Why Does The Gaggle Software Flag Words Like ‘Gay’ ‘Lesbian’ ‘Queer?’

In yet another edition of a form of technology being used for something sinister and something it wasn’t invented for, it seems an online school surveillance software is now being used to out gay students to their parents and school administration. What the fucking fuck?

Intended to ‘spy’ on students’ online activity, LGBTQ Nation has reported that, “the software flags LGBTQ-related terms and has already reported outed at least one LGBTQ student to their parents.”  The software program is called Gaggle and per the CEO’s message on their website,

“I wanted to bring the power of digital communication to schools while giving teachers an easy way to watch over their gaggle of students. My vision of student-centric schools using cutting-edge technology to safely inspire creativity and ingenuity remains the driving force in Gaggle’s ongoing story.”

The program itself is described as,

“Gaggle’s mission is to ensure the safety and well-being of students and schools by leveraging people and technology. Our vision is that all schools are safe and all students get the mental and emotional help they need.” – Who We Are, Gaggle.net

Gaggle has been in business for over twenty years, apparently. So why now does there seem to be a sudden upturn in usage? The answer – the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year more school districts resorted to using the program due to remote learning being the norm. Tracking students’ online activity – since they were responsible for learning 100% at homemade somewhat sense. LGBTQ Nation also reported,

“Minneapolis has paid more than $355,000 to partner with Gaggle until 2023. The city started using Gaggle as students went entirely online for virtual and distance learning during the ongoing pandemic COVID-19 pandemic. However, most students and parents weren’t even aware that students had started being monitored.” 

At this moment, Gaggle is monitoring the online activity of FIVE MILLION STUDENTS. Twenty-four hours a day. They are able to do this through student email accounts, provided by the school. It’s worth noting that these accounts are much more likely to be used by poorer students, who do have devices at home. 

The program is coming under fire because in addition to words and phrases like “suicidal,” and “hurting myself,” additional words like “gay,” “lesbian,” and “queer” are flagged. The company has come under fire for this and in a CBS news video, a likely issue was brought up, 

“the algorithym may be a little biased and may focus in on issues affecting LGBTQ kids more than other kids. Is flagging those words as problems, when really its just the kids expressing themselves?”

Jeff Patterson, CEO of Gaggle responded, “we believe Gaggle actually provides more benefits for students in these vulnerable groups. We are in place to prevent the bullying and harassment of these students…we just want to be there to help all students.” {how altruistic and kind of them.} Writing as a former teacher I gotta say this program, their intentions, all of it just leave a bad taste in my mouth. However, not all school employees feel the same way. Claire, 45, a school counselor who works at a school in New Jersey, told me,

I’m the one who follows up on alerts. I have to say I don’t agree that it’s too invasive bc it’s alerted us to some kids who were in crisis or in danger.”  

A transgender teen in Minnesota wrote about past suicidal thoughts, in response to an essay assignment. Gaggle flagged the post and a school counselor contacted their parents a few days after they turned in the assignment. Teeth Logsdon-Wallace, 13, spoke to The 74,

“I was trying to be vulnerable with this teacher and be like, ‘Hey, here’s a thing that’s important to me because you asked’. Now, when I’ve made it clear that I’m a lot better, the school is contacting my counselor and is freaking out. When people are just talking about being gay, anything they’re writing would be flagged. They have ‘gay’ flagged to stop people from looking at porn, but one, that is going to be mostly targeting people who are looking for gay porn, and two, it’s going to be a false positive because they are acting as if the word gay is inherently sexual.”

In a report released from the Center for Democracy and Technology, “58 percent of students said they don’t share their true thoughts or ideas in electronic school assignments. Approximately 80 percent said they’re more careful about what they search for online, knowing they’re being watched.” As fast as technology changes, and evolves, the laws governing said technology is nowhere near as up to date as it should be.

Is the constant monitoring and surveillance of students online doing more harm than good? Before you answer that, here is the CBS News story tackling the growing criticism of Gaggle and other software like it. Sound off in the comments below.


(**this post is solely the opinion of this contributing writer and may not reflect the opinion of other writers, staff, or owners of Instinct magazine.)

Sources: LGBTQ Nation

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