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Tall tales and the Duck test

Mark Gibbs | March 21, 2011
"If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck."


"If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck."

- "The Duck Test" by anonymous

Have you ever received a message from a friend that he got from a friend of a friend of a friend that tells you about something that gets you all riled up or that you feel you need to do something about? The truth is that these messages are mostly in the category of "tall tales."

And a very new tall tale that's doing the rounds concerns this story: "Education Department officials are threatening school principals with lawsuits if they fail to monitor and curb students' lunchtime chat and evening Facebook time for expressing ideas and words that are deemed by Washington special-interest groups to be harassment of some students."

My path to reading this somewhat outrageous assertion started when a close friend forwarded a link to an article titled "Big Brother? Feds Order Schools to Monitor Kids Facebook Posts & Lunchtime Chatter" in an online publication called "The Blaze".

My friend added the comment "I just can't believe this." My friend was quite right to be suspicious.

It appears that the story was derived (and extremely liberally quoted) from an article on another news-oriented Web site, The Daily Caller, titled "Fed instructs teachers to Facebook creep students," dated March 16 this year.

This story has, after just over 24 hours circulation, over 65,000 references to it according to a Google search I did for the headline.

What is curious, and rather obvious, if you read the original letter from the Department of Education, is that you won't find any grounds for the claims regarding government pressure to monitor students' Internet use either at school or at home.

So let's get this straight: The DoE letter uses the word "Internet" just once, and the single use of "online" is to direct readers to resources on the Web, while "monitor" is never used in the context of online anything and "Facebook" is also completely absent from any discussion.

In fact, the whole letter is quite obviously intended to frame and discuss the legal and procedural issues surrounding the problem of bullying and what schools are required to do to address the problem without any specific focus on Internet anything.

Nowhere does the letter suggest "creeping" or monitoring of students; it simply points out that schools are legally obligated to deal with the problem of bullying and that "A school is responsible for addressing harassment incidents about which it knows or reasonably should have known."


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