True Stories of Schools that Monitor Social Media

Sep 23, 2016

What are you up to on social media today? It won’t be long until most schools are monitoring their student body on social media. When you turn on the television, it is not uncommon to see a school shooting, a suicide as a result of a victim being bullied, or a threat of some sort (i.e., fight, bomb threat, etc.). The common theme or “link” with these stories are that there were “signs” before the incidents occurred on social media. Law enforcement will conduct a thorough search of all parties involved, digging deep into their social media app and website accounts. Who sees the signs first? Should someone be held accountable if they did see the signs and did not act on them?

The #1 priority in our school systems today is safety. Social media and computer usage is becoming the norm for all educational settings. If schools are allowing students to utilize their phones and computers while on school property, are they liable to monitor what is going through their devices? One may argue that if the device belongs to the student, the school has no legal right to confiscate the device and/or search what type of activity existed on it. This has been an on-going debate in recent years and the 1st Amendment has been challenged in many cases. However, if any behaviors (on social media too) disrupts the learning environment and creates problems, the school is required to handle the case and take some type of action.

Colleges are using software to track the social media accounts of students and potential applicants. Sports teams (high schools and colleges) are following their athletes on social media and have established policies on behaviors that will not be tolerated online. Why can’t schools monitor their students online as well? Going back to the #1 priority for schools, safety, this should be a valid reason to follow students on social media. Society tends to be reactive instead of proactive when it comes to issues that we are faced with too often. Threats of violence are usually seen firsthand in an electronic format (i.e., text messages, twitter feeds, facebook posts, apps, etc.). Monitoring students’ online activity could catch these potential violations and interject before something dangerous takes place.

Why has it come to this? It is best to be safe rather than sorry. Parents are handing over the devices with little controls or rules in place. Once a child goes to school, the parents depend on the administration and faculty to educate their child and keep them safe throughout the day. Finding the signs on social media through monitoring solutions will do just this. Many schools use a school version of the parental control Net Nanny to track “key words” that are picked up because of the content (example, racist comments, discriminating comments, curse words, threats, sexual content, hateful sayings, etc.).

Many people would argue that this is a violation of privacy. It reminds me of the argument against the Patriot Act which was established after 911. Ask yourself, if you were a parent and a school could notify you if your child was planning an act of violence against someone, would you want to know? Better yet, would you want to know if someone was planning on hurting your child? Whatever someone puts online (in writing), they need to own it. Yes, Freedom of Speech does allow someone to post anything they want online but does it mean that a college has to accept you? Does a company have to hire you? Does a school have to keep you enrolled if you present a danger to the other students? As long as we are going to allow social media in schools, shouldn’t we put safety measures in place?

If schools are monitoring social media behavior, shouldn’t parents do their part as well to make sure their children are safe online. Net Nanny, the parental control software used in many schools, offers parent’s remote access and automatic alerts when in appropriate content and behavior is detected on any mobile or desktop device.