Ireland's high-school exams body, the State Examinations Commission (roughly equivalent to the American College Board) has announced today that it's going to hire out "an external agency" to check students' Twitter before and during exams in a bid to catch out potential cheaters.
The announcement comes just hours after GAA boss Christy Cooney confirmed that the Gaelic Games Authority (GAA) has issued guidelines to players on what they could and couldn't Tweet, following Laois footballer MJ Tierney's expression of disillusionment with team management made via the micro-blogging site, not to mention, of course, the ongoing 'superinjunction' fracas taking place in the UK.
It's pretty safe to say at this stage that the Twitter craze -- adopted fairly quickly by Irish politicians, but somewhat more reluctantly elsewhere -- has now spread to all areas of Irish life, and will continue to play an important and interesting role in the country's future, even if half the country, such as this blogger, has little idea how it actually works.
The SEC's proposal to monitor Leaving Cert. (the finishing exam) Tweeters, however, seem, even to a Twitter neophyte such as me, to be perhaps just a little poorly construed.
Over in the Orient, the ever tech-savvy Chinese students are at cheating with a bit of style, by investing their yen in a little bit of high-tech equipment in their own efforts to foil invigilators at the world's largest examination, which 62 million Chinese are preparing to sit this week.
The Irish Times' Clifford Connan reports that authorities there are on the look-out for two-way radios among other electronic paraphernalia that could be used to leak exam clues to other students. Even watches, seemingly, can be fitted out with various James Bond-style mobile technologies embedde and have been banned from exam halls as a result over fears that illicit technologies could be too hard to spot for invigilators.
At home, though, it seems as if the now relatively benign delights of Twitter and Facebook are all our homegrown mischievous youngsters are going to use to attempt to gain a head-start on the bad-boys over at the SEC and their spooky "agency" colleagues following their every digital move.
Decoy Facebook 'friends' and innocuous 'Tweeters" will prowl the social media landscape looking for any whiff of an untimely hint, or any other sign that something just isn't right.
Besides the fact that catching cheaters via Twitter and Facebook is probably impossible (decoy accounts, masked IP address, and the fact that smartphones aren't allowed in exam halls are just a few are of the problems facing the 'Twitter clampdown'), there's the problem that genuine Tweets speculating what's going to be on the exam paper are probably going to number in the thousands.
And no matter what methodology the SEC uses to try catch potential cheaters out, if a student manages to get his hands on what's on the exam paper before the exam, then whether he shares that information via Twitter, Facebook, text message, or good old word of mouth, it's really the SEC's fault for letting the information escape in the first place.
This in fact happened no earlier than just last year, when a sloppy exam invigilator mistakenly handed students the wrong English paper, resulting in a national scandal in which an entire paper had to be taken again, inconveniencing tens of thousands of already harried students. Let's also not forget the minor difficulty that 'Tweets' (Twitter posts) have to be limited to 140 characters. It's called micro-blogging for a reason.
This year as ever, though, the more conventional methodologies are still going to remain the weapons of choice in the fight against against preparing your material the good old-fashioned way (that is, through that horrible thing called study), and no group of spooks in whatever "agency" the SEC has engaged in this digital battle is going to be able to foil these tried and tested techniques.
Back in my own Leaving Cert-going days, when, like many others, we had sunshine to deal with as well as stress (tomorrow, I hear, is going to be rainy-cloud), stanzas and equations scribbled under your sleeve were still the most common and reliable method of trying to 'cog' the exam. And that was only three years ago.
Despite creepy invigilators stalking you practically onto the toilet seat (I don't know if this happens around the world or just at Irish exams), I have it from reputable exam-taking sources that this scribbling method could and still cannot be foiled, in-cubicle monitoring, digital or otherwise, not yet having been made legal.
No smartphones or Twitter required, folks, just a pen, long-sleeved shirt, and a few seconds of furtive shuffling, and unless full body searches are to be instituted (I wouldn't laugh), I can't see why or how that's going to change or be prevented.
Still though, let's give the exam-masters at the SEC credit for being 'on' to something technological (the same spokesperson said that this sort of hi-tech social media prowling has been going on for two years now..), even if the #leavingcert hashtag isn't the first place students are going to go to dish whatever exam-related dirt they somehow come to know ahead of the hand-out time.
Good luck to anyone with relatives/family starting tomorrow!