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UNC Chapel Hill spends $72,000 of COVID relief funds on snitching app

Promises not to use it to punish students

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill spent $72,000 to develop an app that allows people to snitch on people not following COVID guidelines.

The College Fix filed a public records request asking the university for the amount spent on the SaferWays App, which encourages people to report others for not standing 6 feet apart, gathering in groups or not wearing masks.

University officials said “the amount is $72,646 and the sources of funding are Coronovirus [sic] Relief Funds from the NC Collaboratory, Innovate Carolina and Private Trust Accounts.” The North Carolina legislature allocated a total of $29 million through its own COVID relief fund to the public university.

University officials and a co-creator of the app previously told The Fix that is not a snitching app and not meant to be used by law enforcement or campus officials to punish rule-breakers.

“The data collected using the Safer Ways app focuses on locations and does not identify the name of individuals,” Kurt Ribisl, the app’s co-creator and the university’s public health department chair said.

No actual safeguard in place

However, the app provides real-time updates and no one at the university would tell us what safeguards were in place to prevent police or university administrators from using SaferWays for that purpose.

Anyone could sit on the website and refresh it all day long and then investigate the alleged rulebreakers.

“Reports may be used in real time to silence students and to cherry pick students for disciplinary action,” Kimberly Hermann, the general counsel for the Southeastern Legal Foundation, previously told The Fix.

The campus media relations office has also previously told The Fix that the university won’t use the app to cite students, but it does “encourage our community to call the police immediately…if they witness activities that are not in compliance with COVID-19 Community Standards.”

University community likes to tattle-tale

Students and other community members with nothing better to do with their time than report on their peers have apparently taken this reporting plea to heart.

The campus paper, The Daily Tar Heel, has reported a number of examples of students being investigated for allegedly breaking the COVID rules.

Furthermore, the university’s dashboard for COVID tracking reported for the period of November to the end of January 179 incidents of “Community Standards Violations.” This included 88 incidents that led to disciplinary action being taken, such as a written warning or probation.

The university releases a quarterly report on its punishment of students relating to COVID rules.

MORE: Harvard dean confirms it will use police to enforce social distancing

IMAGES: Christian Wiediger/Unsplash; The College Fix

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About the Author
Matt is assistant editor for The College Fix. He previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he also wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and a M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.