Month in History

monitoring of students’ social-media activity. School spokesman Scott Mar- shall told the system looks for “certain hints or clues,” add- ing, “If it’s going to happen, they are usually on social media beforehand.” There were certainly clues in the

case of alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz in Parkland. Cruz posted a message on YouTube that discussed becoming a school shooter, but the FBI was appar- ently unable to trace the message back to the troubled former student. Glendale Public Schools north of

Los Angeles in California was one of the first systems to hire an outside firm, Geo Listening, to monitor stu- dents’ social-media posts in Septem- ber 2013. The Huffington Post reported Glendale’s $40,000 contract with the firm involved monitoring the social- media habits of some 13,000 students in high school and middle school. The decision to hire the monitoring firm apparently came after a student who was a victim of bullying commit- ted suicide by leaping off the roof of a local high school. Some school systems have opted to

monitor social media in-house rather than contract it out. In May 2015, the Orange County school district in Orlando obtained software licenses from Snaptrends to monitor major social-media outlets. One official remarked the system “gives the dis- trict intelligence into a situation that could possibly prevent something more serious from happening.” The social-media monitoring sys-

tems issue alerts when they detect certain key words in combinations that could potentially indicate prob- lems with issues such as these: Cyberbullying Hate crimes Suicidal thoughts or despair

Jimmy Stewart retires from the Air Force after 27 years of service.


Drug use Truancy

Smartphone use during classes Colleges and universities, K-12

school systems, and corporations have all shown an interest in social-media monitoring. Surveys suggest over 85 percent of students between the ages of 13 and 17 have at least one social media account. To allay privacy concerns, the com-

panies that conduct the monitoring emphasize that they are only harvest- ing information that has already been posted publicly: They are not hacking into private messaging, chat groups, or emails. But civil libertarians — and many

students and their parents — see the issue quite differently. “This is the government essentially hiring a con- tractor to stalk the social media of the

When a ‘Bomb’ Post Is Totally Innocent


ritics point out that the monitoring systems sometimes

make mistakes. If a teen tweets a new song by a favorite artist is “the bomb,” for example, the algorithms can probably filter it out as harmless. But what if a student makes a Facebook post that refers to a “photo bomb” — is that harmless? That was the sort of dilemma that

led to a call to Shawnee High School in Ohio several years ago. A Geocop representative informed the school that a message just tweeted from a student at the school contained an explicit, violent reference. Sheriff’s deputies were called to

the scene, and the student was taken into custody and questioned. But according to, he was just tweeting out the lyrics to a song.


The last episode — 334th — of Knot’s Landing airs on CBS.


kids,” Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Founda- tion privacy-rights watchdog group, told “It breeds an environment of dis-

trust between youth and teachers and administrators,” Brendan Hamme, an ACLU attorney in southern Califor- nia, tells The Christian Science Moni- tor. “And there are far more effica- cious ways of getting to the cause of the issue than spying on students.” Those privacy concerns may not

fully be resolved until the inevitable court cases work their way through the judicial system. In the meantime, school administrators increasingly feel forced to put their own students under surveillance in order to keep them safe. After last fall’s disturbances in Charlottesville over a Civil War-relat- ed statue, the University of Virginia hired a private security firm, Social Sentinel, to help it monitor the social- media activities of the student body and others. A report on states:

“Using an algorithm, Social Senti- nel scans social media accounts and targets threatening words, images, and phrases included in Sentinel’s ‘library of harm.’ When these terms or images are used in context with the university’s name, location, or events, a report is sent to the police, who determine if the content merits further investigation.” Monitoring at New York City Col-

lege of Technology several years ago by a firm called GeoCop helped alert authorities to a troubled student who tweeted “I sit in class and think about how I would kill each person.” As told by the, the student wrote that he had imagined each person would die in their “own special way.”

MAY 2018 | NEWSMAX 15


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