I, and many others, have been writing about students—both in secondary school and college—and what happens when they share too much on social media. I wrote here three years ago that what students say on social media can come back and haunt them when it comes to college admissions. That was followed two months later by this blog post about how students at Choate wrote things on their facebook pages that ended up becoming public which led to some students being expelled or suspended. In 2012 I wrote here about who is reading what students write in social media based on a study by Kaplan Test Prep; the answer was Colleges, Business Schools and Law Schools. So it is safe to say that a lot of what someone says in cyberspace stays there, can be found by search engines and can come back to haunt.
Those examples are all of students hurting themselves with academic and job prospects, but there is an uglier side of how social media hurts students. There have been far more disturbing stories in the news about how social media can affect students and young people in general–stories of relentless cyber bullying and how it may have been a contributing factor in student suicides.
Yesterday I read this article in the LA Times about a school district in Glendale that is monitoring students’ social media. The Glendale Unified School District hired a company to “piece together the cyber tidbits of its 14,000 or so middle and high school students. The effort, for which the district is paying $40,500, is aimed at unearthing the earliest signs of bullying and self-harm.”
The school district did not give students’ names to the company which “uses “deductive reasoning” to link public accounts to students, said Chris Frydrych, founder and chief executive of Geo Listening. He declined to be more specific.” The article states, “The list of issues the company looks for is extensive. It includes controlled substances, self-harm, disruption of class or school activities, hazing, sexual harassment of peers or teachers, threats or acts of physical violence, use of fake identification, hate speech, racism, weapons and suicide or despair.”
Some are saying this is an invasion of the students’ privacy, but Frydrych says they are only monitoring public posts. Others are saying this infringes on free speech. “The gathering of public information found online doesn’t violate free-speech protections, said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit based in San Rafael. The use of that information to alert parents to behavior or to counsel a student, for instance, would be appropriate, he said.”
This may seem like an extreme measure for a school district to take. My hope is that it wakes students up to the understanding that what they say online is out there for all to see and can have serious consequences for themselves and others. Maybe this monitoring will illustrate how public they make their lives with social media and that it is time to learn to self sensor. And, above all, if a student is considering self harm, I hope this system can help adults intervene.