A Clemson University professor who claims to specialize in online decision-making went on a rant on his Facebook page, calling “all Republicans” “racist” and “scum.”
In a series of posts earlier this month, Bart Knijnenburg — an assistant professor of human-centered computing — stated that “Trump voters” and those in the “GOP” are “all racist,” encouraged people to fight white supremacy through either “violent or non-violent” means, and shared a meme that featured Winnie the Pooh and Piglet discussing how their “favorite day” is “the day we burn this motherf***** to the ground.”
On a post declaring “all republicans ‘racist,’” someone named Rob Van Haaren, who had apparently been a student or mentee of Knijnenburg’s, commented: “I’ve always looked up to you, as my 1st yr mentor but also for passing on the idea to study abroad. But it saddens me a bit to see this coming from you.” Rather than apologize, Knijnenburg doubled down, saying: “You should come live in the south for a while. It’s exhausting.” [Spelling in the original.]
Now, anyone with a brain can figure out why it might not have been the best idea for Knijnenburg to have posted these things publicly. Even aside from the fact that it’s disgusting to say that anyone who identifies as Republican is automatically “racist” and “scum” — or the fact that committing violence is literally illegal and should not be encouraged as a way to solve problems — Knijnenburg will almost certainly have some students in his classes who are Republicans and/or Trump voters, or whose parents are Republicans and/or Trump voters.
No, it shouldn’t take an expert, and that’s exactly what makes this story so baffling: On his webpage, Knijnenburg essentially states that he is an expert in the area of online decision-making:
Our online lives are full of small but difficult decisions. Which app should I install? Should I post this on Facebook or not? Which YouTube video should I watch? What will this e-commerce website do with my personal information? In my research I try to understand the psychological principles behind these online decisions. Using Big Data and Machine Learning principles, I try to make these decisions a little easier with better user interfaces and “smart defaults.”
It’s rich, isn’t it? Here’s a guy who’s bragging about having the tools to help people figure out whether or not they should post something on Facebook, and yet he’s out there posting things that clearly have the potential to damage his career. Knijnenburg claims that he has devoted his professional life to trying to “understand the psychological principles behind . . . online decisions,” and all I can think about is how much I’d like a slightly more qualified professional to help me understand his.
– Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.