Universities admit to monitoring students’ social media

Ever slated your university on Twitter? Of course, you have. We’ve all been there, especially with the recent change to blended learning. But did you know that your university might have seen it? Didn’t expect that, now, did you? Well, universities across the UK have admitted to monitoring students’ social media after Freedom of Information requests were sent to institutions in the UK.

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How many universities do this?

The Daily Express found that 31 UK universities do indeed ‘monitor’ or ‘listen’ to their students’ social media accounts. Of these, 15 use specific software in order to listen to the accounts. This software identifies and assesses everything being said about the institution on social media.

This was revealed when 130 Freedom of Information requests were sent out to every university in the country. In response, these universities claimed to monitor ‘keywords and discussions’ daily.

Why are they doing this?

The universities involved seem to be monitoring the social media of their students in order to keep track of the general opinion of the institution, and so that they can prevent any slander from being introduced online.

This is not the first time that universities have been involved in the surveillance of their students. Last year there were reports from Manchester of the Vice-Chancellor personally monitoring protestors’ socials.

students social media

How have people responded?

It seems that students are concerned with how the data collected, especially by the expert software, may be used. There are concerns that universities may pass information onto future employers which may be detrimental to the students’ careers. In addition to this, there have been discussions of what happens if one of these institutions suffered a data breach. These things are more and more common now and would allow a range of people to access students’ social media.

On top of this, campaigners such as Do Better Academia have critiqued institutions for this surveillance. They have gone so far as to say that tracking the students’ social media is a move towards suppressing free speech, and even compared doing so to the ‘workings of a dictatorship’.

Overall, this revelation has to lead to a call for universities to be more transparent on their operations, so that students are completely aware of the ways in which their behavior links them to the university, and how the university uses their data. This would prevent people from finding out, like one undergrad student from Sheffield Hallam, that his university was ‘stalking’ his personal Twitter account. More transparency would mean that said student would not have had to file a Subject Access Request to the university in order to find this out.

students social media

How to make sure your university can’t find your social media

If you are worried about your university checking on your socials, it may be worth using a pseudonym, or a handle that doesn’t feature your name clearly. So rather than ‘@BeckyGriffs99’, opt for ‘@B3ckyG99’ or something completely different.

Another way to ensure your privacy is to adjust your privacy settings. On apps like Facebook, you can prevent anyone you’re not friends with from finding your page or seeing your posts. You can also do this on Instagram and Twitter by making your profile private.

Doing both of these may also benefit you in your career after university, as many potential employers search for applicants’ social media before or after interviewing!

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