The school system in Orange County, Florida, renewed a program this week that allows it to spy on students’ social media profiles using monitoring software called SnapTrends.
The software, which the school district pays about $18,000 annually to use, “grabs and analyzes” social media messages posted from the district’s campuses. It’s capable of combing through thousands of messages for keywords that may indicate trouble, and in the year since the school district first started using it, SnapTrends has led to 12 police investigations.
Acccording to the school district, they are scanning students’ social media posts for cases of cyberbullying, suicide threats or other criminal activity. School security staff reviews flagged posts and then passes them on to police if they deem it appropriate. However, this widespread monitoring has understandably stirred up controversy. Does this kind of spying intrude too much on the students’ right to privacy, and just how far could it reach if unchecked?
“Is this data then gonna be tied to a student’s permanent school record?” privacy and social media attorney Bradley S. Shear told The Washington Post. “Does the company have proper policies in place that delete this data after a certain period of time? These are some questions that need to be asked.”
Shear also said that the money spent on SnapTrends could instead be used for social media education, teaching children how to strengthen their privacy and better protect themselves online.
While the monitoring program’s effectiveness is not in doubt, the question does need to be asked: is it right to do?