Schools Monitoring Social Media: Good Move or Creepy?

Social media has become a new form of communication for teens. While mostly good, it has unfortunately comes with its down side too. While there is plenty of education aimed at teens about social media use and responsibility, they are still teens, not fully thinking though their actions, and at times posting content that they don’t realize the potential consequences of.

The two most common aspects talked about are cyber bullying and content indicating trouble for teens. Prior to social media, bullying was an issue of course, but the internet has made this easier. Several years ago, kids relied on what they perceived as the “anonymity” of online activities. I recall a student in one of my children’s classes who took to email around that time, before social media became so popular. She created a gmail account and sent an awful email to a classmate, likely thinking that it could never be traced to her. Parents and the school got involved, and this was quickly addressed, and it launched a discussion of internet responsibility and safety.

Then came social media, and things changed again.

This is why schools are turning to social media monitoring services to assist. With these programs, schools can continually monitor online conversations to try to pinpoint potential safety issues, like students threatening other students or teachers, or making threats toward the school. It can also be helpful to monitor content for indications of a student’s emotional health – that is, if ominous posts are made about self-harm, for example, these can be collected and identified to hopefully circumvent the issue and get the student the help that is needed.

Social media monitoring is not new; our firm launched the first social media monitoring program back in 2007. It was first used for brand reputation and monitoring, but as the wealth of information that can be collected has grown, it has gained popularity. Most recently, location based social monitoring has been incorporated – simply put, a school can put a “fence” around a school to monitor what conversations are happening within the school. This has been a game changer for education and has given schools even more tools for monitoring students’ online activities.

This has become a heated debate across the country, with parents divided. While some feel that it is “big brother” and the schools are trampling on a family’s privacy, others welcome it and encourage schools to monitor social media.

Personally, as a mother of three teenagers, I have no problems with this should the schools decide to implement social media monitoring. There are a few reasons why I think it’s important and vital in this social media age:

1. It takes a village: social media sites are popping up all the time. Whereas Facebook was the popular choice for teens in the past, that has now been taken over by Instagram and other sites. And then there was Snapchat – the amazing disappearing act of social media. Even if you think you know all of the sites your child is on, you may not. And even if your child isn’t on a particular social site, there may be another student that is, posting harmful content or images of your child. ¬†As parents, we can monitor and Google search until the cows come home, but we are limited by either knowledge and/or depth of our search. This extra layer of protection can be helpful – if a cyber bullying or similar situation should come up and be related to your child, and your child isn’t quite aware and/or isn’t sharing it with you, it may be uncovered through the school. It’s another layer of protection I am comfortable with.

2. It can keep students safe: how many times have we heard of a tragic school incident where we later find out that the people involved posted warnings, whether direct or indirect, on social sites prior to the event? While not every situation will come with a warning through social media, it seems that having the monitoring in place to alert to postings that could mean trouble do pop up more frequently than we’d think they would. Being able to capture this proactively is much better than finding it after the fact of course, and real time monitoring programs can give schools a head start on predicting and preventing potential issues.

3. It can help identify students who are hurting: those with mental health issues or those just going through a tough time may make cries for help online, either purposely or not. Classmates may or may not see this content, and may not tell their parents or a trusted adult, which is a shame, but unfortunately it happens. Utilizing a monitoring program to potentially identify students who are really struggling emotionally can be a turning point for them and their family. Monitoring can pick up content that may indicate an intent to harm ones self or others and the schools can be proactive in identifying this and getting the proper help for a student.

It may seem a bit “Big Brother” but unfortunately it is our new normal. I am all for continued education on social media, and helping students in this regard. Social media monitoring is one piece of the puzzle, and if schools can utilize it properly, I’m all for it.

Where do you stand on the issue? Good move, or a bit creepy? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!