Glendale school officials have hired a Hermosa Beach company to monitor and analyze public social media posts, saying the service will help them step in when students are in danger of harming themselves or others.
After collecting information from students' posts on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, Geo Listening will provide Glendale school officials with a daily report that categorizes posts by their frequency and how they relate to cyber-bullying, harm, hate, despair, substance abuse, vandalism and truancy.
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 added.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.