School District in L.A. Monitors Students’ Social Media Activity

classroomLast year, a 15-year-old student from Crescenta Valley High School committed suicide after facing cyberbullying from his peers. Unfortunately, this is the type of story that we hear all too often. Cyberbullying and harassment online are a growing concern for both middle and high school students. This type of bullying can often drive students to suicidal thoughts and actions, and because of privacy settings, parents and educators are often left in the dark. After being sued by the parents of the student who committed suicide, Glendale Unified School District decided to hire a company to monitor students’ activity online and prevent this in the future.

Student Safety

Glendale Unified School District, located in Los Angeles County, has hired a company called Geo Listening to monitor and analyze the activity of their students on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The company watches for evidence of not only cyberbullying but also suicidal thoughts, drug use, and any type of criminal activity. Overall, Geo Listening monitors the social media activity of about 13,000 students in both middle and high school. The school district pays $40,500 per year for the service.

The number one priority with this program is the safety of the students. Officials in the district are looking to intervene if a situation similar to what happened with the 15-year-old student from Crescenta Valley High School occurs. In fact, during the pilot test of the program last year, school officials were able to intervene with and help a student who was suicidal. Despite the fact that this program has a proven need, it is still controversial amongst the community.

The Controversy

With the current prevalence of discussions surrounding social media and privacy, particularly in regard to government requests for user data, this program has certainly caused controversy within Glendale Unified School District. While some argue that everyone deserves to have privacy, other students and parents state that they would prefer the school be able to intervene in a dangerous situation. Despite claims of privacy violations, the company has stated that the school is only able to monitor posts that are already made public by the students. Technically, this means that the students still retain their privacy for posts that they hide to the public.

Do you think schools have the right to monitor the social media activity of their students? Is it for the greater good, or is it a privacy violation?

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Elizabeth K

Elizabeth Kent is a recent graduate with an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Brandeis University. She earned her B.A. from Smith College with a major in the Study of Women and Gender and a minor in Jewish Studies. Elizabeth recently relocated from the Boston area back to Western Massachusetts, where she spends her free time volunteering with a local non-profit organization. Elizabeth has worked as a writing tutor, archival intern, research assistant, and retail associate. Her interests include studying pop culture, kittens, and making meals with as little cooking as possible.

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