courage and a back up plan

During the development of a presentation entitled “Information Literacy, Privacy, & Risk: What Are the Implications of Mass Surveillance for Libraries?” for the 2014 Online Northwest conference, my group considered a question asked by the keynote speaker, Andromeda Yelton: “what obstacles stop us from learning, and how do we get around them?”

In the context of the conference presentation, potential obstacles include chilling effects on learning due to fears related to mass surveillance – will students self-censor their research and writing due to fear that it might one day be used against them?  Our discussions about how we can support students reminded me of training and experience from my previous work with survivors of abuse, and I wrote this note in one of our planning documents:

Lessons learned from other abusive systems – what do survivors of domestic violence know that might be helpful for students, faculty and librarians?  Victims believe that they can control when the abuse occurs – survivors know that it isn’t how it works.

There is a lot of background discussion for this note, but the general idea is that for chilling effects related to fears about mass surveillance, there is a well-worn path in the anti-violence advocate community to consider when thinking about our responses as educators.

Gabe had suggested that I really should check out Andromeda Yelton’s blog, and after reading a post about the experiences of identifiably female writers, I added a quote below the note:

wow: “Let’s say that again: I live in a world where being myself in public, talking about things I care about under my own name in public, is a specific choice which requires both courage and a backup plan.”

This is a beautiful way to put it.  The choice to write anyway, to research freely, to live out in the open even though tangible threats may exist – these are all specific choices requiring both courage and a backup plan.

The framework of choice also implies respect for individual autonomy in making decisions about how public to be – it wouldn’t be an act of bravery if there were no risks.  As educators, we can consider serving as role models for courage in the learning experience, and we can work on figuring out what a ‘backup plan’ means in the context of mass surveillance.

The Online Northwest conference was unfortunately cancelled due to the weather, but we’ll publish our presentation slides soon at the conference website – including quotes from Andromeda Yelton’s post described as a possible template for how to respond to chilling effects and risks of self-censorship.

This post reflects collaborative research and discussion with Gabe Gossett and Brian Davidson for class projects and preparation for the 2014 Online Northwest conference.


Andromeda Yelton. (2014, January 3). #libtechgender: conference codes of conduct as seen from your world and mine. Andromeda Yelton. Retrieved from

Taylor, M. (2013, November 14). (“U.S. agencies collected and shared the personal information of thousands  of Americans in an attempt to root out untrustworthy federal workers that ended up scrutinizing people who had no direct ties to the U.S. government and simply had purchased certain books.”) Americans’ personal data shared with CIA, IRS, others in security probe.  McClatchyDC. Retrieved from

See also:

Amanda Hess. (2014, January 6). The Next Civil Rights Issue: Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from

Isis the Scientist. (2014, January 20). (“There’s no point in getting through doors if you can’t help others find them and walk through them with you.”). Be Not Afraid… Isis the Scientist. Retrieved from

Mary Beard. (2014, February 14). (“Ironically the well-meaning solution often recommended when women are on the receiving end of this stuff turns out to bring about the very result the abusers want: namely, their silence. ‘Don’t call the abusers out. Don’t give them any attention; that’s what they want. Just keep mum,’ you’re told, which amounts to leaving the bullies in unchallenged occupation of the playground.”) The Public Voice of Women. London Review of Books. Retrieved from

Tara McKelvey. (2014, February 19). (“While working for the Wall Street Journal, Emily Parker met bloggers who fought for freedom – and was amazed by their courage.”) Web warriors cause big bother for Big Brother. BBC. Retrieved from


2 Responses to “courage and a back up plan”

  1. Andromeda Yelton (@ThatAndromeda) Says:

    I just went through your whole presentation (thanks for putting it online!). Criminy did that result in a lot of thinking.

    Mass surveillance is something that troubles me a lot, and I hadn’t realized my argument could be taken in that direction, and you’re totally right.

    • learningdocument Says:

      Thank you so much, Andromeda! Your post really helped clarify what had otherwise been a sense of de ja vu.

      In the publicly available “Digital Security and Awareness” Zotero folder (at, your post is linked to a variety of articles and posts in the “Related” section – several highlights are included here, but there are more, and I plan to continue adding materials to the Zotero folder in general and on this theme in particular.

      Thanks again for the inspiration, and for modeling courage – I’ve also been slowly stepping out of the pseudonymous shadows since I returned to school to finish up my M.Ed., and I sincerely appreciate the encouragement to “create a world where you don’t have to be quite so brave to speak up.”

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