Thursday, May 3, 2018

University to Hire Social Sentinel To Watch Students (Off Campus)




By Professor Doom

     It seems every month I see our campuses take a major step towards the socialist utopia so accurately depicted in 1984. Normally I focus on how our campuses mirror the “fabulous wealth and power for the people at the top, poverty for everyone else” aspect, but today I want to talk about something that, until now, I’d never seen to this extent: spying on the campus citizens.

      Now, when referring to “citizens” I must distinguish between the two lowest castes on campus: faculty and students. Faculty are already spied upon, both on and off campus, and I’ve covered a few cases where faculty e-mails were “searched” by admin for “incriminating” behavior (more fairly described as simply criticizing admin), or faculty were punished for off-campus behavior which was both legal and innocuous.

      It can’t just stop there, of course. Now admin has decided to unleash their lust for ever more control on the students:

University of Virginia Hires 'Social Sentinel' to Monitor Students' Social Media Posts



     The incredible invasiveness of social media (hi Facebook!) is certainly on people’s minds nowadays, and I must digress a bit here. Not only is it very likely (as per Snowden) that every word Trump has ever said for the last few years is already recorded by the NSA, everything Trump has said or done online was also tracked by Facebook.  As both the NSA and Facebook are quite hostile to Trump, I’m stunned at the implication here: Trump must be incredibly squeaky clean! The average citizen commits 3 felonies a day…and the FBI has NOTHING on Trump, not one felony, after over a year of investigation!

     The FBI completely ignores multiple specific warnings about an unstable kid with weapons threatening to shoot up a school because they just don’t have time for it…and is so hard up to find something on Trump that they’re willing to abandon attorney-client privilege and go looting through Trump’s lawyer’s office, home and hotel room, on the basis of a claim by a drug-addled porn star who’s contradicted her own assertions multiple times in the last few months. Seriously, there’s something very, very, wrong with our government right now, but enough digression.

      Back on topic, the University of Virginia has hired people to spy on its students. Not merely their on-campus activity (which could be justified, at least a little), but what students do off campus as well.

     In what will be a surprise to nobody with a legitimate education, university admin justify their surrendering of student liberty for the usual reason: security.

University officials and the UVA police force have assured the community this step is necessary for campus security,


     Seriously, this is necessary for security? Part of the reason our campuses, some of them, are so dangerous now is admin lowered admissions standards to the point that pretty much anyone can come on campus. How about, instead of spying on students, we go back to having actual standards again? Oh yeah, I forgot, that would cut into those sweet student loan checks.

"Enhanced technology is just one piece of the University's safety and preparedness efforts," Officer Ben Rexrode, the Crime Prevention Coordinator for the University Of Virginia Police Department,

--hmm, his name is 10 characters, and his job title, in addition to “officer,” is well over 20. As per my guidelines for restoring higher education to sanity, this is a position which can be safely removed without impacting education.


     Hey, does McDonald’s have a police department? Even your typical Wal-Mart, servicing tens of thousands of customers a month (and I trust the gentle reader has seen those “people of Wal-Mart” sites which shows what some of these customers are like), still doesn’t have a whole police department.

     But today’s campuses are so huge that many of them have, yes, entire police departments, filled with extremely well-paid functionaries doing their police thing. Again, instead of bloating our campuses like this, how about we put in admissions requirements so that “criminal students” are too rare to justify having whole police departments? Oh yeah, those student loan checks…

     So how exactly will this spying take place?

Using an algorithm, Social Sentinel scans social media accounts and targets threatening words, images and phrases included in Sentinel's "library of harm." When these terms or images are used in context with the university's name, location, or events, a report is sent to the police, who determine if the content merits further investigation.


      Oh no, not the “library of harm”! So students’ social media will be scanned and evaluated for thoughtcrime. No, nothing Orwellian about that. While the above sounds legit with sufficient fuzzy thinking, it can get out of control very quickly:

…once a report is drawn up about a particular post, officers are able to read and view students posts, be they on Twitter or Instagram. So while Big Brother is not actively scrolling through students' feeds, officers have records of conversations that students or other persons may have preferred to keep from the government…


     So, you commit something that may be thoughtcrime, with thoughtcrime being vaguely defined…and they open a file on you, and that file will be filled with everything you’ve ever said. Don’t worry, I’m sure you can trust them to keep that information private or not to use that information against you in an improper way. I mean, computers never, ever, get hacked nowadays, and it’s just paranoia to think the government won’t use that information to hurt you if it can. Such things only happened in the distant past, possibly even months ago, and so aren’t a problem anymore. It certainly won’t be a problem for people who want safety, after all.

…late last year, Georgia Tech came under fire for targeting a student activist, Matthew Wolfsen, when it was revealed that the university had binders full of information on him, including several pages of his public social media posts…


     See, that was a whole year ago! A barbarous relic of a bygone age. No reason at all to be concerned now, citizen.

    It’s so funny. I’ve been chastised by admin for giving homework. I’ve been chastised for covering the syllabus. I’ve been chastised for not saying “good evening” in a timely manner. In all cases, the reason for administrative concern was my behavior might drive students away from campus, and thus cut into those sweet student loan checks.

      But admin doesn’t see how spying on their students for off-campus activities might, maybe, cause some people to think “why should I pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to have these jerks spy on me? I already give plenty of money to the Federal government for that!” We probably should ask some questions about how such incompetence came to be in control of our campuses.



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