I was concerned to learn about the Warren County Sheriff's Office contracting with Social Sentinel to monitor public social media posts for “evidence of possible dangerous or threatening activity” as it relates to area schools.
I understand that these are public posts, and that the Sheriff's Office could access them at any time, regardless of this program, but the increased presence of law enforcement in our social media will have a chilling effect on speech. It's the difference between having an officer drive through your neighborhood occasionally, and having an officer posted on every street corner. It changes the environment, and it changes our behavior.
While this is currently limited in scope, we are opening the door to our own acceptance of these practices in a more widespread fashion.
Over time, standards of what is acceptable behavior change. We are now seeing social media posts from years ago being dug up and used to drag public figures through the mud. In five years' time, the standards of what is acceptable to say may have changed again. That comment that you made about Donald Trump, his supporters, or his detractors may be considered “dangerous or threatening activity.”
Only this time, it won't be society asking you questions; it will be the sheriff.
While protecting our children is certainly important, giving law enforcement more ways to invade our privacy is not the answer. Social media is supposed to be a tool that brings us together, yet we see time and again that social isolation is a factor in mass shootings. If we, as individuals, see concerning behavior come across our social media feeds, we might consider simply asking the person how they're doing.
It might make all the difference.
Nathan Dunn, Glens Falls