A California school district hired a company starting last year to monitor its students' activity over social media websites.
The move by Glendale Unified School District to hire Geo Listening was an attempt to combat cyberbullying and curtail drug use. After two local students committed suicide in 2012, school officials hoped scouring social media websites could potentially warn them of suicidal behavior.
However, the social media monitoring service has sparked concerns over the students' data privacy and security on online platforms, The Associated Press reported.
Geo Listening searchers the school system's computers for public posts students make on Facebook, Twitter, personal blogs and other websites. The company is alerted any time there is a post that suggests suicidal thoughts, bullying or vandalism, the AP reported. It also tags posts that use obscenities. If a post violated the school district's student codes of conduct, the school is also notified.
"We think it's been working very well," District Superintendent Dick Sheehan said. "It's designed around student safety and making sure kids are protected."
Opposition to the Monitoring
Some students are uncomfortable with school administrators keeping an eye on their online activity.
"We all know social media is not a private place, not really a safe place," said Young Cho, 16, a junior at Hoover High, one of the three high schools in the district that launched a monitoring pilot program last year. "But it's not the same as being in school. It's students' expression of their own thoughts and feelings to their friends. For the school to intrude in that area - I understand they can do it, but I don't think it's right."
Brendan Hamme, an attorney with the Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the school district may be going too far to ensure student safety.
Another attorney, Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, had issues with the program
"It's not stumbling into students — like a teacher running across a student on the street," Tien said, according to New York Daily News. "This is the school sending someone to watch them."
Geo Listening is being paid $40,500 to track the social media posts by the district's approximately 14,000 students, the Daily News reported. Any social media account that is kept private by a student cannot be tracked by the company. Also, only students 13 and older are part of the program automatically. Younger students can be monitored with parental consent.
Alex Flores is a product marketing manager at IDentity Theft 911.1.