Guys, I’ve just had the most devastating rejection of my life, because of Turnitin, and I have never been a cheater – actually, I got punished for being good. You know I study journalism, and I am in love with it, and everything I do in my life I am doing it because I want to be an awesome journalist. I thought my lucky day came when my tutor emailed me and said that she was so impressed by my fact-finding write-up from Belarus that she will contact her former student at a major newspaper (think New York Times, that kind of level) with a view to getting it published. IT GOT ACCEPTED. They told me I was in for in internship. I thought my life was made at that instant. God, I was happy for the first time in years.
Two days later the editor emailed and said sorry we cannot publish it, you don’t have the copyright. I said how come, I wrote it. He said, no it’s an assessed work, YOUR UNIVERSITY GAVE THE COPYRIGHT AWAY to Turnitin, and it is stored on their servers. It turns out when you submit work it gets sent to TurnItIn for plagiarism check but they make universities give all copyright for all submissions to THEM!! I was like that cannot possibly be true, and there it is – in their terms and conditions: “Turnitin archives student papers by default […]. Institutions may choose to not have their papers archived in the service.”
My university did not opt out. People did notice in the past (I wonder what happened to them and what opportunities they missed), some cases even got as far as courts in the United States, I found a research article by Stephen Sharon who looked at the matter and concluded that “Despite the unsuccessful attempts to convince the District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals that their rights were violated it is patently clear that the rights of the students were infringed”. So TurnItIn is stealing all our work! Not only that, it actually shows our work, whole pages of it, to anyone who writes a sentence that matches. And they only keep the honest work! I mean, only the good students, the ones who are not cheating are screwed over. Like me…
I mean, life is hard enough being a disabled anorexic gay girl at a university, and here I thought I had my chance… only to have a golden opportunity destroyed because my University betrayed me and gave my work, MY WORK AWAY TO SOME RANDOM WEBSITE. By signing their criminally greedy copyright agreement. I don’t know if I would ever get another chance like that, or if I should just drive my chair into the river or something because I will never forget this chance that I missed.
My tutor showed me the university side of Turnitin web site. They have everything. Absolutely everything. Each work is anatomised sentence by sentence and every source is there, complete pages of it, with words and phrases linked across documents. It was like some monstrous FBI database from the movies. It made me nauseous.
I found more. It turns out that Turnitin just launched something called Authorship Investigation, “a combination of machine learning algorithms and forensic linguistic best practices to detect major differences in students’ writing style between papers”. They are trying to catch ghost writers, but have they thought about real writers??? When I start experimenting and imitating Pulitzer in this essay and Barbara Walters in the next, they will call me a cheater because my style does not match! Can you imagine HOW DEVASTATING THIS WILL BE? To be branded a cheat for trying to search for your own writing style? Some of our professors here, they don’t give a f..ck, they are ears deep in their research and they hate students. They would simply not bother and throw you out of the university… for being good, and for trying to be better. I have been eating tablet after tablet of propranol and my hands are still shaking when I am typing this. Why, you greedy bastards, WHY ME? What have I ever done to you???
“Turnitin is used by more than 30 million students at 15,000 institutions in 140 countries.” — thirty million students in any given year, last ten years. They have us on a plate. Everything every one of over a hundred million young talents has ever produced at the university is in their database. Over. One. Hundred. Million. People.
Who else did these bastards destroy? Who was kicked out of their dream university after being wrongly called a cheat? Where’s the Minority Report on the error rate of Turnitin? My girlfriend does computer science. She says false positive rates on Bayesian analysis (I don’t know what that is, and I don’t want to know, it’s some kind of discrimination method) are never below one percent. This is where my heart stopped. More than a million people, wrongly accused.
Please, please, anyone who reads this – do you know anyone? A friend of a friend, someone from your old class, someone you may have heard about and then forgot that got into trouble because of Turnitin, can you forward this to them? There is a million people somewhere who probably had their once in a lifetime chance destroyed by this unspeakable evil, buried in the statistics that simply says somewhere in an appendix “1% or less false positive rate”. Please, if one skinny lesbian whose life was just destroyed is worth anything to you… will you do this for me?