One of the biggest dilemmas of social media is ensuring a freedom of communication on the one hand and protecting children on the other. A couple of years ago, the news came out that there were a lot of pedophiles, child molesters, child rapists and other people who harm children that use Facebook and social media. Thanks to the outroar of that revelation, Facebook has purged its records of known sex predators who focus on chilrdren. Still, the threat exists. This is why there is such a big dilemma between freedom of communication and protecting children. This tension still exists and the latest battle ground for those competing public policy concerns involves troublemakers in school districts.
In a very interesting announcement, the Glendale Unified School District has outsourced a very interesting project that specializes in keeping tabs on children’s activities on Youtube, Instagram, Twitter and Faceook. The company is called Geo Listening. They have built quite a portfolio and expertise on keeping tabs on what kids are doing online. Not surprisingly, the Glendale Unified School District has couched its otherwise privacy-intruding initiative in terms of child protection. According to the superintendent of the district, Richard Sheehan, the whole purpose is student safety. He basically argues that the school system is already monitoring its students on a physical basis. It’s just an added step to monitor them online. Interestingly enough, the system doesn’t work on a personally-identifying basis. They don’t zero-in on specific students and target them, instead, the system is geared towards looking out for certain keywords that students tweet for example, students who are thinking of committing suicide or are being bullied or are experiencing harassment might trigger the system.
Be that as it may, there are a lot of critics to the system. The same arguments that were floated before are at play in this latest development between the conflict child safety, child privacy and the public good. Interestingly enough, the system looks towards registering 13,000 students that are being monitored. It will be very interesting what kind of controls are put in place so that truly school-based concerns are monitored instead of other more private communications. For example, it is one thing to track bullying, suicidal idea formation, drug use, vandalism, truancy and verses of plain gossiping. It should be quite interesting how this pans out both in terms of practical application but as well as any possible legal challenges.