Should Schools Track Students’ Social Media?

A suburban Los Angeles school district is now paying a company over $40,000 a year to monitor the public postings on social media by middle and high school students, searching for possible violence, drug use, bullying, and suicidal threats by students. Is this an invasion of privacy or just protecting the students?

o-TEENS-PHONES-facebookOn one side of the conflict:

Students should have their degree of privacy outside school. This monitoring will most likely encourage students to be secretive and make their accounts private, which could lead to more problems when parents cannot access them. How is it any of the school’s business if Ed just broke up with Kathryn? Why would an employee of GeoListening, the company that tracks the students, care a twig about John going to Orlando? The majority of teens are not suicidal or violent, and monitoring them is a huge waste of money for a school district that could benefit from, say, redoing/creating athletic fields or hiring new teachers.

On the other side of the conflict:

Two students in the district have committed suicide over the past 2 years, so the school administrators were desperate to keep other students from doing the same. The suicides occurred at a time when California had reduced mental-health services in schools. The argument for monitoring students is that it does pay off. Geo Listening conducted a trial last spring for $5,000 with 9000 students. According to Geo Listening, this led to a successful intervention with a student “who was speaking of ending his life” on his social media.