Monitoring Sarcasm on Social Media and Other Bright Ideas

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June 3, 2014; Washington Post

NPQ thinks the idea of the Secret Service wanting to contract for software that can detect sarcasm online is just wonderful! And we look forward to the other additional monitoring devices—maybe an electric shock kind of thing for passive-aggressive behavior! The Secret Service thinks that getting a robot to detect whether or not someone is serious about threatening death and destruction would save a lot of time and effort. The problem is that every time one of these scanning for miscreants ideas comes up, instead of being terrified for our privacy rights, we yawn and turn on the TV or mess around with Facebook, or use a card that provides us with a small discount in return for tracking our buying habits to buy a vat of ice cream or fifth of bourbon to buffer the pain of being so terribly exposed.

And then that same government wants the American people to get behind them about Edward Snowden’s invasion of their secrets? Here’s the thing: When the government insists upon and enforces its own privacy prerogatives and we as citizens and residents do not, we are headed into a very troublesome valley where the playing field will have been inexorably changed and the winners will not be ordinary citizens—never mind the activists who may not agree with the government on every detail of its doings. Wait! Didn’t our founders anticipate this?

I’m sorry, am I being sarcastic?—Ruth McCambridge


  • Jerry Cadotte

    I often thought that my word processing software should come with a sarcasm checker, especially when writing letters and reports to certain funders and government agencies.

  • Kathy D

    I think many Americans yawn and go about their other business because, for a long time, we truly believed that no one could REALLY be that stupid. Boy, were we wrong.

    And, Ruth, my own sarcasm detector went on high alert when I began reading your article!

    Thanks for putting into words what many of us think.