Author: Danielle Sovereign

Commodifying data threatens consumer privacy

Last week, Congress passed legislation that allows internet service providers – like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T – to sell their consumers’ private information to marketers and other companies without the consent of their users.

This legislation is a direct response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) passing of internet privacy regulations in October 2016. These regulations not only protected users’ internet browsing history, but also the content of their messages and emails, financial information and Social Security numbers. These rules would also have required internet providers to inform consumers of the data they collect and tell users when information breaches take place. This seems only reasonable, considering that internet access is something most people pay for and is necessary in order to complete certain practical tasks, like monitoring their bank accounts, working remotely, filling out FAFSA forms and storing other sensitive and vital information.

Despite the perks of this protection, the newest legislation passed by Congress will wipe away these breakthrough privacy measures for internet users. These regulations were supposed to take effect this year, but President Donald Trump made sure that wouldn’t happen by signing Congress’s anti-privacy measures. Now internet users will be subject to the interests of advertising companies and enterprises that may have access to their private and sensitive information as well as the content of their messages, giving them a potentially dangerous amount of insight into their users’ internet usage. Now, location data, Social Security numbers, browsing history, financial information, health information and app usage history can be sold by internet providers to the highest bidder. This blatant disregard for the safety and privacy of Americans’ information is not the worst thing about this legislation. Apparently, it also bars the FCC from making any kind of protective rules in the future.

The supporters of this legislation claim that it will allow providers to use relevant ads for consumers based on collected data. On the other hand, what do most people prioritize? Having relevant advertisements pop up on their news feeds or the protection of their bank accounts and health information? Some critics of the legislation fear that this gives internet providers a clever way to charge their users premiums if they want to keep their information private. Once again, the Trump administration has passed legislation that segregates people based on socioeconomic status. Wealthy Americans can handle the extra charges, even if they are outrageous.

When Trump signed the bill he did not have reporters there to take pictures and was not surrounded by his favorite politicians, as is his usual style. It seems he may have anticipated that this ruling would not be a popular one. He didn’t even tweet about it. In fact, the outrage over the decision has been spotty – except for in the state of Minnesota. Shortly after Trump passed the law, the Minnesota Senate voted on a proposed amendment that would require internet providers to obtain written consent before selling consumers’ private and personal information. Senator Ron Lats, DFL-St. Louis Park, was the main proponent of the amendment. After passing it through committee, the amendment was passed by a vote of 66-1.

Other states would be wise to follow Minnesota’s lead, considering that Trump’s new legislation would break down and destabilize the data connections that help run hospitals and banks as well as higher education institutions, posing a serious ethical problem. In a time when most of the world relies on data connections and technology to communicate, it’s not reasonable to pass a law that pushes internet security to the wayside in favor of capitalist gain. Yet, corporate power is becoming a theme of this presidency, and no one should be particularly surprised.

Danielle Sovereign ’18 (sovere1@stolaf.edu) is from South Chicago Heights, Ill. She majors in English and French.

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Lizzo slays at the spring concert

On April 1, MEC hosted the spring concert and brought us the gift of Lizzo. An alternative hip hop star, rapper and floutist, Lizzo is a musical phenomenon based out of Minneapolis. She is currently touring her latest major label EP “Coconut Oil,” which was released in 2016.

The concert opened with the campus band Bad Advice Club. The opening act’s set included some original songs as well as popular hits like Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” and “Sunday Candy” by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, which featured guest musicians such as trumpet sensation Conlan Campbell ’18. Their performance was energetic and stood out due to the impressive vocals of Ben Dyleuth ’17, which hyped up the crowd in preparation for the long-awaited appearance of Lizzo.

Sophia Eris (Lizzo’s DJ) played an awesome set to introduce Lizzo after a few technical difficulties, which she resolved with the Pause crew. The group brought their own lights and equipment, which accounted for some of the difficulty.

Eventually Lizzo’s dancers came on stage followed by the group’s namesake, who began her set with “Worship,” from her new EP. Eris dropped the beats, sang back up vocals and joined in dancing. Lizzo was of course the lead vocalist, and she had four other dancers on stage who joined in during various songs. Their performance was expertly choreographed and included one of the dancers performing a handstand split and Lizzo twerking up a storm.

Lizzo spoke to the audience frequently and boasted about her “all female” crew, as well as reassuring everyone that even though the stress of going to school can be overwhelming, sometimes all you need is a little “Coconut Oil” and self-love.

When introducing the song “‘Scuse Me,” Lizzo spoke about the importance of loving yourself in a world where there are so many expectations about body-image and physical appearance.

She addressed the women in the audience, and told them to unite and form a strong bond with other women in order to achieve success. She also addressed remarks to the men in the audience, telling them that if they support women, great things can happen. Essentially, Lizzo is not only a goddess for her musical talents, but for her wisdom as well.

The concert came to an end too soon, but not after Lizzo sang “Good as Hell” to finish the set. She introduced the song by getting fired up about the man who inspired it, a guy who tried to play her in the past. The audience screamed various profanities about the mystery playboy, no doubt remembering their own bad experiences in the dating scene.

When Lizzo left the stage, everyone kept screaming for an encore, which she gracefully gave. As the crowd left the Pause, the words “life-changing,” “empowering” and “incredible” could be heard among the crowd to describe her performance. The only thing missing from the concert was Lizzo’s flute, which several students anticipated hearing. Nonetheless, she put on a great show.

A big thank you is in order to MEC and the Pause crew for bringing us one of the best spring concerts we’ve had.

sovere1@stolaf.edu

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House event encourages self-reflection

Self-expression through art is a great way for students to take a break during the day and sit down for some personal reflection and creative fun. On Monday Feb. 27, the Diversity Awareness House hosted an activity called “Por-trait Yourself” in Tomson Hall where students had the opportunity to draw themselves as they want to be seen. There were boxes of fresh Pause cookies and chips and dip for everyone who wanted to spend part of their afternoon focusing on themselves for a little bit.

Amanda Vergara ’17 began the event by explaining what each student should focus on in their respective portraits. Vergara invited them to illustrate what they think their emotional, physical, mental and spiritual strengths are. Paper and crayons were on every table for whoever wanted to take a crack at drawing themselves in a meaningful way.

After half an hour of drawing, Jabri Whirl ’18 led a large group dialogue with the participants. Whirl asked thoughtful questions about what the artists thought were the easiest or hardest strengths to draw. Whirl asked if the strengths they found were ones they’d always known about.

“The event itself is very reflective. It encourages you to think about your strengths. It seems like you always focus on your weaknesses,” participant Krysta Wetzel ’18 said.

Everyone’s portraits were extremely different. Some added lots of color, others opted for black and white. Some portraits focused on the artist themselves, while others drew the things that they felt symbolized their strengths.

Sharing was optional after the dialogue, and some people stuck around to snack and talk more about their masterpieces. Whirl felt that the event was a success, and shared where she got the idea.

“I took a class over interim about art and spirituality, and I focused a lot on how to use portraiture to express myself. So I came up with this idea, and everyone in the Diversity Awareness House thought it would be a cool event,” Whirl said.

All in all, their first event of the semester was a lot of fun and it promoted an important kind of diversity – diversity of thought. One of the other house residents said that we can expect two more events from the Diversity Awareness House in March.

If their next events are as fun and meditative as this one, it’s going to be a great spring for the honor house.

sovere1@stolaf.edu

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Media literacy has growing importance in fake news era

In the months following the election fake news has continued to be a topic of intense debate, as it affects Americans’ relationships to social media. Most of us have that one aunt who posts articles on Facebook from sketchy sources and stubbornly defends her version of the “truth.” Several of us have been embarrassed by falling into a fake news trap and citing phony articles to friends only to be corrected by everyone who knew better. With media affecting the political arena more intensely every day, distinguishing between verified and unverified sources grows in importance. It is time to incorporate media literacy in educational curriculums.

Social media has been held accountable and even blamed by various politicians for influencing the election’s results, attesting to the fact that the internet has an enormous impact on our society. If social media can sway our vote, it is essential that our choices are based on accurate information.

On many college campuses across the country, political science and media studies departments have implemented projects which focus on discerning fake news from real stories. Elementary school teachers have also realized the importance of changing the curriculum to include coursework that teaches students how to evaluate the sources that they come across online. This is especially valuable, as education scholars at Stanford claim that children in grades K through five cannot tell the difference between real and fake news, specifically when the biased sources are sponsored. An effective media literacy program can go a long way in preventing these misunderstandings.

The Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) began their study on media literacy in January 2015. They conducted assessments from elementary to collegiate education levels and found that most students could not tell a verified article from an unverified one, which isn’t surprising given the large number of fake sources dispersed online. SHEG’s assessment focused on key social media conventions such as the blue checkmark that signifies whether an account is verified by Facebook or Twitter.

In the study, over 30 percent of high school students believed that the fake news account was real because of the graphic content it posted. The authors of the study concluded that most students focus more on the content of the media articles than the sources these articles get their material from.

SHEG is now launching media literacy programs in California high schools in an attempt to make media literacy a core part of public curriculum. Several schools are teaching their students new skills, such as using source analysis and developing a critical approach to research. Several teachers have created incredibly intuitive activities for their students to accomplish these goals.

Scott Bedley, a fifth-grade teacher at Plaza Vista School in Irvine, Calif., has created a seven-step list that helps his students identify the difference between a fake news source and a real one. Bedley includes questions concerning the source of the article, if it has a copyright, as well as whether or not it was authored by an expert in a relevant field. As the list is adapted for elementary school students it is simplified, but even still I find that most adults don’t bother to follow these guidelines before posting on Facebook or using an article to back up their political beliefs. If we used checklists like Bedley’s more frequently, we could avoid being duped by fictitious news stories.

While simple, the tips for deciphering the validity of a source are crucial in determining whether or not the articles we read are fact or fiction. Many of us were taught at an early age not to trust internet sources or Wikipedia when doing research projects. We take for granted the fact that we were initially wary of the internet, while kids today have a more confident relationship with social media and internet news sources. After all, every time someone asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, the usual response is “I don’t know. Look it up online.”

Danielle Sovereign ’18 (sovere1@stolaf.edu) is from South Chicago Heights, Ill. She majors in English and French.

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Ole alum discusses changing academic landscape

The St. Olaf Department of Romance Languages celebrated its centennial on Thursday, Feb. 16 by inviting Timothy Scheie ’85, a French professor at Eastman School of Music, to offer a lecture. Scheie was welcomed on Wednesday afternoon by a reception in Tomson Hall, where he spoke informally with French department professors and students. Several members of the department were curious about his experience as a St. Olaf student. Like many first-year students, he remembers having no tangible idea of what he wanted to major in. He bounced from math to economics to music and finally to French, and he didn’t look back. Scheie admitted that his uncertainty sprang from an inherent “lack of discipline” that has guided his journey through higher education.

On Thursday morning, Scheie stood in front of 50 students and faculty members and spoke frankly about the future in his talk, “The Future of French: Charting a Course Through a Changing Discipline.” Scheie spoke of his strong sense of gratitude for the schooling he received at St. Olaf, but also of the concern he has for the future of French as a major. First, he explained the radical changes that have taken place in the French academic and professional worlds since his graduation in the mid-1980s.

The beginning portion of his lecture focused on how the outcomes of a liberal arts education have changed since his graduation. He described his degree from St. Olaf as reinforced by a “solid curriculum” in twentieth century French literature, and he thought he would certainly find a well-paying position with his background. When he pursued graduate school at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, French majors were in high demand. There were 150 graduate students in his discipline when he was a student there, so the outlook was a positive one. However, Scheie confessed that he waited nine years until he finally earned a “real” salary. Liberal arts degrees were, at the time, viewed as impractical, and French programs struggled for enrollment or were shut down completely. This shift lead to what Scheie called “the identity crisis” in the world of French academic study.

The harsh reality of the discipline in the 1990s was that the enrollment in French programs across the country had steadily declined since the ’70s. Several formerly successful programs threw in the towel, such as the University of Rochester’s masters and PhD programs. In addition, the culture wars of the ’80s and ’90s pinned Western traditionalists against multiculturalists, each with a different opinion of what the French major and curriculum should be. According to Scheie, this resulted in what we have now – curriculum that focuses more on developing skills than how much knowledge students can cram into their heads in four years.

The last parts of Scheie’s lecture explored a new method to make the teaching of romance languages more successful. His method calls for a collaboration between the department administrators and professors as well as the students.

“We need to become advocates for our programs and let others know why we study what we study,” Scheie said. This begins simply with affirming the importance of studying languages in college. Scheie believes that language study is crucial.

“In the modern age we live in, there is a lot of fear and anxiety over walls, borders and immigrants,” he said. “Languages and cultural studies train students on how to develop a deep and important compassion for other people.”

Scheie left listeners with a compelling message: It is up to students to define the importance of language studies and to chart the future of language curriculums at their schools. The best way to assure the future of a program is to create it, and to constantly prove the relevance of studying language in our ever-changing world.

sovere1@stolaf.edu

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