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Zippy Scenarios for Teaching Internet Ethics

Note to educators: Feel free to use any of the following scenarios for educational purposes. And please feel free to share your own ideas too! Send scenario suggestions to francey at illinois.edu. [Please note that these are, for the most part, listed in the order they’ve been used. Though some of the language has been updated, a few are are getting a little long in the tooth. Still, the principles remain the same. I promise to purge and update the whole list someday!]

Describe the underlying netiquette/ethics issue(s) in each scenario. What is your opinion of the behaviors involved? What equitable solutions can you suggest? Describe a parallel situation in which computers are NOT involved.

  1. Jules has walked away from a lab computer without logging off. Trish sits down and, still logged in as Jules, sends inflammatory e-mail messages out to a number of students and posts similar messages on the class forum.
  2. Lester sends e-mail to the entire student body inviting them to a BYOB party at his house while his parents are out of town. Lester receives a message from a system administrator calling him in for a meeting with school officials. He objects because he feels that his e-mail is his own private business.
  3. Every time Abner posts a comment to a forum, his posts are flamed by a group of “enemies.” Abner has responded to each flame in turn, and a full-scale war is now in progress.
  4. Sharon and Timothy are students at Big Suburban High School. They have designed a website devoted to their favorite rock band using their personal space on the school’s server. They have posted song clips, lyrics, photographs of each band member, and articles they have found in various online news sources. However, school authorities have asked them to shut down their site because of the obscene content of many of the lyrics. Sharon and Timothy object, noting that their First Amendment (free speech) rights are being violated.
  5. A secretary on the campus of a tax-supported university has been requested to give her staff password to her supervisor. The supervisor would like to check the secretary’s e-mail when she is not at work to see if departmental-related mail is coming in. The secretary is not comfortable giving her password to her supervisor, but is afraid to say no.
  6. Tina’s e-mail is somehow being captured and sent out to her entire class. The messages are quite personal and Tina is very embarrassed.
  7. Sandy has been receiving 4 or 5 anonymous insults daily over email. Because of the context of the notes, she has narrowed the suspect down to someone in her 4th hour class. She sends the entire class a nasty warning not to do it again.
  8. Brad has posted a note on his class forum stating his (highly unflattering) opinion of a new teacher. He wants to know what others think. Some of the responses that follow say nice things. Other comments are quite critical; a few are personal.
  9. At Paradise High School, people can send email messages to students-only mailing lists that no teachers or administrators can read. Teachers and administrators also have their own mailing lists. However, word leaks out that the answers to a sophomore-level test have been mailed to the sophomore student mailing list, but no one is saying who is responsible for the posting. Now the school administration is rethinking the idea of student-only areas and the issue of whether the faculty should supervise them.
  10. Paula and Ron went out for a few months. During that time, they sent each other some pretty personal email. But their break up was messy. The final straw came when Ron found out that Paula was sending copies of their old messages to his new girlfriend. Pretty soon, copies of the messages seemed to be all over the school and his new girlfriend wouldn’t speak to him.
  11. Russ has been an active participant at a chat site for teens. He knows a few of the people in “real life,” but many live in other cities. One of them, Stuart, will be coming through town in a few weeks and wants to get together. He asks Russ for his cell phone number and address. Russ suggests that they just meet at the mall, and Stuart agrees, but wants Russ’s home info anyway in case he’s delayed.
  12. Word gets around that Sylvester has a website where he posts sexually explicit references about a couple of girls at school. The site also links to hard core porn sites. School officials find out about the website and tell Sylvester that they plan to inform his parents about the it.
  13. After the September 11th terrorist attack [Note: substitute different event, as appropriate], many students and teachers send related email to the “all-student” or “all-faculty” mailing lists. Most of the messages contain information about the status of former students and about ways people can help in the crisis. But Penelope sends a long note with a heavy religious message. And Mr. Snidden sends out large patriotic image files. A small delegation of students takes their objections to the administration. They understood that these all-school mailing lists, which are screened by the school’s system administrator, were supposed to be used for school related, informational purposes only.
  14. Several students have discovered a web site that promotes anorexia as a lifestyle choice rather than an eating disorder. It includes tips for weight loss, pictures that glamorize the anorexic look, a discussion board members use to support one another, and other material that promotes “anorexic pride.” School counselors have asked that this site and others like it be blocked on the school network. They point out that anorexia is a deadly disease and that some students are particularly susceptible to this type of misinformation.
  15. Lynn advertises her club fundraiser by sending a message to the club’s email list, which has about five-hundred members. At the bottom of her message, she tells recipients they should reply to the message if they want to be taken off the list. But when recipients email her back, their responses also go to the other 500 people on the list. Many of those people then send replies, asking: “Why did you send me this message? I can’t remove you from the list!” Of course, many of these “cease and desist” messages also go to all 500 members. This e-mailing continues back and forth until people’s mailboxes start filling to capacity. New messages start bouncing back to the server, which eventually crashes.
  16. Joe uses an online forum [Note: substitute other platform, as appropriate] to conduct a popularity poll. He asks “Who are the people you like most in the sophomore class? Who are the people you like least?” A couple of names predominate on the “least liked” list. Suzy, who is one of those people, starts missing a lot of school. Her parents are puzzled because the doctor can find nothing physically wrong with her. School officials warn them that Suzy will have to repeat the year if her attendance doesn’t improve.
  17. Charley, Alfred, and Tim are good friends, but like lots of guys, sometimes get into one-upsmanship games. This time, it started when Charley got himself a new user name no one knew him by. He started posting about Alfred, saying things about him that either weren’t true or else were pretty private. Finally, Alfred figured out it was Charley who was doing the posting. So to get back at Charley, Alfred went to a popular online forum and logged on, using Tim’s name instead of his own. On this public forum he posted Charley’s real phone number, saying Charley was a girl looking for a date. When the phone calls started coming in, both Charley and Tim got in trouble.
  18. Like many of her friends, Minnie has a Tumblr. But unlike her friends, she keeps its location secret. She doesn’t link to anyone else’s Tumblr and she doesn’t like or share using her Tumblr user name. Somehow, though, Edward finds Minnie’s Tumblr. Word spreads, and soon everyone has seen it. Unfortunately, she has used it to criticize most everyone she knows, including other students, teachers, and her parents. Everyone is furious with her.
  19. Some students find a way to obtain system administrator passwords to the school computer network. They learn how to mask the identity of the computers they are logging in from, so no one can trace their actions or figure out who they are. The students use the passwords to poke around the system, including reading and copying some teachers’ files and tests. When they finally get caught, they are in big trouble. The students know they have broken the rules, but they claim that they did not delete or change files, look at personal e-mail or student records, or even personally benefit from seeing the tests. Therefore, they feel their punishment should not be too severe.
  20. A group of older boys uses Greg’s email address to sign him up for pornographic web sites. When Greg goes to the library to check his email, his inbox is full of “verification” emails for these websites. Clicking on the “remove” link within these emails takes Greg to the sites themselves to unsubscribe–which also brings up detailed graphic images. Ron, one of the reference librarians, sees these images on Greg’s screen, which are a violation of the library’s Internet policy, and suspends Greg’s Internet privileges for one month.
  21. Libby posts some complaints about Mr. Johnson on her Facebook page. She says he’s a terrible teacher and that he plays favorites. Roger responds by posting a doctored photo of Mr. Johnson with devil horns and blood coming out of his mouth. Theresa’s follow-up comment is that Mr. Johnson “should be fired and put on the police list of sex offenders.” More and more people post comments (some with images) until Libby’s page comes to the attention of the school administration. Libby and several of the people who posted comments are called in for disciplinary action. The school administration blocks Facebook from the school network.
  22. Orlando produces a weekly podcast that has become fairly popular in his small town. He broadcasts community news that focuses on teen interests and features regular guest speakers. His listeners especially like the “gossip” segment of the show, which is written with the help of several unidentified contributors. Lately, he’s also been including podcasts of lectures from his history and English classes. Students who miss class appreciate the service, but his teachers are stunned to find out that their lectures are available to anyone who has Internet access.
  23. Chester, Agatha, and Ridley are hanging out at the park one day and meet up with Chester’s friend Troy. Troy takes a bunch of pictures with his cell phone and uploads them to Facebook, adding suggestive captions to the photos. Agatha starts getting friend requests from guys she doesn’t know. She also gets a phone call from one of the families she babysits for, canceling her upcoming job with them.
  24. A group of students decide to make a Facebook page that features Bertram. Bertram is this annoying guy who is always raising his hand in class, never misses a chance to correct students (and teachers!), and constantly brags about his placement in an upper level math class. The Facebook page says, “When 100 people ‘like’ this page, Bertram will wear a dress to school.” It doesn’t take long before people start “liking” it.
  25. For his history class semester project, Jerry is in a group with Molly and Clay. Molly doesn’t contribute very much and even when she does, Jerry often has to redo her work because the quality is so bad. The day before the project is due, Clay gets sick. Unfortunately, Clay has put some of the materials on his personal account instead of the project folder shared by the group. Jerry gets stuck staying up until 3:00 in the morning, redoing the things that are on Clay’s account and finishing the project himself. He blows off steam by updating his status on Facebook with rants about his group partners.
  26. You sit close to your good friend Rudy in several classes. He’s a really smart guy and generally gets good grades, but often uses his laptop to play games rather than take notes or do whatever it is he’s supposed to be doing during class. You don’t really care (some classes are BORING), but lately he’s been asking you for notes and assignments that he’s missed getting. Yesterday he asked you for help while the teacher was lecturing and you both got in trouble for talking in class.

Intellectual Property Issues

  1. Tracy had a report to write on acid rain. She used several sources — books, magazines, newspaper articles, and an online encyclopedia. She listed all these sources in her bibliography at the end of the report. She found the encyclopedia to be the most convenient source because she could highlight portions of the text and paste them into her report.
  2. Jason R. designed and posted a Star Wars web site. Once the site started receiving 40,000 hits a day, he received a phone call from Lucasfilm asking him to shut it down. Jason posted excerpts of the phone conversation on his website. Lucasfilm was then flooded with angry e-mail messages from fans who felt the company was exerting totalitarian control over products to which they felt a deep personal connection.
  3. Ms. Calliope, librarian at North South School, received email from someone who liked the gargoyle image on the school library’s website and wanted to know if he could use it on his school library’s web page. The art teacher, who created the image for the school, wrote back to him, explaining that the image belonged to the North South School and that, furthermore, it had special significance as the image that identifies the school. She thanked him for his interest, but told him that she could not grant permission for him to use it.
  4. Richard asked Vicky if he could look at the essay she wrote for their history class. She told him “sure” and thought no more about it. Several days after the essays were turned in, the teacher asked her to stay after class. She showed Vicky that her essay and Richards were almost identical. She asked Vicky for an explanation.
  5. Malcolm has a website on the topic of guitars. He has collected a truly astonishing amount of information and receives many complimentary email messages from guitar enthusiasts. He has downloaded numerous pictures and articles he finds on other websites, and is always careful to give credit by citing the original sources.
  6. Paramount pictures has cracked down on numerous Star Trek fans for printing synopses of the plots of just-released installments in the film series. In other media news, FOX TV sent a “cease and desist” letter to a woman whose Simpsons icons were starting to appear across various websites. She is quoted as saying that she felt she was giving Fox free publicity.
  7. Roberta and Todd are the DJs for the next school dance. They download a bunch of music and create a huge playlist for the dance. Some of the songs are from big name groups and others are from new artists who are using the web to build an audience. Some of the download sites are maintained by people who upload music from their own music collections. Some are peer-to-peer sharing sites like BitTorrent. And some of the sites are “official” band sites, public domain music sharing services, or sites like iTunes.
  8. Mr. Boxley asks the school librarian to check some references in Belinda’s research paper. Mr. Boxley believes that the writing is far better than Belinda’s usual work, almost spookily better. The librarian does a quick search and discovers that Belinda has copied whole paragraphs from the online articles she cites. However, in each sentence, at least two words have been changed. When confronted, Belinda argues that she has paraphrased and cited her sources. She does not believe she has plagiarized from other people’s work.
  9. Larry is a fan of a superheroes cartoon that has an accompanying web site. He particularly likes one of the characters. He copies the character’s web page onto his own website, but changes the name of the character to “Larry.” Several weeks later, the school system administrator is contacted by the company that produces the show its website. They threaten to sue the school if the site is not immediately removed.
  10. Ken doesn’t have much money to buy new music. Instead, he checks out CDs from the public library and rips them, or copies music files from free sharing sites or friends’ computers. When he does have money, he either buys CDs the library doesn’t have or downloads songs from iTunes for $1.29 apiece.
  11. The sophomore class officers decide to make a commemorative video of the year’s activities. The video will consist of a combination of still photos taken during the year as well as video interviews of class members. The background music for the photo shots will include several popular songs that really enhance the mood of the video. Students will be able to watch the video online or purchase it for $.50 (the cost of the DVD).

Puzzle: Which scenario in the top list also belongs in the second list under Intellectual Property Issues?