Gongol.com Archives: July 2023

Brian Gongol

July 24, 2023

Computers and the Internet Trust, but verify

There seems to be some dispute over whether the incoming football coach at Northwestern University holds a master's degree. Why don't colleges and universities host searchable public databases of degrees they have conferred? It seems like an obvious public service to offer, as well as a tool for buttressing the schools' own legitimacy. ■ If "verification" in the digital world via signals like blue checkmarks is going to collapse in a gigantic mess, as it appears, then we need to start constructing an online ecosystem in which mutual verification is the norm. This is, in part, like the "federation" model being put to work on social-media tools like Mastodon. (And the fact that Meta/Facebook's new "Threads" service subscribes to the underlying principle makes it appear modestly more likely to thrive in the future.) ■ Schools of higher education ought to take some kind of leadership role in helping to validate whether people are who they say they are -- and that they've done what they claim to have done. While it was scandalous that Rep. George Santos lied openly about having gone to two different colleges, it shouldn't have taken an investigation by USA Today to have vetted him. ■ And the incentive obviously exists to exaggerate educational credentials -- otherwise, there wouldn't be pages devoted to questions like, "If I went to Harvard Extension, did I 'go to Harvard?'" and "How do employers verify college degrees?". ■ Making it easy for the public (including everyone from voters to employers, and even to casual dating partners) to validate whether a person indeed earned the credentials they claim would be an obvious and low-cost way to contribute to greater mutual trust. Commencement programs are often published online already, but their consistency and searchability are both widely lacking. College and university registrars ought to take note.