31 UK unis have admitted to ‘monitoring’ their students’ social media accounts

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31 UK universities have admitted to “monitoring” or “listening to” their students’ social media accounts.

15 universities also said they use specific software to carry out social media listening – which identifies what is being said about the institution online via tags and mentions.

An investigation saw 130 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sent to every university in the country. Many institutions claimed that they carry out the “monitoring of keywords and discussions” on public social media platforms daily – according to the Express.

This is not the first time that a uni’s surveillance of students has been picked up. Four months ago, it was reported by The Tab that Manchester’s Vice Chancellor, Nancy Rothwell, had been personally tracking the social media of student protestors.

One student protestor, Ben McGowan, said the universities tracking of him made him feel “extremely uncomfortable”.

He told The Tab: “The university appeared to have been monitoring my social media but also it seems on-campus security were even tracking my movements at times. In the report there’s some incidents where security guards name me by my full name and then say ‘he’s going to x place’.

“I think the thing that surprised me most is a lot of the social media tracking wasn’t by the uni press team or social media team, which I’d expect, but it was the Vice Chancellor herself sending round my tweets or articles to the entire senior management.”

Campaigners have criticised universities for suppressing free speech, comparing the monitoring of students’ social media accounts to “the workings of a dictatorship”. As a result, many have called on universities to be more transparent about how they operate.

Ben added: “It’s definitely a weird feeling that an institution whose main purpose is supposed to be providing you with an education, is actually spending more of its time going out of its way to spy on you.”

A spokesperson for Do Better Academia, a group of volunteers campaigning for accountability in universities, said: “Universities portray themselves as bastions of free speech and integrity. However, a campaign of surveillance of students’ social media is akin to the workings of a dictatorship trying to suppress free speech.

“Universities’ sinister behaviour shows that there must be transparency and accountability in how universities operate because they cannot be trusted to act properly by themselves.”

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