(NPR) — School districts nationwide are turning to security technology to scan for potential school threats. Some say it threatens students' privacy.
“There's no proven information showing that social media monitoring is useful,” a student privacy advocate says.
More and more schools are investing in technologies that scan social media posts, school assignments and even student emails for potential threats. Privacy experts say the trade-offs aren't worth it.
For many students, this new school year will mean more reasons to watch what they do or say online. Spurred in part by the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., a year and a half ago, schools nationwide are collaborating with law enforcement in new ways in efforts to avoid the kind of tragedies that, while still rare, are far too familiar. They're investing in new security technologies that scan social media posts, school assignments and even student emails for potential threats.
Social Sentinel, one of the largest companies in the business of scanning social media for schools, declined to be a part of the portal, because, it said in a statement, “we did not feel comfortable participating in an extensive database of student profiles.” The firm is still serving schools in Florida — it just won't link its results to the portal.
Here's the hard truth: School shootings of any kind — and mass shootings in general — are still so rare that there is no evidence that any particular security measure will reduce them. That was the conclusion of a review of literature by Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor at Ball State University, that was published this year.
Whether you're talking about locked doors to the building, security cameras, metal detectors, more police officers, random checks of lockers — none of it has been shown to improve safety. To prove so, says Khubchandani, would involve randomly assigning similar schools to use a particular measure rather than another and then following up for years.
School leaders, for their part, feel bound to do something to help. In fact, according to Vance, the student privacy advocate, in today's climate they may face legal liabilities if they don't — if they miss something, if something happens and they should have known. And technology companies, having taken millions of dollars from investors, are offering solutions for that anxiety. But it's not clear that students are any safer as a result.