Debate Over Monitoring Students’ Social Media
Jackson County High School students will experience a new level of security when the fall semester begins.
Administrators have hired a cyber-security company called "Social Sentinel," based in Vermont, to monitor student's public postings on social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. A computer program will scan for key words and patterns that might suggest school violence, or cyber bullying, or drug use.
Superintendent Mike Murray says his motivation is to protect students, not pry into their private lives. "I'm looking at their public comments and we're filtering that to see if there are things that might be harmful to others or there might be hints of school violence that we can pick up and intervene before something does happen," he says.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina says the plan could infringe on first amendment rights. "It would really be unfortunate if we saw young people coming away with a criminal record simply because they may have one thoughtless comment online. Who's to say what types of posts or comments will end up under the microscope?" says the ACLU's Mike Meno.
Superintendent Murray says counseling and help from social workers would be the first responses to any problems revealed by the computer scans, and not charges. Murray says he is getting many calls from parents supporting the program
Other parents, like Joe Dries, see it as a version of "big brother." "The school going in and observing into my son's account I think that's very, very intrusive," says Dries.
"If we're able to use social media to save one child's life, to help one child, then it's worth every penny that we pay and all the efforts that we're making being the only system in the state of North Carolina to do this," says Murray.
Smoky Mountain High School is the only Jackson county school in the pilot program. Murray says he's happy to work with parents and others as it unfolds
By: Rex Hodge
Follow Rex on Twitter @RexHodgeWLOS