More school districts turn to online security services to monitor threats
- The Orange County school district in Hillsborough, N.C. is the latest district to sign on with a new online security service designed to identify online threats to schools and students, WFMY News reports.
- The service, provided by Social Sentinel, will cost the school district about $10,000, a year but will look for keywords in social media that may pose a threat to students in the district.
- The service will conduct nationwide monitoring of social media activity related to the school district and identity the Orange County Sheriff’s Department about potential threats to student safety with the goal of prevention.
With the 2017-18 school year going on the books as the deadliest school year in decades, school leaders are looking at ways to prevent more school tragedies. The need to protect the lives of students and teachers has caused school districts to examine a number of solutions, including the increased monitoring of online threats that may affect schools.
These programs do not monitor all social media but look for keywords that indicate threats of violence to others or self-harm. Proponents of the program say that such measures mitigate threats and prevent potential suicides, another important concern. Critics of social media monitoring point to possible violation of privacy concerns, potential human rights violations, and the possible misuse of such monitoring by schools to target students of color.
The issue was also raised during one of the Federal Commission on School Safety's listening sessions. "We are talking about the government actively seeking out children’s social media accounts, both public and private, and combining this information with existing law enforcement or social services records to profile which students are threats," Amelia Vance, of the Future of Privacy Forum, told the commission, saying that such programs should targeted at only "the most serious threats."
The ACLU in Northern California offers specific advice for students regarding these issues, reminding students that public posts do not offer the same protection as private posts. According to this California report, students do have the right to see the information collected about their social media and have it deleted when they turn 18. In the war against potential threats, monitoring of keywords in public posts may be a way schools can be proactive. As Stephen Halkiotis, the chairman of the Orange County Board of Education said in response to criticism that the service is an invasion of privacy, “I think you give up your privacy when you decide to put your heart’s feelings, whether they’re positive or negative, on the Internet.”