California School District Keeping an Eye on Students' Social Network Postings
September 17, 2013 10:15 AM
A company called Geo Listening will do the monitoring
A California school district has hired a contractor to
monitor the social networks
of students in hopes of pinpointing suspicious behavior.
The Glendale, California school district is paying $40,500 to the company Geo Listening for the social monitoring services. The firm will read Facebook, Twitter and other social network posts by 14,000 middle school and high school students in the district. It will only apply to students ages 13 and up (when parental permission isn't necessary for the school's new monitoring methods).
Geo Listening's exact methods for monitoring the sites or verifying that the students are, in fact, from the school district are unclear. But the firm said it will only view public posts (students can set their posts to private), and it searches for keywords to find any alarming posts. The firm has also learned the lingo of youths to catch those who may be speaking in code or in shorthand. The school is then given a full report of the company's findings.
The district said it is employing this method in order to ensure the safety of its students. For instance, if a student posts about suicide, a fight or bringing weapons to school, the district wants to know so that an intervention can take place.
It also wants to know when other inappropriate acts are taking place on school grounds, such as drug use and
Prior to the $40,000 contract, the school district took part in a pilot test of the monitoring program with Geo Listening. For $5,000, the firm monitored 9,000 students' social networks in the district last spring.
According to the Glendale school district's Superintendent Richard Sheehan, the pilot was successful in countering a possible student suicide. The firm also found that a student posted a picture of a gun, and once investigated, it turned out the gun was fake and the student wasn't disciplined. But Sheehan said the monitoring has proved to be a valuable tool.
"We were able to save a life," said Sheehan. "It's just another avenue to open up a dialogue with parents about safety."
However, many are worried that the students are being spied on. Parents are concerned that their children's privacy is being invaded by the firm's monitoring methods, and are further concerned about how their children will be reprimanded if they post something questionable on a social site (for instance, will the child's parents be called in when something happens? Will this allow students to be punished for merely saying something negative about the school?).
Do you think the monitoring will be effective? And is it spying, or a safety precaution?
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