Social media surveillance: coming to a school near you

According to CNN, Glendale Unified School District of Los Angeles, Calif., has signed on with Geo Listening, a company that closely monitors students’ postings on social media sites. This broad surveillance into students’ lives, especially outside of school, goes too far and is simply inappropriate.

At the same time, students must realize that posting on social media sites is a voluntary relinquishing of privacy to a public forum. For that reason, Geo Listening is not violating any rights.

Glendale took this extensive and expensive measure – Geo Listening cost the district $40,500–in part due to two student suicides in the past two years, which may be the result of cyberbullying.

The school’s main intent is most likely to reduce cyberbullying, yet the long list of monitored issues includes illegal drug use, self-harm, disruption of class or school-related activities, hazing, sexual harassment, threats or acts of physical violence, use of fake identification, use of obscenities, racism, weapon use, suicide and despair. This absurdly long list posits ambiguities that may intrude into students’ activities outside of school and thus impinges upon a role that should be left to parents.

CEO of Geo Listening Chris Frydrych said, “No matter where [the students] are, if they are advertising it in the public domain, it’s no different than if they’re standing in front of a teacher.”

Moreover, Frydrych said that Geo Listening can’t tap into posts that are set to private. Students should not feel as if they are standing in front of a teacher while at home, yet they do have full control over what school authorities may and may not read by picking and choosing what they post.

With that said, this unapologetically invasive system can turn the teacher-student relationship into a tedious game of cat and mouse that will reduce students’ trust in school authority figures and inadvertently serve to further ostracize students from adults in the face of controversial issues like cyberbullying.

Ultimately, the question remains as to whether or not the potential to protect errant teens from themselves outweighs the distrust and discomfort that spawns from Geo Listening’s intrusive solutions and Glendale’s overreaching authority.

This very well may be the case if the system proves to effectively prevent something as horrible as teen suicide, which tends to affect the whole community. Glendale, on the other hand, certainly could have used the $40,500 it spent on Geo Listening on an equally safe and much less disconcerting program. For example, Glendale could have spread awareness of teen suicides as they relate to cyberbullying.

Either way, Frydrych said Geo Listening expects to have at least 3,000 customers worldwide by the end of the year.

Whether or not this measure proves to be effective, it sets a dangerous precedent for school overreach. Kids should not feel as if they are under the watchful eye of the school administration at all hours. Cyberbullying is a massive problem that needs to be addressed, but there are other, less Orwellian ways to do that.