School Social Media Monitoring: Protection or Privacy Violation?
If you are a parent, you probably worry what your child is doing online. The internet is constantly evolving, and it is difficult for any parent to keep up with the constant change. According to Pew Research Center, 81 percent of teenagers use some form of social media. With so many teens online, parents and educators alike have ongoing concerns about the likelihood of cyberbullying. Unlike traditional forms of bullying, which happen face-to-face in school or on the playground, cyberbullying can reaching a child 24 hours a day, whether he is in school or at home. Experts say this constant exposure to bullying is more likely to result in suicide ideation among victims.
In response, several school districts across the country have partnered with software companies that allow schools to track and monitor students’ social media accounts. Most notably, a school district in the Orlando, Florida area renewed a contract with a company that uses police software to check students’ activity online. The company collects its data from the content students post online and then scans it for keywords that may indicate criminal activity, cyberbullying, and suicide threats.
Although the school reports its social media monitoring program has successfully flagged at least one student for suicidal ideation, some worry the monitoring has the potential to delve too far into a student’s privacy. In one case, the school flagged a student’s account for including the words “cutting” and “nobody will miss me.” Although the student posted the flagged words during school hours, school authorities and police also accessed information she posted after school hours and off school property.
At least one state has taken steps to protect students’ privacy in social media monitoring cases. California state law includes a guideline that requires records of a student’s social media postings to be destroyed one year after they turn 18 or graduate.
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