Glendale school officials have hired a company to monitor and analyze students' public social media posts, saying it will help them step in when students are in danger of harming themselves or others.
After collecting information from students' posts on such sites as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, the Hermosa Beach company, Geo Listening, will provide Glendale school officials with a daily report, the Glendale News-Press reported this week.
The report will categorize posts by their frequency and how they relate to cyber-bullying, harm, hate, despair, substance abuse, vandalism and truancy, according to the newspaper.
Glendale Unified, which piloted the service at Hoover, Glendale and Crescenta Valley high schools last year, will pay the company $40,500 to monitor posts made by about 13,000 middle school and high school students at eight Glendale schools.
According to a district report, Geo Listening gives school officials "critical information as early as possible," allowing school employees "to disrupt negative pathways and make any intervention more effective."
Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said the service gives the district another opportunity to "go above and beyond" when dealing with students' safety.
"People are always looking to see what we're doing to ensure that their kids are safe. This just gives us another opportunity to ensure the kids are safe at all times," he said.
Yalda T. Uhls, a researcher at the Children's Digital Media Center at UCLA, and a parent of two, said students should be made aware that their posts are being monitored.
"As a parent, I find it very big brother-ish," Uhls said, adding that students could lose trust in adults once they find out their posts are being tracked.
However, she also admires schools' efforts in trying to attack the problem of cyber-bullying. "This could be one piece in a school's tool kit to combat that problem and it should be a very small piece," she said.
School board member Christine Walters said that as Glendale educators have become increasingly aware of how much bullying occurs online, officials have become more "proactive to find ways to protect our students from ongoing harm," she said.
"Similar to other safety measures we employ at our schools, we want to identify when our students are engaged in harmful behavior," she said.
Student response to the decision was mixed on Twitter, where several students expressed frustration and concern.
One person, who tweeted under the name Meghri, asked, “What else does GUSD wanna do put cameras in our rooms?”
Another, who tweeted under the name Arayik, said, “GUSD should be smarter and start spending money on educational purposes rather than trying to stalk students.”
A tweet from a mock Twitter account using the school district’s logo and named GUSD, said: “In order to protect. We must invade. Understand.”
However, not all students found news of the monitoring concerning.
Hoover High School sophomore Mikaela Perjes said she didn’t mind Glendale Unified using the service, and didn’t find it an invasion of privacy.
“It’s [students’] choice if they want to make [their accounts] public or private,” she said.
Corrigan writes for Times Community News.