traffic, is complicated by the architectural diversity of the Internet itself. When most people got online through dialing in over a telephone line, traditional telephone regulations ensured that each packet of Internet data – think of a packet of data as the equivalent of a letter in a sentence – were treated equally. Everyone’s communications packets were technologically equal.

Now Americans obtain access to the Internet through a whole range of new technologies: cable companies, DSL providers, cell phones, and other mobile devices. These providers are not regulated the way traditional telephone companies were; they are free to treat each packet of Internet data however they choose.

More and more Americans are using their cell phones to access the Internet: 38% in May 2010, up from 25% in April 2009, according to the Pew Internet and American Life project. These numbers are more dramatic for young adults: 9 out of 10 Americans between 18-29 own a cell phone, and 65% of them access the Internet through their phone. Pew also found that African Americans and English speaking Latinos are significantly more likely to access the Internet through their phones than are white Americans.

The FCC’s forthcoming vote to preserve the open Internet, if it includes wireless Internet access providers, will go a long way towards ensuring equal access to online information for people of color and young people.

But this is not only about young people and people of color using cell phones to access the Internet. The world of wireless devices that use Internet access to provide valuable services is growing. For example, the Internet has long held the promise of transforming rural health care by providing advanced services over long distances. Unfortunately, the cost of providing broadband services to areas with low population density has caused that promise to stall. Deployment of a wireless device and transmitters is a far smaller capital investment than laying fiber to a “last mile” destination that may be many miles from an existing broadband access provider.

This will also affect educational access. While the E-Rate program has been tremendously successful in providing affordable Internet access to rural and low-income schools and libraries, such institutions must adapt to the wireless access world to continue meeting the information needs of their communities.

Furthermore, children continue to be homeschooled in increasing numbers – in 2007 (the most recent year for which data is available), more than 1.5 million children were homeschooled. This number increased from 850,000 in 1999. These families depend on Internet access that is both affordable and trustworthy, either at home or for free in public libraries, to engage in research and obtain curriculum support materials.

Robust wireless access means that these students – and all students – can study and learn anywhere. The answers to botany questions can be looked up instantly and outdoors; historical or cultural questions that arise on field trips can be answered on the spot.

Of course development of wireless networks is an expensive investment in infrastructure. Companies need to be able to recoup their investments and be responsible stewards of their shareholders’ investments. But these interests must be balanced with the evolving role of wireless as a primary means for gaining access to Internet-based content. Where conflicts arise, regulators must protect access to knowledge.

Wireless Internet access is growing, not slowing. If the FCC does not require wireless providers to carry all lawful traffic equally, this technology will fail to live up to its potential. Instead of being a robust public good, helping to close the digital divide and improve distance medicine and education, it will be primarily relegated to the realm of entertainment for those who can afford it. Our opportunity to maximize the public benefit of the wireless spectrum will be lost.

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Why You Should Care About Net Neutrality

This is an excerpt from a post I originally published on BlogHer.

Unless you scrupulously avoid reading news sites on the Internet, you’ve probably heard that Google and Verizon made a big announcement last week, having something to do with “Net Neutrality.” And unless you are a policy wonk or a tech-geek, or you saw one of the really inflammatory headlines, your eyes probably glazed over and you moved on to the next story.

Please read this one. Net Neutrality is incredibly important, and this Google-Verizon proposal is bad for the future of the Internet.

In a nutshell, the idea of “Net Neutrality” is that the big companies that own the wires or spectrum through which Internet content gets to us — cable companies, DSL, and increasingly, the companies who sell us Smart Phones — should have to treat all of the itty bitty bits (“packets“) of information the same way. For example, Time Warner Cable would not be able to make a deal with Yahoo! to provide their search results faster than Google’s, or make YouTube videos load more slowly than video clips on Flickr.

Read the whole post on BlogHer.

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FTC Guides for Endorsements, Testimonials, and Blogger Advertising

Here’s an excerpt of an article I wrote for the December 2009 issue of Wisconsin Lawyer:

On Dec. 1, 2009, the first revision since 1980 to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) document, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” (Guides), went into effect.1 The Guides provide businesses and marketing professionals with insight into the FTC’s interpretation of “unfair or deceptive acts or practices”2 in the context of advertising that includes “endorsements” or recommendations from individual people – celebrities, experts, and ordinary individuals.

The Guides now explicitly apply to communication from bloggers and other new-media speakers and have generated tremendous confusion within those communities. Advertisers and businesses that work with bloggers also face new requirements under the Guides. Additionally, the Guides alter the current requirements for testimonial advertisements in any medium, especially the so-called “results not typical” ad disclaimers.

This article briefly describes the kinds of new media addressed by the FTC, explains the disclosure requirements that now apply to new-media speakers and the controversy around those requirements, explains what businesses and advertisers are now responsible for, and discusses the new rules for testimonial advertising in all media.

Check out the full article, Endorsements, Testimonials, and Bloggers: The New FTC Guides, on the state bar website.


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The City of Bozeman Wants Your Password???

I believe that a lot of bad privacy decisions are made by well-intentioned people who don’t understand either how various technologies work, or who don’t understand the easiest, cheapest, and most effective way to protect people’s privacy is to limit the amount of data they collect and retain.

The City of Bozeman, Montana, appears to be guilty of severe over-collection of information. For those persons who apply for and are conditionally offered jobs involving the public trust by for the City of Bozeman, they are required not to merely provide URLS for blogs and FaceBook or Twitter usernames, but also the passwords associated with those accounts. Here’s an interview with the Bozeman City Attorney Greg Sullivan explaining what they collect, from whom, and why.

The Terms of Service for FaceBook specifically indicates, “You will not solicit login information or access an account belonging to someone else” and “You will not share your password, let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.” Violations of those terms have consequences from FaceBook: “If you violate the letter or spirit of this Statement, or otherwise create possible legal exposure for us, we can stop providing all or part of Facebook to you. We will generally try to notify you, but have no obligation to do so.”

Twitter’s Terms of Service are unsurprisingly similar, noting, “You are responsible for keeping your password secure.” Furthermore, they have more forthright consequences: “Violation of any of these agreements will result in the termination of your account.”

Furthermore, Bozeman’s official practice of collecting job applicant social networking password information also includes the retention of that information. Yes, they take your password and they keep it, in allegedly secure HR files.

As someone who once started a new job in an office that had previously housed HR, and found a stack of 50 forgotten personnel files on my desk, I consider that practice highly suspect at best.

Not only shouldn’t Bozeman collect login information in the first place, but they should certainly not retain it after completing the task for which they allegedly need it.

I do think employers have the right to ask for blog and social networking information about potential employees, and to search for information about potential employees online. Those sites are public or quasi-public, and users need to remember that anything they post online might be seen by anyone — a boss, a parent, a child, or a future potential employer.

That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t use social networking sites or blogs, just that those are public spaces every bit as much as the reception area outside of the interview.

One major risk that has not been explored in the discussion of this policy is Bozeman’s claim that they won’t use any information that they are not legally permitted to use, that they find online — ie race, religion, marital or pregnancy status.


I have a hard time imagining how that gets enforced.

And what about information someone finds about unprotected or potenially unprotected classes like gays and lesbians? Or single mothers? Or people in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse?

What if the decision-maker is of the opinion that people who enjoy violent video games are prone to violence?

Many thanks to Boing Boing, the Missulian, and others for bringing this to the light of day.

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