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June 23, 2010

Inside the mind of the anonymous online poster

Another in a series of prescient articles looking at why exactly this whole anonymous comments on a news post thing is such a toxic idea, with some intriguing behind the scenes stuff from professional moderators. Inside the mind of the anonymous online poster - The Boston Globe
At Boston.com, the website of The Boston Globe, a team of moderators – or “mods” – monitor the comments. Actually, with just one or two mods on per shift, and an average of more than 6,000 comments posted every day, on every corner of the site, the mods could never hope to monitor all the simultaneous chatter. Instead, they focus on evaluating the “abuse reports” that commenters file against one another. For Steve Morgan, a veteran editor who coordinates the monitoring, the color of trouble is red. The crimson message at the top of his computer screen keeps a running total of the abuse reports that are awaiting action. Some complaints don’t ultimately turn up abuse – coarse language, ad hominem attacks, and the like – but rather just a political stance that the person doing the complaining doesn’t care for. So a mod needs to evaluate each complaint and decide either to remove the comment or let it stand. . . . Owens insists that a no-anonymity rule is not just good journalism but good business as well. “My competitor allows anonymous comments,” he says. “We don’t. We get 10 times what they get. My users are more willing to engage in conversation, because they know who they are arguing with.” Almost all the heavy users I spoke with said they would continue to comment even if they had to provide their real name. While news organizations debate scrapping anonymity, the ground may be shifting beneath them. With all of our identifying information getting sliced, diced, and sold, by everyone from credit card companies to Facebook, is there really such a thing as the anonymous Web anymore? Consider this demonstration from the late ’90s by Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Latanya Sweeney. She took three commonly available data points: sex (male), ZIP code (02138), and date of birth (July 31, 1945). Those seemingly anonymous attributes could have described lots of people, right? Actually, no. She proved they could belong to just one person: former governor William Weld. She tells me that 87 percent of Americans can now be identified with just these three data points. Maybe the best approach to getting people to behave better online is just reminding them how easy it is to figure out who they really are.

June 21, 2010

Teachers increasingly cheating to boost their school's scores

When you clumsily tie money to performance, this is what happens. They juke the stats. Cheat Sheet - Under Pressure, Educators Tamper With Test Scores - NYTimes.com
The district said the educators had distributed a detailed study guide after stealing a look at the state science test by “tubing” it — squeezing a test booklet, without breaking its paper seal, to form an open tube so that questions inside could be seen and used in the guide. The district invalidated students’ scores. Of all the forms of academic cheating, none may be as startling as educators tampering with children’s standardized tests. But investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia and elsewhere this year have pointed to cheating by educators. Experts say the phenomenon is increasing as the stakes over standardized testing ratchet higher — including, most recently, taking student progress on tests into consideration in teachers’ performance reviews. Colorado passed a sweeping law last month making teachers’ tenure dependent on test results, and nearly a dozen other states have introduced plans to evaluate teachers partly on scores. Many school districts already link teachers’ bonuses to student improvement on state assessments. Houston decided this year to use the data to identify experienced teachers for dismissal, and New York City will use it to make tenure decisions on novice teachers. The federal No Child Left Behind law is a further source of pressure. Like a high jump bar set intentionally low in the beginning, the law — which mandates that public schools bring all students up to grade level in reading and math by 2014 — was easy to satisfy early on. But the bar is notched higher annually, and the penalties for schools that fail to get over it also rise: teachers and administrators can lose jobs and see their school taken over.