Public Schools Monitoring Student Social Media Sites

privacy imageAccording to The Los Angeles Times, the Glendale Unified School District hired a company called Geo Listening to look at the public social media posts of middle and high school students. If the monitors feel that adults should intervene in a situation (students who may be displaying suicidal thoughts, being bullied, or in need of other help) or find instances where students’ codes of conduct have been violated, district officials are notified.

The monitoring began last year as a pilot program in three schools and has now been expanded at a time when the district is dealing with the aftermath of several suicides in the last year.

Geo Listening is being paid $40,500 to monitor 14,000 public profiles of  students who are 13 and over. Private Facebook messages or protected tweets fall outside their surveillance umbrella due to restrictions imposed by the students’ privacy settings. Therefore, everything Geo Listening dregs up is already readily available. The monitoring company uses keyword searches to look for violence, truancy, and drug use, but students haven’t yet been punished based on anything they’ve written on social media. School authorities led an inquiry after a student posted a picture with a gun, but it turned out to be fake, and he was given a warning about the dangers of posting that kind of photo. Sheehan said he would turn students over to the police if they made threats to bring a gun to school.

Of course, this monitoring policy has many supporters, but it isn’t roundly endorsed. Privacy critics say it is tantamount to spying on students. Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told CNN the Glendale policy “crosses a line” by stalking the social media of children.

“This is the government essentially hiring a contractor to stalk the social media of the kids. When the government – and public schools are part of the government – engages in any kind of line-crossing and to actually go and gather information about people away from school, that crosses a line.”

Chris Frydrych, founder and chief executive of Geo Listening, told The Los Angeles Times, his company:

“doesn’t look at the private correspondence of students or hack into their accounts, but looks only at public posts.”

He also said that he expects that by the end of his year, his company will be monitoring the social media posts of students at some 3,000 schools around the world.

With the growing rash of suicides incited by bullies online and a diabolical pedophile pretending to be Justin Bieber while convincing children to send him explicit photos dominating the news recently, it’s easy to see why such measures are gaining popularity and if this monitoring of public content helps save one child from bullying, suicide or online predators, it’s hard for me to see that as a bad thing.

What do you think? Is this overreaching? Or, careful protection of kids through public content?

One comment

  1. You said it in the blog post: they are only monitoring public profiles. If people want to complain about privacy then they shouldn’t make it public.

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