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California School District Hires Firm To Monitor Students' Social Media 250

Posted by samzenpus
from the let's-have-a-look-at-what-you-have-there dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A suburban Los Angeles school district is taking a novel approach to tackling the problem of cyber-bullying. It's paying a company to snoop on students' social media pages. 'The district in Glendale, California, is paying $40,500 to a firm to monitor and report on 14,000 middle and high school students' posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media for one year. Though critics liken the monitoring to government stalking, school officials and their contractor say the purpose is student safety. As classes began this fall, the district awarded the contract after it earlier paid the firm, Geo Listening, $5,000 last spring to conduct a pilot project monitoring 9,000 students at three high schools and a middle school. Among the results was a successful intervention with a student "who was speaking of ending his life" on his social media, said Chris Frydrych, CEO of the firm.'"
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California School District Hires Firm To Monitor Students' Social Media

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  • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @11:09PM (#44860137) Journal

    Haven't we grown out of "the ends justify the means" yet?

    • by kylemonger (686302) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @11:17PM (#44860187)
      It's not about safety as much as it is about ass covering. The schools have been driven to this. Parents won't keep their children off the Internet. But when a child is bullied into committing suicide the school gets sued because they are a convenient target and because the law requires that children be educated, which for most people means sending children to public school.
      • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday September 16, 2013 @12:27AM (#44860527)
        I'm skeptical it's not just paranoia and ignorance on the part of the schools. Kids aren't going to stop being horrible to one another, kids aren't going to realize that high school drama isn't anything to kill yourself over, parents aren't going to stop grieving when their kids die, and lawyers aren't going to stop taking advantage of their grief and schools' funds just because schools hired a guy to watch them. Use common sense and do what's right (IE not violating student's rights and wasting money).

        You'll get sued the same amount either way.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          What rights are you speaking of here? Is anyone getting wiretapped?

          If you refer to Facebook et al., it's not illegal to view what someone has been dumb enough to post on the internet for all to view. For any 'spying' to occur, the pursuant must actually gain access to information disclosed from a non-public source. Refusing to cover your ears while someone shouts at the top of their lungs does not fall into this category.
          Also, $40k per year is not much compared to what a lawsuit will cost. Perhaps over 50 y

          • by MaskedSlacker (911878) on Monday September 16, 2013 @08:03AM (#44861931)

            Maybe this has changed in the United States of Fascism, but every where else in the world, if someone is hired to stalk you 24/7, that is generally considered spying. Even if they only observe you when you're in public.

            • by Phreakiture (547094) on Monday September 16, 2013 @09:10AM (#44862357) Homepage

              Irrelevant. Everything that is on facebook was put there by somebody who chose to put it there. If they put it on public display, then they chose to put it on public display. It's published, therefore it is public. This public information is available to anybody and everybody. As long as the school does not require the students to friend them or turn over passwords, what's the issue?

              That said, this could teach students two very important things: reputation management and subterfuge. These are good things to know in an emergent surveillance state.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          The only thing that will stop kids from being horrible to one another is if it's taken seriously when it happens. This is a first step towards that. If kids are held accountable for their bullying of other students, it will stop. THAT is what is missing. I was regularly bullied and my reports always fell on deaf ears because it usually came from jocks and I went to jock schools; Del Mar Middle School, Branciforte Jr. Jigh, and Harbor High in Santa Cruz County. These are all bastions of child abuse. The form

      • I remember one day, not so long ago really, a school was there to focus on a purpose. And that was to educate. They didn't get into all of these other side purposes which distract them and disperse their ability to focus.

        When you think everything is your responsibility, you will not be doing well at the thing that really is your responsibility. You can bank on that.
      • by ewhenn (647989) on Monday September 16, 2013 @12:56AM (#44860617)
        It's all about ass-covering.... until it backfires. Seriously, they are a school, not the Internet police. On top of that, I think court wise this could actually make them *more* vulnerable. Say the firm they hire *does* tell them about something, and action isn't taken. Now the school had a written report sent to the administrators and didn't do enough, at least that's how it would be framed by a suing attorney. I think that scenario is a lot more damning than simply taking the position that: "We are a school, we are responsible to educate kids, not keep track of their Facebook updates".
      • by globaljustin (574257) <justinglobal@nospAm.gmail.com> on Monday September 16, 2013 @01:11AM (#44860657) Homepage Journal

        The schools have been driven to this

        By entrepreneurs eager to cash-in on wealthy school districts and the helicopter parents.

        This is privacy invasion plain and simple.

        I used to be a high school social studies teacher. *EVERY* problem in the classroom is solvable with a properly trained and experienced teacher.

        You can blame all you want but in a capitalist society if you pay teachers like union bus drivers you are going to get what you pay for...teachers will still come but they won't stay...paying teachers poorly just burns out idealistic, well-prepared teachers.

        capitalism = you get what you pay teachers

        that's the end of this whole discussion...

        • by Jeremi (14640)

          *EVERY* problem in the classroom is solvable with a properly trained and experienced teacher.

          Great, but this problem is happening outside the classroom.

          • *EVERY* problem in the classroom is solvable with a properly trained and experienced teacher.

            Great, but this problem is happening outside the classroom.

            no, every school-related problem is solvable in school by a properly trained teacher...

            to falsify my point, if a kid was getting bullied by neighborhood kids who don't attend his school and they don't have bruises or speak up to a teacher about it then yes that would be a scenario that wouldn't be solvable by the teacher...

            what you people have to understand is that teachers (and probation officers) are the catch-alls of our society...you **wouldn't believe** the problems a standard public school teacher is

            • by Sique (173459)
              I doubt that. For instance, my son goes to school via public transport, and now the new term has started, and on his normal bus station there were children waiting whom he knew from his short time in a soccer club. And they started to harass him because of him leaving the club again so soon. And no, they don't go to the same school as him, they just use the same bus, as it is the main bus line downtown.

              I don't know how a teacher will solve this, though it is definitely school related.

              • by pspahn (1175617)

                A teacher handles that problem by teaching the kid how to handle the situation themselves. Novel concept, huh?

                Of course, that's really a parent's job, so putting the expectation on a teacher to raise your kid properly seems unfair.

                • by Sique (173459)
                  I know how to handle the situation, I was just doubting that a teacher, as well educated he might be, can solve any school related problem and cited an example from my personal experience where I knew that the teacher would be the wrong person to ask.
        • by TWiTfan (2887093)

          And if they're going to hire a firm to monitor student online social activities, they got ripped off at $40,500. Creepy Larry would have done it for free.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 16, 2013 @01:22AM (#44860679)

        When did parents stop being the ones considered responsible for their child's well-being?

        • by Nyder (754090)

          When did parents stop being the ones considered responsible for their child's well-being?

          Blame the internet. See before the internet, your parent knew you did fucked up shit, but didn't really have any proof. Now that it's posted on fb, twitter, and whatever else is cool, parents are aware of what their kids are getting up to. So they want to blame the school, otherwise they feel that fault would be there own.

          As for bullying, we are a culture of being bullies. It's in our movies, our tv shows, it's how business get bigger, it's how America treats the rest of the world. By being a bully

      • by Belial6 (794905) on Monday September 16, 2013 @02:08AM (#44860811)
        No, it isn't about ass covering. This move creates far more liability than it removes. This is about the school system pushing farther and farther into the role of parent in an attempt to increase the size of their bureaucracy and thus the amount of funding they get. This school has just declared that it is their responsiblility to stop kids from commuting suicide.

        No doubt they will soon be complaining that they are held responsible for the responsibilities they have demanded.
      • I agree on the ass-covering but the bulling IS the schools fault. I was very much a victim of it in highschool. I was "The guy" that got bullied. Every school has one. The kids knew it, the teachers knew it, the principle knew it. For some reason the adults in charged seemed to thing it was somehow my fault. I was hyperactive (annoying) and I didn't fight back... the perfect target. I reached a tipping point late in my senior year and proceeded to beat the shit out of anyone that even remotely tried to bul

    • by gd2shoe (747932)

      Though critics liken the monitoring to government stalking, school officials and their contractor say the purpose is student safety.

      Uh, yes, and yes? The two aren't mutually exclusive.

    • Haven't we grown out of "the ends justify the means" yet?

      You must be new here - I mean to the planet - welcome. Watch your back, we're a narrow-minded, short-sighted, fucked-up species.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865)

      Doesn't matter. We've now had enough generations of public education breeding conformity into people that they have little or no expectation of privacy and almost no knowledge of their protected liberties.

      Think of it this way: You and I probably remember a time when you didn't even need ID to get on a domestic flight and you could walk someone right up to their gate and see them off.

      Anyone born in the last two or so decades won't remember this. They'll be familiar with an experience where you are treated li

      • I agree with you except for your first statement. It's only been in the last two. Prior to that, schools did not act like this. I was there.
    • by BlueStrat (756137)

      Haven't we grown out of "the ends justify the means" yet?

      Human nature being what it is, that's something that people never learn until they suddenly wake up one day and find *they've* just been deemed an "obstacle" to some government "end" which must be removed. Of course by then it's a little too late.

      People are shit. People in government are shit on warp drive with afterburners. Why should or would anyone think allowing corrupt, power-hungry, arrogant, and greedy government shits (yes, even your guys) more and more powers and more and more of *our* money to use

    • by Arker (91948)

      No. People are really that stupid.

    • by TWiTfan (2887093)

      Haven't we grown out of "the ends justify the means" yet?

      Never have and never will.

  • Simply Awful (Score:4, Insightful)

    by b4upoo (166390) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @11:15PM (#44860165)

    Observation outside the school for criminal activities is a police function. The last thing we need is another police like agency that calls itself part of a school system.

  • Please... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by not_surt (1293182) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @11:24PM (#44860215)

    Won't somebody think of the tax-payers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @11:30PM (#44860259)

    As creepy as this is, if you broadcast your life in the clear using social media then you relay are in no position to complain about people listening too you!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If the school district was paying $40k for a guy to drive around in a van and watch your children in "public" places through binoculars, you'd be grabbing a torch and pitchfork and demanding the principal's head on a plate.

      But instead they're paying $40k to monitor your children's "public" conversations online, and you think its A-OK.

      What the fuck is wrong with you?

      • by gsslay (807818)

        They already pay guys to do this, so what's the big deal?

        They pay guys to watch your children in school. These guys don't need to use binoculars, they get right up close and even speak to your children! They are called teachers.

        They pay guys to check on your children if they are shouting in public places. And some of these guys have vans! They are called police.

        If you're letting your children online to conduct private conversations in public, then it's your head that should be on the plate.

    • by The-Ixian (168184)

      I believe this as well.
       
      This is an issue that I run in to more and more these days, usually among younger people who grew up on the Internet. They tend to have the opinion that the personal stuff they post on the Internet should never be allowed to be viewed or used by people they didn't intend it for.
       
      I get exasperated trying to explain that the Internet is a public place, like a bus station, except that when you speak loudly on the Internet, your voice echoes forever.

    • As creepy as this is, if you broadcast your life in the clear using social media then you relay are in no position to complain about people listening too you!

      Depends.

      If the [ private | public ] agency doing the spying on the kids uses false pretenses to encourage FB 'friendship' in order to snoop that wouldn't be the same thing as 'broadcasting your life in the clear'. More of a multicast to approved receivers.

  • The ones doing the bullying will be company/school doing the snooping. Then again I am cynical.
  • pfftt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by djupedal (584558) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @11:31PM (#44860267)
    This will last until the next suicide happens as a result of overlooked cyber-bullying there, with a lawsuit asking why the consultants missed it. The District will put the burden on the consultants, penalties will force them into bankruptcy and no one will try it ever again.

    Or - the consultants will over react, causing too many false alarms and lawsuits for false accusations, with the same effect.
  • Account info? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @11:35PM (#44860287)

    The district in Glendale, California, is paying $40,500 to a firm to monitor and report on 14,000 middle and high school students' posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media for one year.

    From TFA:

    Frydrych's firm scours the social media postings of Glendale students aged 13 and older -- the age at which parental permission isn't required for the school's contracted monitoring -- and sends a daily report to principals on which students' comments could be causes for concern, Frydrych said.

    And how does the school district get the student account information? I know if they had asked me for that info (if social media, nay the Internet, existed when I was in HS) I would have replied, "fuck off." Hell, I'd give that same answer to that same question to my employer now.

    • And how does the school district get the student account information? I know if they had asked me for that info (if social media, nay the Internet, existed when I was in HS) I would have replied, "fuck off." Hell, I'd give that same answer to that same question to my employer now.

      If you post on a public site like Facebook where you go to high school, I would say that's fair game for everyone. This isn't like the NSA snooping on private conversations. If you post it in public, you can't then say someone can't read your posts to track you.

    • Re:Account info? (Score:4, Informative)

      by hedwards (940851) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @11:45PM (#44860365)

      Probably the same way that the US Navy got my contact information to harass me when I was in high school. The school just gets authority to collect it and to hell with your wishes. Compared with the years of harassment and insults from the jack asses at the Navy, this is of somewhat lesser concern.

      But, it's still a concern, the last thing we need is to condition kids to think that it's normal for schools to spy on your behavior outside of school hours.

      • Genuine questions from a non-American.

        Your military recruits those of school age?

        I mean it actively encourages them to join, rather than just under 18s are allowed to join up?

        And judging by a previous reply, is legally entitled to contact info for all students?

      • Probably the same way that the US Navy got my contact information to harass me when I was in high school. The school just gets authority to collect it and to hell with your wishes. Compared with the years of harassment and insults from the jack asses at the Navy, this is of somewhat lesser concern.

        The US military has been known to procure it's harassment lists from professional private sector list brokers.

        But, it's still a concern, the last thing we need is to condition kids to think that it's normal for schools to spy on your behavior outside of school hours.

        This is one of those damned if you do damned if you don't situations. You can criticize this all you want and you are right, watching student's social media is plain creepy. However, after the next time some deranged student walks into a school and kills 20+ of his fellow students you will also be able to criticize the school district quite justifiably. After all, this student had been blogging abou

        • Schools are currently known to consider expression of religious views as being bullying to others not of their religion. If I were to post on my FB that I thought that Islam was dangerous and should be stomped out, you can bet your ass they could consider that bullying.

          Christianity? Not so much.

          DIsclaimer: I'm atheist. I criticize all religions.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      And how does the school district get the student account information?

      With $40K and a geo-tag, I could screen-scrape enough facebook and twitter to identify 90 percent of the students who are at any given school (who use social media) given:

      1) Any seed account , even the principal or superintendant, or someone else at that school
      2) A list of student names - and it gets easier with ages
      3) Students often post unfiltered information publically, including the names of their sports teams
      4) Students are often not

      • by forkazoo (138186)

        You can also make accounts using the names of real students for the friend requesting, or completely random ones. Some people won't friend the "Mascott" account, but may approve a request from somebody they think they know. A lot of people won't even notice being friends with two "Steve Smiths," but you could change the name on the account after getting friended pretty quietly to avoid being accidentally contacted as the actual person.

    • Re:Account info? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday September 16, 2013 @12:14AM (#44860479)

      And how does the school district get the student account information?

      1. Create a fake account using the picture of a really cute 16 year old girl claiming to be new at the school.
      2. Request to friend a few boys. 99% of them will accept.
      3. Follow the friends of friends network to connect to everyone else.
      In a few days, you should have every student with a Facebook account. My daughter is in high school. She has over 600 Facebook friends, and she will just automatically accept any friend request from any other student at her school. I think this is pretty typical for HS students.

    • The students probably have their whole profile and all their posts public. I believe that's the default, and many probably didn't bother changing it. I really have no issue with this, as long as they're only accessing public profiles - if you're publishing information, it's up to you to limit your intended audience.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @11:40PM (#44860325)

    Sickening, but welcome to the age of the Surveillance State.

    How about if tax dollars were used to follow this district's administrators, teachers and board members?

    That is not a rhetorical joke.

    How much porn are these "public servants" watching? What are their thoughts? How are they spending their time? Maybe we should do something about it. Let's call a meeting.

    Fascist Scumbags.

    • by fazig (2909523)
      Besides of wasted tax money, there's a distinct difference.
      In your example these "public servants" do things in private and keep them private. But children using Social Media choose to reveal their activities and thoughts to the public, by definition, aren't keeping these things private.
      As long as these companies don't 'hack' the Social Media accounts of the children to get access to 'private' information, I don't see the problem. The same thing applies to public servants as well. Anyone can access publi
      • by DarkOx (621550)

        The problem is social networks are fundamentally anti-social. Healthy people have normative behavior, that is they adapt to the requirements of the situation; that covers the gambit for sitting posture to what opinions you express and how loudly.

        You can say that makes them hypocritical or whatever but its pretty normal and everyone does it. You don't change the opinions you hold at school/the office, but you probably do express them less loudly if at all compared to at the political rally. Trouble is you

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          The problem is social networks are fundamentally anti-social

          What? Yeah, and the problem with water is that it's dry, and the problem with light is that it's dark. Wait, what?

          You don't change the opinions you hold at school/the office, but you probably do express them less loudly if at all compared to at the political rally. Trouble is you have one FaceSpace profile that follows you everywhere.

          That's not a problem in cases like this, because these people aren't using back doors. They depend on your post visibility, which you (nominally) control. You're 0 for 2.

          Kids and adults for that matter, need a place to blow off steam, so they don't take that rage back to school with them, and so they can conform while there. If the school is going to effectively follow kids home, it's going to creat new problems.

          Again, since you control post visibility, this is more like the school watching the kids with binoculars and telescopes from the school roof. What the kids do in public can be seen. If they have the intelligence to hide it just

          • by DarkOx (621550)

            I call social-networks anti social because they distort the way people normally interact. They create what feels like a intimate experience when in fact its all very public.

            because these people aren't using back doors. They depend on your post visibility,

            Which hardly anybody who isn't interested in the subject of privacy knows how to manage properly; and the options and behavior of the networks changes every few months. Really really easy to get surprised if you don't pay attention.

            Also school aged children don't have a whole lot of social experience to begin with; due to in experien

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @11:53PM (#44860413)

    How long before the kids start trolling the hell out of this just for the lulz? The possibilities are endless.
     

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Rework some of the "Glorious Leader" texts?
      The great school is an outstanding educational and sporting centre, brilliant teachers who teach the capitalist system along the golden road to full employment.
      • by cgimusic (2788705)
        Glorious headmaster demonstrated great strength in our PE class today. He through the shot put over 3 kilometers, a new world record! The capitalist pigs at the Guinness Book of Records won't recognize his claim as they are jealous of his glorious prowess in all areas of education.
  • is that they're doing it for exactly the same reason the government claims to be?
  • Good! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NoKaOi (1415755) on Monday September 16, 2013 @12:01AM (#44860443)

    I see a major positive side effect of this: If students know that school officials are monitoring their social media accounts, then maybe (at lease the brighter ones) will learn to be a little more conscious of the stupid stuff that they post.

    • > I see a major positive side effect of this: If students know that school officials
      > are monitoring their social media accounts, then maybe (at lease the brighter
      > ones) will learn to be a little more conscious of the stupid stuff that they post.

      And the really bright ones may decide not to join Facebook/Twitter/whatever. Actually, maybe some good may come out of this after all.

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Monday September 16, 2013 @12:06AM (#44860457)

    Just when you think that school boards can't get any more stupid and administrator-heavy, somebody comes up with a real whopper.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      If the state or federal gov has cash funding ready to go, better request it or the local staff will lose their grant application writing skills.
  • This has nothing to do with government spying: everything monitored here is already in public view.

  • Monitoring about 56% more students costs 8x as much? Gotta love no-bid contracts.
  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Monday September 16, 2013 @12:52AM (#44860599)

    How long will it take for the students to find out this is going on? My bet is that they already know.

    So how long will it be before a student who isn't thrilled with having adults e-stalk them decides to leave a "private" comment about how Principal Lovegood is just a bit too handsy?

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      So how long will it be before a student who isn't thrilled with having adults e-stalk them decides to leave a "private" comment about how Principal Lovegood is just a bit too handsy?

      Students have been spreading calumnies like that about their principals and teachers since before there was Internet access... I don't think anything would be different now.

      OTOH the knowledge that there are adults (virtually) present might well be enough to prevent the Lord of the Flies scenario that seems to play out too often these days.

      • by hyades1 (1149581)

        The situations aren't even remotely the same. Do I really have to explain why, or can you work it out for yourself?

        Teensy hint: consider the difference between publicly accusing a teacher of sexual misconduct and telling a friend "privately", along with something like, "And if anybody tries to make me tell, I'll just deny everything".

        What's a poor eavesdropper to do?

        • by anonymov (1768712)

          Teensy hint: RTFA

          "I find it interesting that people keep asking if we're doing something illegal or snooping or eavesdropping, but what we're actually doing is looking at public posts," Frydrych said. "We don't see any private posts."

          It's not just "publicly accusing a teacher", it's "publicly accusing a teacher, with _all_ your friends and relatives there to hear it and eternal record remaining".

          • by hyades1 (1149581)

            From TFA: "People say that's not private: It's public on Facebook. I say that's just semantics. The question is what is the school doing? It's not stumbling into students -- like a teacher running across a student on the street. This is the school sending someone to watch them..."

            And anybody who believes even for a second the company doesn't go deeper than they admit to going is probably ready to take advantage of that amazing opportunity extended by a Nigerian bank president.

            • by anonymov (1768712)

              Which part of "public on Facebook" did you miss and where did you read about phenomenal hackers and deep NSA connections of the monitoring firm?

              People are arguing - and I tend to agree - that it's not school's business reading public FB walls, just like it's not school's business to send people to watch over playground and sit in cafes behind their students. It's public, physically and legally, point of dissent is ethical.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      We have a winner!
    • How long will it take for the students to find out this is going on?

      Well, it's on the news. What more is there to "find out"?

    • How long will it take for the students to find out this is going on? My bet is that they already know.

      So how long will it be before a student who isn't thrilled with having adults e-stalk them decides to leave a "private" comment about how Principal Lovegood is just a bit too handsy?

      Brilliant :-)

  • All kids should have adults looking out for them, helping them grow into successful adults.

    This is truly an idea who's time has come.

  • FROM TFA:
    In another recent incident, a student posted a photo of what appeared to be a gun, and a subsequent inquiry determined the gun was fake, Sheehan said. Still, school administrators spoke with the parents of the student, who wasn't disciplined, the superintendent said. "We had to educate the student on the dangers" of posting such photos, Sheehan said. "He was a good kid. ... It had a good ending."

    Errr ... so ... if it had not been a fake gun, then he'd have been ??? What if he is a hunter?
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Think of the next step.
      If any parent makes a fuss about Constitutional rights they are showing signs of PTSD. Welcome to the medical no buy list.
  • Though critics liken the monitoring to government stalking, school officials and their contractor say the purpose is student safety.

    If "safety" is created by stalking, the price is too high.

  • Hopeful some of the older students will conspire to troll the fuck out of the watchers.

  • I'd shoot myself if I had to forcibly read HS facebook posts all day...

  • Surely any mildly tech savvy student has locked down the security settings on their facebook account so that non-friends can't see anything?

The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination -- but the combination is locked up in the safe. -- Peter DeVries

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