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In the wake of a national tragedy like a school shooting or public massacre, reporters inevitably turn to social media to find clues predicting the attacker’s motives.
It’s easy to look at a Facebook status and say, “this boy was clearly troubled, just look at this post from three months ago, and look at this photo from last year. They should have seen it coming.”
Administrators in one Los Angeles district are trying to prevent these types of attacks– along with student suicide, illegal drug use, and cyber-bullying – by monitoring the social media accounts of middle and high-schoolers.
Glendale Unified School District hired an outside company to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other accounts of some students last year, and has decided to expand their eavesdropping efforts throughout most schools this year.
The Los Angeles CBS affiliate reports that the company monitors social media posts made both on school computers and outside of school. Some students are trying to remove their school information to avoid being tracked.
Is this ethical?
First, students don’t actively choose to attend schools in the same way that adults choose their companies. Unless they’re in a private school or magnet program, they go where the district tells them to go and have to stay there until they drop out or graduate. If a business announced to employees that their social media activities would be tracked to keep the workplace safe, then people who were against that policy could at least consider seeking employment elsewhere.
Also, if a company was monitoring Internet use then employees could log onto Facebook when they got home and enjoy relative privacy after work hours. The students at these schools are going to be continuously monitored wherever they are.
There’s no opt-out switch and there’s no clocking out and leaving for the day.
The argument in favor of this software is that it can help adults intervene in situations before students consider suicide or aggression. Technology hasn’t changed the nature of bullying. Kids who were getting hit up for their lunch money 20 years ago weren’t going to snitch on their bullies, and the same goes for kids on the Internet today.
If teachers and school district officials are able to talk to teens and intervene before it’s too late then news stations won’t have to report that “all the signs were on his Facebook page.” They will be able to help students seek counseling and prevent them from hurting themselves or others.
The stance of the school board is that these events are too common – and social media is too often the cause – not to monitor student profiles outside of the classroom.
Throughout America the debate about when kids are considered adults in regard to technology rages on. Most child-protection software is meant to keep children under 13 on limited Internet for their safety, but social media monitoring in Los Angeles opens up the idea that children need to be supervised online until they are old enough to vote and buy cigarettes.
Is this prevention or privacy invasion? When do kids have the right to private social media profiles?