Should schools monitor social media sites used by students?

So naturally we took notice when we learned the company that supplied us with our teacher evaluation tool, Standard For Success, was adding a social media element to its offerings. The new Social Media and Cyber Bullying Monitoring (powered by Social NetWatcher) could be added to our already existing dashboard whereby allowing us to use a quality resource to monitor social media while being proactive in our bullying prevention efforts.

The proprietary software works as such that it uses a three-step “scanning” process that looks for keywords or terms.

  • Phase 1 analyzes high value keywords.
  • Phase 2 selects adjacent words and identifies sentence structure.
  • Phase 3 calculates intensity of threat. Threats are then categorized as Violence, Bullying or Suicide.

Only after passing these three phases is a school official notified of a potential threat.

Upon announcing this new service to the student body, we had a large number of students come out to listen to the presentations, and several signed up on the spot. Even though every parent has the ability to opt-out if they aren’t completely comfortable with their child’s social media accounts being monitored, normal social media activity is never read; in fact, no human eyes read any social media pages. It is all automated. So students and parents can feel comfortable that their privacy is never compromised.

While we have been fortunate that our school has yet to receive any threats or content deemed suspicious, we know that being on the front end of the issue is important so that instances like the suicide of Rebecca Sedwick, the Florida teen who jumped to her death following acts of bullying, is handled in time. We feel more confident knowing we now have a system in place to aid school officials in detecting – and stopping – situations that could potentially be very dangerous.  In our minds, thwarting even one act of violence or cyberbullying will make our use of the new software a success.

Mark Anderson is Principal of Decatur Middle School, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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