Rave blog Post

Social Media Monitoring in K-12: Where's the Thin Line?

The debate about social media monitoring in K-12 schools has been ongoing for many years. Those in favor argue it is a necessary safety precaution, whereas opponents claim it is a privacy violation. So, where should the line be drawn? Or is there a better solution than social media monitoring for keeping schools safe?

In September 2013, the Glendale School District in California made national news when contracting a technology company to monitor the social media activity of fourteen thousand middle and high school students. The district was criticized for “effectively stalking kids” despite a pilot program having successfully identified a student who had written about ending his life on social media.

Since then, other school districts have engaged in social media monitoring in K-12 schools - often conflicting with the wishes of students and parents, and in some cases the courts. In 2014, the Minnewaska School District in Minnesota settled a case brought against it by the American Civil Liberties Union for $70,000, and was forced to change its social media monitoring policies.

Nonetheless, many districts have continued the practice of social media monitoring in K-12 schools. As well as helping to identify potential suicides, it is claimed monitoring can help control violence, bullying, drug use, and inappropriate teacher-student relationships. Proponents point to the suicide of Rebecca Sedwick as an event that could have been prevented with social media monitoring in K-12 schools.

Social Media Monitoring in K-12 Schools is Not Necessarily Effective

In recent years, a new generation of social media monitoring software has emerged that mitigates privacy concerns. The software uses geofencing technology to only monitor posts made by students and teachers on school property, and a customizable library of keywords and images to flag selected social media posts for further investigation.

Developers claim the software creates a balance between school safety and student privacy rights, but - much like the older software used for social media monitoring in K-12 schools - the new generation software only monitors publicly-accessible social media posts and is ineffective for monitoring posts sent within private groups, by text, IM or email, or those made from the homes of students and teachers.

Consequently, although the software could have identified the cyber-bullying that caused Rebecca Sedwick to take her own life, it would not have flagged the inappropriate relationships teachers Natalie Johnson and Jordan Lane had with their students, the comments about same-sex relationships posted on Facebook by teacher Jerry Buell, or Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz's YouTube videos.

Why “See Something, Say Something” is a Better Solution

While proponents and opponents of social media monitoring in K-12 schools continue to argue over where the thin line should be drawn between school safety and personal privacy, other school districts are promoting “see something, say something” campaigns and working closely with community police departments to create safer on-campus and off-campus environments.

Reviews of mass shooting incidents have found that the majority of perpetrators “leak” their intentions beforehand - not necessarily by social media, but by telling a friend or family member- and where “see something, say something” campaigns are operating, students are encouraged to provide anonymous tips about leaks and similar events via online forms, telephone hotlines or mobile phone apps.

The longest established app-based “see something, say something” campaign is Colorado's “Safe2Tell” program which is credited with thwarting several school shootings and multiple suicide attempts. App-based campaigns generally tend to be the most effective method of anonymous tipping, as students have the opportunity to accompany their tips with a photo or video of the incident they are reporting.

The Benefits of Anonymous App-Based School Safety Systems

There are multiple benefits of anonymous app-based school safety systems - not least that they eliminate the privacy concerns of social media monitoring in K-12 schools. Anonymous app-based school safety systems also better involve students in the responsibility for their security than online forms or telephone hotlines, and often lead to better response rates.

Compared with social media monitoring, anonymous app-based school safety systems are less labor-intensive - and therefore cheaper for school districts to operate. Schools can also integrate app-based school safety systems with mass notification systems to issue timely warnings to all students about crimes that represent a threat to the campus.

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Andrea Lebron
Andrea Lebron

Andrea is Rave's Director of Digital Marketing, a master brainstormer and avid coffee drinker. Andrea joined Rave in August 2017, after 10 years of proposal and corporate marketing at an environmental engineering firm. You'll find her working with her amazing team in writing and producing blogs like this one, improving your journey to and through our website, and serving you up the best email content. When she's not in front of a keyboard, she's chasing after her three daughters or indulging in her husband's latest recipe. Andrea has a Bachelor's degree in Marketing/Management from Northeastern University and an MBA from Curry College.

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