From the Help Desk…

In the office, we share real stories from callers–here’s a gem that happened several years ago, but it’s still hilarious. Names changed to protect those involved:

Earlier today, xxxxxxxxx from xxxxxxxxx e-mailed the help desk explaining that a student in an online course was claiming to have received a virus from the course platform. Here’s the e-mail we got:

Hello … I’m the Tech Q&A person here at the xxxxxxxxxx. I just picked up a voice mail from one of our students saying that there is a virus going around in two courses, disabling her computer which she tells me is affecting other students as well. The courses are xxxxxxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxx.

I have not gone into the course yet to see if there have been any postings in the Tech Q&A to that effect. Please check yourself.

If you need more information from this student, her name is xxxxxxxxxx (xxx-xxx-xxxx), xxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxxxx.

Thanks for any help you can provide.


Of course, I was quick to respond that it couldn’t POSSIBLY have come from us, that we scan everything, and that it’d be a disaster for us to have a virus on our system with as many students as we have on our system every day.

Well, about half an hour later, xxxxxxxxxx called to say that she’d told the student what I told her and that the student was POSITIVE that she had a virus from our course platform. She said that she could SEE the virus and was looking at it right then.

So, I told her to walk me through how to get there. I got into the course and entered the threaded discussion where the “virus” was located. I expanded a student’s posting as directed, and guess what I saw? An angry, little red-faced emoticon. I REALLY wanted to burst out laughing, but, being a consummate Help Desk professional, I very calmly said “Oh, that’s not a virus, it’s an emoticon.” I then had to explain what an emoticon was to her and the admins at xxxxxxxxxx.

Then they wanted to know why they weren’t informed that we had this new feature, and I explained that it had been explained in a System Update that they received weekly. She said “Oh, we never read that stuff” and asked me to call the student.

So, I called the student and asked her why she thought she had a virus, and she showed me the emoticon and said that she just knew that the “Angry little red man” was trying to tell her that she had a virus on her computer, and that was how her computer showed her that it was mad at her.

I explained about the emoticons, and she didn’t sound relieved at all, she said “I NEVER typed those keys!” really loudly, and then she paused and started whispering: “I only copy and pasted my response. Is my computer putting them in there?”

I explained that even though she hadn’t typed the message, she had copied and pasted the right combination of characters to create this particular face.

She kept telling me that this face was SO ANGRY, she knew she’d pissed her computer off.

Finally I convinced her that the emoticons were there to express some sort of emotion and that I had deleted the emoticon from her posting. I told her that she might see these faces in other students’ postings and that was OK, they were supposed to be there.

She didn’t seem to believe me, and she asked if the “angry little red guy” would come back again–I told her only if a student used that emoticon. She paused and said “He scares me.” in this sad little voice–EVEN at this point, I didn’t laugh at her.

I told her that I was sorry the face scared her, but that there were a lot of those faces–there were happy yellow faces, sad blue faces–any color you wanted, there’s a face for it. I advised her that if she saw other faces, not to worry. If she really had a virus, she’d notice it in her system performance and ability to open programs and not in pictures on a website.

She sat there and then said “Well, if you say so.” and hung up.

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