School officials in Washington County, Maryland announced this week that their students’ social media accounts will be monitored once the new school year begins.
Using a software program known as Social Sentinel, specific faculty members will be alerted when keywords such as “bomb” and “kill” are detected.
“Critical information that can enhance your ability to identify risks, assess threats, and manage events is being shared – publicly – right now.” the Social Sentinel site reads. “With the Social Sentinel service, K12 safety and security personnel can gather, assess, and manage information publicly available on social media sites to identify threats made against a person, a group of people, or a specific school or venue.”
So far, the software is programmed to monitor social media sites such as Vimeo, Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram and Meetup.
“Threats will be flushed out,” officials told WJLA News.
Once a keyword is detected, the post, and any other associated comments, will be checked for mentions of violence, harassment, bullying, weapons or drug and alcohol use.
“If the algorithm catches a phrase or a word then it will automatically generate a text message or an email,” District superintendent Clayton Wilcox said. “That email or text message will go either to the principal or to our director of school security or perhaps both.
Posts believed to be violent in nature will be sent to local police while posts regarding harassment and bullying will be handled by the faculty.
Washington County, only one of four school districts nationwide to use the $20,000 per year program, argues that the software does not violate privacy rights since it only monitors students who post to social media on school property.
“I know there are some who worry about the intrusiveness of this,” Wilcox said. “I would simply say to each and everyone of you, we are not interested in people’s social lives.”
Wilcox went on to mention that the perimeter for the software could expand outside of school property to monitor possible “gang activity” and “fights off campus.”
School officials say they plan to meet with parents and members of the student government to add to the list of keywords while also learning of new social media sites.
The software is yet another example surveillance technology bleeding over into the educational system.
Just last year, a group of engineers in New York announced the creation of a “biometric classroom” monitoring program that tracks students’ eye movements, conversations and smiles. Using “EngageSense” cameras, algorithms in the program will analyze the visual and audio data to give teachers detailed information on every move a student makes.
Similarly, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began funding the development of biometric bracelets in 2012 for school students. The “engagement pedometers” send electrical currents across the skin to measure a student’s response to different stimuli throughout the school day.
Students attempting to rally support against such monitoring have been severely punished for doing so. A high school student in Texas was suspended in 2012 for refusing to wear an RFID-enabled ID badge that tracked her movements throughout her school.
H/T – Victor Skinner