There’s an unspoken agreement between yourself and your University.
This trust needs no verbal confirmation. We expect the University that houses us, educates us and cultivates our growth for four years to have our best interest in mind. We are given a place on campus to express ourselves and show concern for the issues we care about – most importantly, in the form of protest.
The University has violated this agreement.
Last week, the Dallas Morning News published an article detailing the extent of UNC’s contract with AI-based service Social Sentinel. Much of this use has involved monitoring student protests using Local+Lists, a feature that allows clients to create a “geofence” in which they are alerted of specific language and phrases on social media platforms on devices within a certain geographic area.
If this sounds abhorrently dystopian, that’s because it is.
Emails acquired via public records request show that, in 2015, a similar service was used to track phrases such as “#feminism” and “#reproductivejustice” as anti-abortion activists hosted an event on campus. UNC signed its contract with Social Sentinel in 2016, and used the service to track social media posts surrounding protests and the removal of Silent Sam.
The University has paid a hefty price – $24,500 annually – to surveil student behaviors and interactions on social media in relation to the ongoing social justice issues that plague our campus.
If UNC has taught us anything, it’s that the administration has worked adamantly to devalue student advocacy, silence protestors and maintain a status quo that only serves the University’s most powerful stakeholders.
We, evidently, are not powerful stakeholders in UNC’s eye, despite being its primary constituency.