Social Media Shaming Your College

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.

We’ve all seen social media used to shame people we disagree with. Those milliseconds of tsk-tsking might feel good, but I doubt they’re helpful.

Then my colleague Natasha Singer told me about pandemic shaming I can get behind.

College students are using TikTok, Twitter and other apps to embarrass their universities when they fail to care for people who have been isolated in special Covid-19 dorms or are in quarantine units because of a possible exposure.

Natasha, who wrote this week about universities botching on-campus quarantines, talked to me about how young people — often being shamed for acting irresponsibly in the pandemic — are now turning the tables on the grown-ups, and how colleges are sometimes over-relying on technology that doesn’t do much to protect students.

Shira: Tell me your tales of students using social media to shame their schools.

Natasha: Many people have seen the online videos of students stuck in quarantine or isolation documenting crummy or nonexistent university-provided meals.

But what I found went deeper: Sick students are making videos about how they felt universities abandoned them once they tested positive and moved into special Covid dorms.

And there are a bunch of students who shared online their shock that virus-infected students or people who were waiting for tests were assigned to share a room, bathroom or dorm — conditions that they worried could foster infections. In some cases, their colleges then improved services for quarantined students.

College students are also being shamed on social media for their behavior.

Yes, some kids are partying or going to bars in large numbers without masks. But epidemiologists said some schools also made the risks worse by failing to make systemic changes to help curtail the virus. They also said some schools have significantly reduced occupancy in dorms, a change that could help hinder outbreaks.

Sending infected students home is dangerous because it risks spreading the coronavirus to their families and communities. What should colleges do?

Public health experts say the best practice is for schools to care for the mental and physical health of students who are quarantined, and not leave them to fend for themselves.

Many schools didn’t seem to have a plan in place to closely monitor and care for students in isolation dorms, and hadn’t envisioned what it’s like for an 18-year-old who gets sick and feels cut off.

What are examples of colleges that did make useful changes?

Tulane University has nurses on staff 24-7 in a dorm for students with infections. The nurses deliver meals three times a day and check on students to make sure they’re OK.

Tufts University created modular, individual isolation housing units in a parking lot for students with virus infections. School officials said they didn’t want to put sick students in old dorms that lacked elevators — which might be needed to transport a student to a hospital.

You previously reported on workplaces trying to protect employees from the coronavirus. How are colleges acting differently or the same?

One similarity is that workplaces have used a lot of unproven or iffy technology, like fever screening devices, that make people feel safer but might not actually do much to mitigate coronavirus risks. Universities are now going ahead with some of the same technologies, when they could be using a more proven technique: frequent virus testing.

If you don’t already get this newsletter in your inbox, please sign up here.


The sky in places on the West Coast turned a murky orange this week because of wildfires. But some people said that photos they took on their phones made their apocalyptic skies look almost normal.

What gives? Well, digital cameras try to take snapshots that look better than reality.

“Any camera doesn’t see exactly what the human eye sees; it’s not an exact duplication,” James Estrin, a staff photographer for The New York Times, told me. Most smartphones, he said, are “programmed to make the most pleasing photos for people, and that usually means a bright blue sky.”

Imagine the software in your smartphone camera digesting that eerie orange hue, and figuring that is not how the sky is supposed to look. That’s why some people were having trouble capturing how scary it looked outside their windows.

James said that most of the time, we want cameras to tinker with our snapshots. People like me who aren’t capable photographers don’t want to think about exposure times, shutter speeds or color balance. And I want my phone to make my photos less blurry or brighten images from a dark restaurant. Reality is overrated.

But for people who are frustrated that their smartphones aren’t accurately capturing what they see, there are apps like Snapseed and Halide that let people adjust the color on their smartphone-shot photos. (Check out these before-and-after app-adjusted shots from a Bloomberg News journalist in San Francisco.)

James said apps like Photos included on iPhones have edit options, and choosing “warmer” colors will restore those photos of the orange skies to something closer to what people see with their own eyes.

“They are extraordinary cameras in general,” James said about our smartphones. Some of his iPhone photos have been published in The Times, too.

You deserve more interesting and fun things for your ear holes. Let me point you to “Sway,” a new podcast about power and influence from my colleagues at Times Opinion and the tech journalist Kara Swisher. Check out the trailer.


  • Who is responsible for workers who aren’t employees? Uber and other “gig” companies classify their workers as contractors and not employees, leaving a legal gray area about who is responsible for injuries or mistreatment on the job.

    My colleagues Kellen Browning and Kate Conger write that a civil rights nonprofit is asking California regulators to step up protections for house cleaners who booked work through a gig app called Handy and said they were sexually harassed by clients and couldn’t get Handy to address it.

  • He helps make sure “the babies” can do remote school: Online school stinks, but the education news website The 74 has a lovely article about the head of information technology for San Antonio’s schools. He helped prep teachers for remote instruction and set up a tech support help desk that fielded up to 1,400 calls from families on the first day of virtual school. He and other staff members refer to students, affectionately, as “the babies.”

    (I first read about this in The Times’s Coronavirus Schools Briefing, which you should sign up for!)

  • “We need ways to politely disconnect.” YES, PLEASE, to this OneZero columnist’s plea for universal digital “away messages.” These pop-up notices, popularized by 2000s-era AOL, automatically notify people who are emailing, messaging and texting us that we are trying not to be distracted and will read all that stuff later. Or never.

I envy the life of Tiptoe the 175-pound tortoise, whose big outing was a stroll across the street — motivated by his “walking snackies.”


We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@nytimes.com.

If you don’t already get this newsletter in your inbox, please sign up here.

http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js