As Economic Concerns Rise, Executives Are Reporting Record High Stress and Defaulting To Old Office Habits

Future Forum’s latest report, which surveyed more than 10,000 workers during August, found that overall work satisfaction scores dropped 15% for executives, who also reported work-life balance scores that were 20% worse and work-related stress and anxiety scores that were 40% higher....getty

For months, the pandemic has driven an upswing in burnout among workers, focused attention on employees’ mental health concerns and fueled a wave of departures known as the Great Resignation, most noticeably on the front lines.

But the latest quarterly survey released Thursday from Future Forum, a consortium backed by the messaging platform Slack, finds that now, even senior executives’ sentiments about their jobs are declining—and it appears to be prompting them to fall back on old norms about where and when people work.

Future Forum’s latest report, which surveyed more than 10,000 workers during August, found that overall work satisfaction scores dropped 15% for executives, who also reported work-life balance scores that were 20% worse and work-related stress and anxiety scores that were 40% higher. While the sentiment and experience scores for executives dropped precipitously—particularly among those who work for large companies—those for non-executives remained flat or rose slightly, the report said.

While that might elicit little pity from employees who’ve felt overworked and underpaid over the past two years—and who are also worried about the economic slowdown—the added economic stress for executives can have an impact on the people who work for them, says Slack’s Brian Elliott, the executive leader for Future Forum.

“On top of that set of changes and challenges [from the pandemic], you’re facing a lot of economic pressures too,” says Elliott. “That kind of stress is leading people to go back to what’s familiar and comfortable for them. Executives are saying things like ‘I need my finger on the pulse of the organization’”—otherwise known as monitoring people in the office. “This is the first time we’re seeing this kind of jump and increase in stress in executives.”

Elliott says that whenever he talks to senior leaders—Future Forum does research but also convenes executives to swap ideas—the issues of productivity and culture come up as concerns. But the new data suggests employees work more productively if they have flexibility—and that concerns about culture erosion may be overblown.

Future Forum’s report—released by Slack, which makes tools it hopes will serve as a “digital HQ” for hybrid workers—found that workers who have full flexibility with their schedules say they are 29% more productive and 53% more able to focus than those who have no schedule flexibility.

Meanwhile, remote and hybrid workers were 52% more likely to say company culture has improved over the past two years, compared with those who work onsite daily, even though 25% of executives said “team culture is negatively impacted” by not being together in the office.

“I get why the stress is there on executives, but it’s driving a set of behaviors that are actually contrary to what they want to accomplish,” Elliott says. The report, for instance, also found that 60% of executives surveyed said they are designing policies with little direct input from employees.

He says that could lead organizations to be less competitive when it comes to recruiting talented employees. “If, as a senior leadership team, you’re still basing most of your decisions on the discussions that are happening at this level and not really getting in and understanding it,” Elliott says, “then you’re at risk of going backwards.”

By:

I am a Senior Editor at Forbes, leading our coverage of the workplace, careers and leadership issues. Before joining Forbes, I wrote for the Washington Post for more than a decade covering

Source: As Economic Concerns Rise, Executives Are Reporting Record-High Stress—And Defaulting To Old Office Habits

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Scientists Found A Way to Predict Your Death By How You Walk

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty

Source: Scientists Found a Way to Predict Your Death by How You Walk

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Critics by Nature.com

Predicting all-cause mortality risk is challenging and requires extensive medical data. Recently, large-scale proteomics datasets have proven useful for predicting health-related outcomes. Here, we use measurements of levels of 4,684 plasma proteins in 22,913 Icelanders to develop all-cause mortality predictors both for short- and long-term risk. The participants were 18-101 years old with a mean follow up of 13.7 (sd. 4.7) years. During the study period, 7,061 participants died.

Our proposed predictor outperformed, in survival prediction, a predictor based on conventional mortality risk factors. We could identify the 5% at highest risk in a group of 60-80 years old, where 88% died within ten years and 5% at the lowest risk where only 1% died. Furthermore, the predicted risk of death correlates with measures of frailty in an independent dataset. Our results show that the plasma proteome can be used to assess general health and estimate the risk of death.

The ability to predict when someone will die is not something you would wish upon yourself or your friends. It could, however, prove useful in the delivery of healthcare and biomedical research. It is often possible to give a meaningful prediction of how long individuals with specific diagnoses will live1, but predicting when an individual will die from any cause is altogether a different matter.

Several diseases, lifestyle2,3,4, social and psychological factors5 associate with all-cause mortality. Commonly used risk factors for all-cause mortality are age, sex, traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as systolic blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, alcohol consumption, body mass index (BMI), and creatinine levels6,7,8. Among other biomarkers of all-cause mortality are brain age estimated from structural magnetic resonance images9, DNA methylation10, and telomere length11.

Recently, circulating metabolic biomarkers have been found to associate with the risk of all-cause mortality. In a study of 44,168 individuals, where 5512 died during follow-up, 14 metabolic biomarkers were found to improve 5 and 10-year all-cause mortality predictions over conventional risk factors8. Another study of 17,345 participants identified 106 metabolic biomarkers that improved short-term all-cause mortality risk prediction over established risk factors7.

In a study of 3523 participants from the Framingham Heart Study, 38 of 85 preselected circulating protein biomarkers associated with all-cause mortality and improved all-cause mortality prediction over cardiovascular risk factors12. Similarly, 56 peptides (31 proteins) correlated with 5-year mortality in a study of 2473 older men. A panel of those peptides improved the predictive value of a commonly used clinical predictor of mortality.

With the advent of new technology such as SOMAmers14 or proximity extension assays15, it is possible to simultaneously measure levels of thousands of proteins efficiently. Several studies using this technology have shown the plasma proteome to be heavily associated with age and life span16,17,18,19,20. A study of 997 participants associated 651 out of 1301 proteins with age, found that a 76-protein proteomic age signature associated with all-cause mortality independent of chronological age, and created a seven-protein mortality predictor18.

In a study of 1025 older adults, 754 of 4265 proteins were associated with age. A proteomic age model using the age-associated proteins predicted mortality better than chronological age19. Another study of 4263 participants measured 2925 proteins to evaluate how circulating protein profile changes over the life span20. Some studies have used large proteomics datasets to predict other health-related factors. A protein-based risk score for cardiovascular outcomes in a high-risk group was developed using 1130 candidate plasma proteins21.

In addition, ~5000 plasma proteins were used to predict health states, behavior, and incident diseases, with performance comparable to traditional risk factors, in 16,894 participants22. These studies underscore the value of using plasma levels of a large number of proteins to search for biomarkers in health and diseases..…To be continued….

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The High Demand For The Reputation Service Makes LocalCentric The Most Lucrative Brand Maagement

LocalCentric is a new app that helps local businesses improve their online reputation and get more leads, sales, and profit. The app uses artificial intelligence to monitor and respond to online reviews, helping businesses keep their reputation positive

LocalCentric is an online review and reputation management solution designed to assist businesses/multi-location agencies in monitoring and responding to reviews and improving their online reputation. You can now start a full-blown brand management agency that tells local businesses what’s working, what’s not, and what to do about it.

How It Works:

  • Simply enter a keyword and this AI-Assisted Software’s Deep Search Algorithm gets into actions mode and finds you thousands of businesses (in any niche you select) that desperately need your help.
  • These are businesses that consistently get bad reviews online & have no one to monitor/respond to such reviews. These are businesses that do not have even a Google My Business listing.
  • Just contact these clients as they are most likely to pay you for your services… saving you headaches, time, money & other resources you’d have spent on dead leads!

LocalCentric Is The FIRST EVER A.I. Assisted Local Business Brand Management & Lead Generation Platform On JVZoo That Helps Local Businesses Monitor And Respond To Reviews…Improving Their Online Reputation + Find Laser Targeted Leads You Can Sell Your Brand Management Services To…

It Is The World’s #1 A.I. Powered Local Business Brand Management Platform. You Can Now Start A Full-Blown Brand Management Agency That Tells Local Businesses What’s Working, What’s Not, and What To Do About It.

In the details, It’s an online review and reputation management solution designed to assist businesses/multi-location agencies in monitoring and responding to reviews and improving their online reputation.

LocalCentric will obviously help your business grow by leaps & bounds. But don’t forget that it can also help you kickstart a brand new method of earning money.

Simply search for businesses that are desperately looking for Brand & Online Reputation Management Services using our built-in Lead Gen tool. Contact them & show them what you can do for them… and get paid every month for managing their online reputation.

Take a look at the kind of money people are charging for such services on Fiverr, UpWork, etc. Charge a monthly or an annual fee… for helping local businesses monitor and respond to reviews… and

  • improving their online reputation
  • Increasing their sales & profits
  • And even building a list of reviewers that may want to hear from them

LocalCentric gives you complete control over your & your client’s brand image with real-time and extensive assessment of your & your client’s brand’s online perception.

Use LocalCentric to easily engage with consumers thoroughly, to obtain a competitive advantage, and to prevent crises.

Actively monitor mentions of your business (or of your client’s business) on websites and social media and respond to any negative or misleading remarks… totally hands-free.

LocalCentric SaaS Platform makes it easy for anyone regardless of their technical skills, to BOOST the Social Proof Authority of any website by showing up real customer reviews on any website from any niche out there. Nearly 95% of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase decision.

Key Features  

First let’s take a look at what you will get inside

  • A cloud-based software that finds and extracts all customer reviews from the top online reviews platforms known
  • You get to follow a step by step blueprint with “LocalCentric local method”
  • Done for you email campaigns to help you sell reputation management services
  • Access their top 100 local business niches that convert well and gives you the best results
  • The complete outsourcing cheatsheet for when you need help with clients
  • And more surprise bonuses (you’ll find out as soon as you join)

There are a lot of powerful features packed into this futuristic app including first to market feature like… Video review campaigns using QR code trigger. Users can Setup video review campaigns that get triggered with a QR code that can be printed on product packaging.

By simply scanning the QR code users can record a video review and submit it. They can even share the video review on social media or post it as a widget on their websites

Check Out LocalCentric’s Powerful Features

  • Find Businesses That Desperately Need Brand Management

Simply enter a keyword and our AI-Assisted Software’s Deep Search Algorithm gets into actions mode and finds you thousands of businesses (in any niche you select) that desperately need your help.

  • Complete Review Management with Unparalleled Control and Visibility

Connect Google My Business (GMB), Facebook, Yelp, TrustPilot, Capterra, Amadeus, Foursquare, etc.

Easily monitor and respond to reviews in real-time, improve local search engine rankings, track performance, enhance your reputation, and drive additional sales.

  • GMB & Facebook Control

Less than 10% of businesses take full advantage of all GMB tools to improve search discovery and achieve higher map rankings.

  • Bulk Upload & Schedule Google & Facebook Posts

Talk directly to clients in the search results via Google and Facebook Posts. Share updates, offers, events, etc. to inform and engage customers — driving website visits, phone calls, and walk-in traffic.

  • 10X Competitor Reviews

Access ratings, comments, and brand responses for up to 10 competitors for each of your locations. Compare comment trends for products and services, track trending topics, and evaluate custom categories.

  • Deep Performance Insights Across Your Business

View insights for… searches, maps, driving directions, phone calls, website visits, brand vs. indirect queries, and photo counts & engagement by country, state/region, city/location… and more.

  • Powerful Collaboration

Enterprise-grade access control allows you to scale your local optimization efforts to the entire organization.

  • Video review campaigns using QR code trigger

Setup video review campaigns that get triggered with a QR code that can be printed on product packaging. By simply scanning the QR code users can record a video review and submit it.

  • Automated Review Campaigns

Set various feedback to customers’ reviews based on their rating for a specific period of time.

  • Review Management

Use the LocalCentric to effortlessly manage reviews across all your locations. Reviews are automatically retrieved daily.

  • Dashboard View

Access insights from Google My Business for all your locations in a single dashboard with powerful grouping and filtering.

  • Direct Responses

Respond to reviews with personalized messages or leverage saved replies to provide a consistent approach.

  • Performance Insights

Secure an understanding of exactly what your customers are doing in Google before they reach your web properties.

  • Workflows

Need to distribute yesterday’s negative review scores to 200 managers? Set workflows to socialize reputation control.

  • Reporting Suite

Save, share, distribute, download, and schedule reports across all data sets and locations.

  • Historic Data

Access up to 2 years of customer reviews for every location and up 18 months of Local Search Insights.

  • Integrations

Build integrations from LocalCentric to your existing customer support and Social Media platforms.

  • Email autoresponder integration

Capture leads of reviewers and add them to your email autoresponder so you can market to them over and over again

  • Built for Scale

Enterprise-class user rights management to support companies with tens of thousands of locations across the globe.

This Artificial Intelligence Software allows anyone to display eye grabbing and beautiful Review cards in front of their visitors, to boost conversions, sales and profits overall!

In other words, with LocalCentric you get the power to turn any underperforming web page, into a high converting and authority inspiring website that makes it impossible for any visitor not to trust and purchase within their first visit.

Yes, it’s that simple. With LocalCentric, not only you are able to show of your positive reviews from the most important sources that customers trust, but also offers you the ability to BOOST your reviews on top of converting visitors to long time customers.

Source: https://getlocalcentric.com

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Monitoring Employees Makes Them More Likely to Break Rules

As remote work becomes the norm, more and more companies have begun tracking employees through desktop monitoring, video surveillance, and other digital tools. These systems are designed to reduce rule-breaking — and yet new research suggests that in some cases, they can seriously backfire. Specifically, the authors found across two studies that monitored employees were substantially more likely to break rules, including engaging in behaviors such as cheating on a test, stealing equipment, and purposely working at a slow pace.

They further found that this effect was driven by a shift in employees’ sense of agency and personal responsibility: Monitoring employees led them to subconsciously feel less responsibility for their own conduct, ultimately making them more likely to act in ways that they would otherwise consider immoral. However, when employees feel that they are being treated fairly, the authors found that they are less likely to suffer a drop in agency and are thus less likely to lose their sense of moral responsibility in response to monitoring.

As such, the authors suggest that in cases where monitoring is necessary, employers should take steps to enhance perceptions of justice and thus preserve employees’ sense of agency. In April 2020, global demand for employee monitoring software more than doubled. Online searches for “how to monitor employees working from home” increased by 1,705%, and sales for systems that track workers’ activity via desktop monitoring, keystroke tracking, video surveillance, GPS location tracking, and other digital tools went through the roof.

Some of these systems purport to use employee data to improve wellbeing — for example, Microsoft is developing a system that would use smart watches to collect data on employees’ blood pressure and heart rate, producing personalized “anxiety scores” to inform wellness recommendations. But the vast majority of employee monitoring tools are focused on tracking performance, increasing productivity, and deterring rule-breaking.

For example, a social-media marketing company in Florida installed software on employees’ work computers that takes screenshots of their desktop every 10 minutes and records how much time they spend on different activities. The company then uses this data to determine productivity levels and identify rule-breakers. Similarly, Amazon tracks smartphone data for its delivery drivers to monitor their efficiency and identify unsafe driving practices.

Given their prevalence, one might expect that these sorts of systems would be effective in reducing harmful workplace behavior. And indeed, studies have shown that in some contexts, monitoring can deter certain specific behaviors, such as theft by restaurant workers. However, our recent research suggests that in many cases, monitoring employees can seriously backfire.

When Monitoring Backfires

In our first study, we surveyed more than 100 employees across the U.S., some of whom were subject to monitoring at work and some of whom were not. We found that monitored employees were substantially more likely to take unapproved breaks, disregard instructions, damage workplace property, steal office equipment, and purposefully work at a slow pace, among other rule-breaking behaviors. Of course, this survey only determined correlation — so to prove causation, we ran a second, experimental study.

We asked another 200 U.S.-based employees to complete a series of tasks, and told half of them that they would be working under electronic surveillance. We then gave them an opportunity to cheat, and found that those who were told they were being monitored were actually more likely to cheat than those who didn’t think they were being monitored.

What drove this effect? In general, people are motivated to do the right thing by a combination of external factors (such as the threat of punishment or promise of reward) and their internal moral compass. Prior studies in support of employee monitoring generally focus on the former: situations in which targeted monitoring informs an immediate external response to a specific form of misconduct, such as retail workers who know they will be fired if they’re caught stealing on camera. But in many workplace contexts, employers cannot rely on carrots and sticks alone.

In these cases, employers must also depend on employees’ internal sense of morality — and our studies showed that monitoring employees causes them to subconsciously feel that they are less responsible for their own conduct, thus making them more likely to act immorally. Specifically, when we surveyed the participants in our studies, we found that those who were monitored were more likely to report that the authority figure overseeing their surveillance was responsible for their behavior, while the employees who weren’t monitored were more likely to take responsibility for their actions.

This reduction in agency in turn made the monitored employees more likely to act contrary to their own moral standards, ultimately leading them to engage in behavior that they would otherwise consider immoral.

To Boost Agency, Treat Employees Justly

Clearly, monitoring can have some major negative side effects. But is it possible to gain the benefits of monitoring employees without pushing them to abandon their morals? Being monitored is likely to always have at least some negative impact on people’s sense of agency and moral responsibility, but our studies did identify one mechanism that can reduce this effect: When employees feel that they are being treated fairly, they are less likely to suffer a drop in agency and are thus less likely to lose their sense of moral responsibility in response to monitoring.

In our experiment, we increased perceptions of employer fairness both by varying how respectfully the administrator interacted with the participants, and whether they received the cash reward they had been promised, and we found that monitored participants were less likely to cheat if they felt they were treated justly.

So what does this mean for employers? There are countless ways leaders can enhance perceptions of justice (and thus preserve employees’ sense of agency). As a starting point, rather than unilaterally implementing a monitoring system, leaders should find ways to give employees visibility and input into when surveillance is appropriate and when it should be off-limits — and then stick to those boundaries.

For example, financial services instant messaging platform Symphony enables managers to monitor employee conversations only to the extent necessary for record-keeping and legal compliance, with strict guidelines in place preventing any surveillance without a strong justification. Leaders should also find ways to give employees access to their own data, as well as aggregated, anonymized data collected from relevant teams. That data should in turn be used in ways that benefit employees (for example, to inform wellness initiatives or professional development opportunities).

And of course, leaders should do their best to communicate openly and transparently with employees about what data will be collected and how it will be used — in fact, one survey found that even just explaining the scope and purpose of monitoring can boost employees’ acceptance of the practice by about 70%.

When used right, monitoring employees can prevent accidents, boost performance, and improve overall wellbeing. But our research demonstrates that it can also reduce employees’ sense of agency and personal responsibility, potentially increasing the prevalence of the very behaviors that these systems are meant to deter. To mitigate this risk, leaders must ensure that they treat employees fairly, foster accountability, and frame monitoring as a tool for empowering — not punishing — employees.

By: Chase Thiel, Julena M. Bonner,John Bush, David Welsh, and Niharika Garud

Source: Monitoring Employees Makes Them More Likely to Break Rules

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Why Expensive Social Media Monitoring Has Failed To Protect Schools

There’s a set of questions that comes up with grim hindsight after a shooting like the one in Uvalde, Texas: Were there signs? Did we miss them? Could we have caught this? An entire industry has sprung up claiming that it has the answer: software that scans social media for threats.

Ari Sen, a computational journalist for the Dallas Morning News, has reported that the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District purchased one of these social media monitoring services, called Social Sentinel, a few years ago. Right now, Ari says it’s hard to know if the software was active in Uvalde at the time of the shooting—the school district hasn’t answered that yet.

But the bigger question is whether the posts on the gunman’s now-removed Instagram page—including lots of photos of AR-15-style rifles and weapons—would even have been flagged by the software. Why then are schools spending millions of dollars on this software, and why does the industry claim it helps protect students?

On Friday’s episode of What Next: TBD, I spoke with Ari Sen about what threat surveillance software promises and how it falls short. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lizzie O’Leary: Can you explain what Social Sentinel is and who uses it?

Ari Sen: Social Sentinel is a social media monitoring technology. It’s used by dozens of colleges and hundreds of school districts all around the country. What they claim to do is to scan billions of social media posts with really sophisticated AI to identify threats of potential violence or self-harm. Now, some of the reporting that I’ve done suggests that these models may not be very sophisticated or that this might be a really hard problem to solve even if the models are very sophisticated.

In your reporting, you found that several school districts that bought this software, spending between $1 and $2 per student, weren’t getting all that much for their money.

Most of the school districts that we talked to that had used Social Sentinel did not find the service to be useful. I contacted every school that we could find that had used Social Sentinel and the three other social media monitoring services that we studied in the state of Texas. Over 200 school districts had used one of these four services since 2015. Most of them did not respond to my questions, but there were a handful, maybe five or six, who did actually respond. I would say four or five of those said that “We canceled the service after a year. We didn’t find it to be useful. Or we found something, an anonymous reporting tool, a team of humans to monitor this stuff. We found that to be as good or better than the Social Sentinel service.”

One thing that I’ve heard a lot, not only from school districts but from colleges, is that 90 percent, 99 percent of the stuff that they were getting from the Social Sentinel service was false alerts. I’ve seen stuff like song lyrics, Bible verses, obvious jokes. If you just think about the way that people talk on social media, it’s a lot of sarcasm. It’s a lot of irony. It’s a lot of hyperbole. That can be really difficult for machine learning models to catch in general and particularly the less sophisticated stuff.

Do you have any examples of posts that got flagged where you thought, “Oh, come on. That’s someone tweeting lyrics”?

There is a college in Florida that I was able to get some flagged tweets from. Somebody tweeted the lyrics to the 2010 B.o.B song “Airplanes.” I think it picked up on the phrase “shooting stars.” Obviously, we’ve seen people tweeting about their favorite characters on TV shows: “If X character doesn’t get together with Y character, I’m literally going to die,” things like that. There’s a really funny tweet from one of these Florida colleges about Hamburger Helper and how Hamburger Helper needs to accept that it needs help.

They thought that was a mental health problem?

Evidently. Like I said, it’s hard to inspect these machine learning models. We don’t know for sure what exactly is going on behind the scenes there. But I am able to look at some of the things that they have flagged, and they don’t seem to be threatening at all. What we’ve heard anecdotally from schools and colleges is like, “Yeah, most of what we were getting is just not actionable.”

Is the algorithm searching for keywords? Does it look for shoot, kill, stab?

If you looked at Social Sentinel, the way they talked about the service early on, it very much sounds like a keyword-based service. They talk about how they have thousands of terms that they’re able to flag to school districts. The company now says that they have very sophisticated machine learning models. They have these eight different machine learning models that are able to classify text appropriately.

It’s also unclear exactly how these models work because the companies treat their algorithms as proprietary. They also say it would defeat the purpose of their work to disclose too much.

We don’t know what sorts of training data they have to go into the models, whether that training data has been audited for racial bias. All of that stuff is opaque to us. It really raises questions about, if schools are going to use this for such a serious and important purpose, should there be some transparency about the models, the training data, and how effective they are?

Moreover, machine learning models often struggle with slang and the way kids talk. That can mean posts from students of color are disproportionately flagged by the algorithms.

There was a really interesting paper by some UMass Amherst researchers a couple years ago where they took African American Vernacular English and they plugged it into language identification machine learning models. Obviously, what it should spit out is that this is English. In actuality, one of these models flagged that language as Dutch with 99 percent confidence. So these models do poorly on non-Anglicized English text in general and may exhibit the biases from the training data which they were trained on. If you look at Social Sentinel’s claims, for example, on their website, they say, “We don’t perpetuate any biases.” The experts that I’ve talked to have said that’s very difficult to do if the underlying models you’re using behind the scenes have these sorts of biases built in.

While Social Sentinel claims it covers almost all of social media, your reporting and work from BuzzFeed News suggests it mostly just monitors Twitter. Do you think these services can even keep up with how students use social media as they jump from platform to platform?

Obviously, you have the problem with young people hopping between different services. The big thing now is TikTok, for example. Maybe 10 years ago, it was Facebook. It’s hard for these platforms to keep up. Then you also have the ways in which language changes naturally over time. Then, as we were just talking about, language differs very widely across groups and geographies. The way people talk in California is not the same way that people talk in North Carolina.

I saw that the Uvalde shooter was using a service called Yubo, which I suspect these companies are not monitoring.

I hadn’t even heard of Yubo. One of the things I’ve seen in my reporting on Social Sentinel is that police chiefs going back to 2015 were constantly bugging Social Sentinel: Can you add this platform? Can you add this platform? Sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn’t. But it’s very, very difficult to keep up with the fast-paced nature of how young people are acting online.

Listening to you, there seems to be a pretty substantial body of evidence that these services are largely ineffective. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? And if it is, why are they still being touted as a solution?

We haven’t really been able to identify a clear case of this service working. We have heard some anecdotes about maybe some of the other services preventing kids from harming themselves. But I think the question we have to ask is, is it worth the privacy invasion? I found in my reporting last year that most of the time students and parents weren’t told at all that these services were in place and had no way to opt in or opt out. What needs to happen is a more open conversation about, “This is the service that we’re using, this is why we’re using it, and this is the things that it looks for.”

If these schools and universities are under such pressure to do something, but the debate around guns is either a nonstarter where they are or completely out of their hands, maybe this software feels like a reed they can grasp.

We’re obviously having a larger political conversation about what gun restrictions we do and we don’t want. But I think for schools, they’re desperate to do something to protect their kids, whether that’s school safety drills, monitoring services, like the ones we’ve been talking about here, whether it’s physical security, like metal detectors or other sorts of physical security measures. But I think one of the things that the Uvalde shooting shows us is that even school districts that have all of those things in place and have all of the training and all the officers, these things can fail and do fail. So there needs to be a different conversation that’s happening about what measures are effective and whether new approaches are needed to tackle this problem.

These kinds of programs ingest a tremendous amount of information and data. To work best, they need to do that. It does make me wonder for what other reasons a school or a school district or university might want to have this information or might utilize this information?

Some of the things that I’ve been seeing in my reporting, particularly at the college level, is that colleges are adopting these services to monitor protests and activism. Obviously, that’s very chilling. In 2016, there was a company called Geofeedia that got caught monitoring Black Lives Matter protesters. But Geofeedia is not the only player out there obviously. My reporting has suggested that these other services, particularly Social Sentinel, at the college level may be used to monitor protests and activism.

What did the schools say when you asked them about this?

I have contacted every college that we know of that’s used Social Sentinel and asked about this question specifically. A lot of them don’t want to talk about this. We haven’t really heard a full-throated defense of, “We’re monitoring this protest to keep students safe.” A lot of them are very tight-lipped, so we have to rely on documents and whistleblowers inside of the company to give us information.

Does the company say, “Yeah, we know our stuff is being used to monitor protesters”?

The company fervently denies any ability or use of the service to monitor protesters in any way, and they have since the beginning. But that claim is very dubious.

It’s worth remembering that most of these services are being paid for with public money. An investigation by BuzzFeed News examined contracts from 130 schools and found that they collectively spent $2.5 million on social media monitoring over five years. If you are listening to this and you’re a parent or a teenager or a college student, what other kinds of questions you think you should be asking your educators, your administration about these services?

Well, first of all, I think it’s just important to know whether the service is in place or not. For example, when I was reporting on these four social media monitoring companies last year, I discovered that my high school had used Gaggle, one of the monitoring services. I knew from previous reporting that my undergraduate institution, UNC Chapel Hill, used Social Sentinel. First of all, we should just ask the campus police department, the school administrators, “What service are you using? What does it monitor for, and why are you using it?”

The next questions are, is it effective? Is it doing what it’s set out to do, what they claimed it could do when they were marketing the service to you? If it’s not, then I think people really have to raise questions about, why are we still using this thing if it doesn’t work for the thing that they said it works for?

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