Thanks to Bedford/St. Martin’s

These entries, written by Traci Gardner, are copied from TechNotes, a free newsletter for writing teachers from Bedford/St. Martin’s. For information about TechNotes, go to

Let’s Chat

Today, Microsoft announced that the company will be replacing their free Internet chat service with a service available to subscribers only (see the Reuters story). The announcement offers an excellent opportunity to discuss the use of online discussion tools in your classroom as well as to consider the rhetorical techniques that Microsoft employs in the following Web resources, each of which communicates something about Microsoft’s beliefs about their Chat resources and the people who use them.

“Spammers, Pedophiles Force Microsoft to Quit Chat,” Reuters

“Microsoft Shuts Down Chat Rooms,” Morning Edition (NPR)
[This is an audio link that requires Real Player or a similar plug-in.]

“Microsoft Closes Chatrooms to Curb Paedophile Threat,” The Independent

“MSN Chat Fact Sheet,” Microsoft

“Chat Code of Conduct,” Microsoft

“Using Software Tools to Help Protect Children Online,” Microsoft

Related Discussion and Writing Topics
  • What are the underlying assumptions communicated in Microsoft’s announcement to change their Chat resources? Based on the information released in this article and the other Microsoft resources, how is the company defining chat? Who does Microsoft see as their audience -- or more accurately, audiences? What differences do you notice in the way that the Chat service is explained and discussed in the listed resources? How will the three Microsoft Web pages need to be rethought in response to the changes to Microsoft Chat services?

  • Commenting on Microsoft’s announcement, Terri Dowty stated that children “want a discourse with one another. History shows that shutting things down just displaces the activities elsewhere, which is far more dangerous.” Do you agree with Dowty’s statement? Can you think of historical proof for her statement? What would make such a shift “far more dangerous”? If the conversation is to shift to a new location, what solutions or suggestions would you suggest to help improve the situation that Microsoft has announced is their motivation?

  • Do a close reading of one or more of the articles. As you read the piece, note the descriptive nouns and adjectives that are used to describe online chat. What do the words that are used reveal about the attitudes and beliefs of Microsoft and others about online chat? For an additional challenge, rewrite a passage from an alternate perspective (for instance, if the passage is sympathetic, rephrase the information to make it more accusatory). NOTE: The Reuters’ article lends itself particularly well to this activity.

  • Brainstorm a list of people who might read and react to Microsoft’s resources and announcements on their Chat services (e.g., parents, stockholders, public school administrators). Choose a perspective from the list and consider how a reader from that group would respond to the piece. How would a parent or school administrator react to the articles? What would a stockholder or financial advisor have to say? How would a high school student respond to the events?

  • The Reuters’ article ends with a quotation that invokes the bandwagon fallacy: “Chat is one of the most popular tools on the Internet, and it’s not going to go away.” The underlying suggestion is that if something is popular then it’s okay. Imagine yourself as a representative for a company that offers a chat service in competition with Microsoft. Brainstorm a list of positive reasons that you can give for not changing your company’s chat policies, and use the list to write a press release that explains your company’s stance.

  • According to the Reuters’ article, the Microsoft decision “has triggered a heated debate among free speech advocates, children’s rights groups and Microsoft rivals about the proper way to police online forums.” What’s your stance? How would you balance the interests of free speech and public safety in online forums? Write a proposal that explains your solution. NOTE: The piece could be a letter to the editor in response to the article, a letter to the Microsoft corporate officers, or a letter to decision makers at another company.

  • Compare the issues raised in the Reuters’ and Morning Edition articles about online safety to the issues addressed in the Microsoft “Code of Conduct.” If followed, would the “Code of Conduct” address the safety concerns that have caused Microsoft to announce this change to their online service? The announcement seems to suggest that the Code either doesn’t include adequate guidelines or has not been properly enforced. Analyze the Code and write a proposal that outlines the changes that need to be made to strengthen the “Code of Conduct” so that it achieves its goal.

  • After a discussion of the issues involved in Microsoft’s announcement, take a look at the online discussions in your own class. Are there guidelines in place? Are they working? Are there changes that are needed? Take this opportunity to revise or codify a customized set of guidelines for your class. Refer to the Microsoft “Code of Conduct” as a model.

  • Listen closely to the Morning Edition report on Microsoft’s announcement and compare the information that you hear to the representative’s explanations in the Reuters’ article. Divide the comments into things that Microsoft announced and the assumptions drawn by the Morning Edition reporter. Analyze your findings: are the conclusions that the reporter draws warranted by the facts that Microsoft announced? Is there support necessary for any of the claims that is not included? Do you agree with the conclusions that the reporter has drawn?

  • Take a look at The Independent’s coverage of the story. The UK paper provides an extended article that explores the background of chat rooms and interviews with experts on human behavior in online environments. Compare the information in The Independent article to that in the Morning Edition report, or in another American media resource. How does the coverage in the British media resource compare to that in the American media? Are there differences that reveal the nation where the piece was published? NOTE: You can modify this activity by choosing coverage in another international newspaper. Go to Google News for links to additional articles.