Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Should Big Brother watch student social media?

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Greg Peck
Tuesday, September 24, 2013

School districts often clamor about a lack of money, but some are spending on an outside company to monitor public posts its students make on social media. The idea is to halt cyberbullying before it starts, but it's raising questions about privacy rights.

The Associated Press reports that Glendale Unified School District in Southern California hired Geo Listening last year to track posts by its 14,000 or so middle and high school students. The district approached the company in hopes of curtailing online bullying, drug use and other problems after two area teens committed suicide last year, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The company expects to monitor about 3,000 schools worldwide by the end of the year, founder Chris Frydrych said.

The Glendale district is paying $40,500 to Geo Listening, which uses its computers to scour public posts by students on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogs and other sites. Analysts are alerted to terms that suggest suicidal thoughts, bullying, vandalism and even use of obscenities. When they find posts they think should spur an intervention or anything that violates student codes of conduct, the company alerts the districts. The company does not have a list of students' names. Instead, it uses “deductive reasoning” to link public accounts to students, Frydrych said. It also only looks at public postings.

Does such monitoring by Big Brother go too far?

Some students say the surveillance bothers them, and Brendan Hamme, an attorney with the Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the district is walking a fine line.

The program is “sweeping and far afield of what is necessary to ensure student safety,” he said.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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