The Julie Amero in All of Us
Mainstream media has finally started covering the case of Julie Amero, the substitute teacher who was found guilty of child endangerment because some of her students saw adult-oriented popup ads on her computer screen. And the news coverage is causing a lot of educators to say to themselves in horror: It could have been me.
When I first started blogging the Julie Amero case about a month ago, I complained that the story was being neglected by mainstream media. Education bloggers and online tech magazines were talking about her conviction, but apart from Amero’s local paper in Connecticut, almost no news outlets were covering the case.
How things change. In the last couple of weeks there have been major stories in CNN and the New York Times, among other major outlets. At last count, there were more than 750 posts in the blogosphere discussing her conviction. Most bloggers seem to feel that she was wrongly convicted, while a minority appears to support the prosecution.
Posts that contain “Julie Amero” per day for the last 30 days.
It’s all too easy to get bogged down in the technical details of what may or may not have transpired that day. Whether or not you believe she was wrongly convicted, it’s pretty clear why so many educators are flocking to her defense: they’ve all experienced embarrassing situations where pornographic images have appeared on their computers beyond their control. And the thought that such an incident could lead to a 40-year jail term for Amero makes one wonder what could happen to any one of us facing a similar situation.
Numerous readers of this blog have posted their own stories, many of which bear an eerie similarity to what might have happened to Amero. Here are just a few of them.
From Larry Christianson:
I write because the same thing happened in our household. Whenever we would access the MSN home page, disgusting porn pop-ups would appear and there was no getting rid of them. We have young kids in the house that frequently open my wife’s computer. Fortunately, we saw the problem and addressed it before any “damage” was done. The solution? Remove and re-install MSN software. Apparently, the adware was attached somehow to the MSN program from some point forward until we took the link away.
Unfortunately, I know that she is telling the truth because almost the exact thing happened to me about 10 days ago. My husband googled “spyware” and shortly after that we had an ad for an antivirus program with pictures of graphic pornography become our homepage!!! Thank God that we discovered this and not our daughters. One of the pictures was a very young naked woman with a dog in a sexual position!! Very repulsive. I literally cried and had to leave the room and ask that my husband get rid of it. I wanted to throw the computer out the window. It can happen to anyone, uninvited. The whole thing is a tragedy.
From Linda Bruce:
I know for a fact how easily you can be redirected to another website and have porn popping up without any participation on your part. Approximately two years ago we were traveling and found ourselves stuck in a large airport. I opened our laptop, accessed the internet and proceeded to type in what I thought was the website for Delta Airlines. It was not and I was immediately redirected to what was obviously a porn website. All sorts of pop-ups began showing up with very explicit porn shots, none of which I solicited nor wanted to see. However, I could not even react fast enough to prevent the pop-ups and immediately shut my laptop for fear anyone else around me could see these same pop-ups. When my sanity took hold I had to reopen the laptop, porn and all, and shut it down as quickly as possible as that was the only way to keep the pop-ups from continuing to appear. It was the most bizarre occurrence and hasn’t happened since but it is a perfect example of how easily it can happen. At that moment it doesn’t matter if it’s your 80-year old mother or a classroom full of students looking over your shoulder or at your elbow, you are just as powerless as they to stop the pop-ups from happening and of course, anyone looking at the screen is going to be exposed to it until you can gather your senses and shut the screen or the computer down!
From: C. Mytko:
Schools seem to want to trust web filters, but we all know they are fallible. I learned the hard way that Google Images were not screened by our school filter. Years ago, student typed in “belladonna” to clarify our discussion of medieval cosmetics, but the picture that popped up was clearly not a plant. I hope that, if the pop-ups were inadventent, this substitute will be let off the hook.Renee:
I had a similar incident in which I was connected to a projector, and the laptop I was using had a broken screen. The several second delay in my realizing what was actually going on felt like a year. First thing I did was freeze in horror. I thought I learned that no matter what you have to report it to a supervisor. I did not in this instance because the bumbling admin. was already hostile towards me for asking for working equipment, in a school with “Info. Tech.” in the title, and for a Tech class that I was drafted to teach. Admin. later heard rumor of this incident and used it to harass me more. I ended up leaving the school. Glad I did, and glad that the whole thing didn’t go any further.
While I haven’t had any major problems with adware myself, I can think of several instances when a mistyped URL or an inadvertent click led to severe embarrassment. Even as far back to the early 1990s, I can remember doing a demo of USENET bulletin boards and having a string of questions pop up, asking if I wanted to join a variety of adult bulletin boards.
From DOPA Jr. to Dateline NBC catching predators in the act, there’s no doubt that we’re going through a period in which fear of the unknown is dictating policy, often taking a zero-tolerance approach. But how do you reconcile that with the reality that many, if not most of us, have accidentally stumbled upon adult-oriented content in public or school settings? It seems we’ve all been Julie Amero at one time or another - and given the sentence she faces, that’s scary as hell. -andy