In the wake of recent mass shootings in Texas, Republican Sen. John Cornyn has introduced the Restoring, Enhancing, Strengthening and Promoting Our Nation’s Safety Efforts (RESPONSE) Act, which includes a measure that would require schools to adopt programs to monitor student social media accounts, EdScoop reports.
The bill, co-sponsored by several other Republican senators, proposes a national task force to investigate and prosecute illegal firearm sales and would require schools receiving federal funds to install programs that monitor students' online activities to identify those who might be a potential threat to others or themselves.
The American Civil Liberties Union has come out against the legislation, saying the monitoring of students’ social media accounts is an invasion of privacy. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, Treatment Advocacy Center and several law enforcement organizations support the proposal.
A U.S. Secret Service study found students who commit school violence often showed interest in violence, were bullied by peers and regularly found themselves in trouble. Further evidence shows about 78% of school shooters hinted at plans to commit a school shooting before following through.
However, trying to monitor a students' social media existence could be like trying to track a survivalist through a forest. Many teens know how to navigate digital spaces, avoid detection, keep their accounts private and make fake, or “finsta,” accounts that don’t have their real names attached. They let people see what they want them to see.
If a student is making threats, it's likely only going to be fellow students who see it — unless those students screenshot the threat. They also post information on private accounts or in private posts to which non-friends do not have access. Furthermore, the Brennan Center for Justice has found little evidence social media surveillance tools work.
Privacy rights groups say social media monitoring products infringe upon students’ privacy. Their use can also lead to data security problems. The ACLU calls the monitoring of students’ social media accounts “electronic surveillance that goes well beyond legitimate management concerns.”
In some cases, these tools have also been used to monitor the social media of others within the community, including adults with no connection to the school community, creating further privacy concerns over false red flags.
The practice is already under way, however, in Florida where — in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting — authorities created a database the combines law enforcement and social services records with information from social media accounts. Florida’s state Department of Education said the database is a tool to identify serious threats, but not label students as threats. The database, which launched this school year, will also be used to provide professional help if needed.