After school shootings around the nation where officials missed warning signs, Orange County Schools has hired a firm to scan students' social media posts for danger signals, reported the Durham Herald Sun.
The district is paying a little over $10,000 a year to the Vermont-based Social Sentinel firm to use software to search for keywords pointing to threats of violence, suicide and other self-harm, and bullying 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The software searches Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, Periscope and other public sites. It does not look at private sites.
When it flags a word or phrase, it notifies Sherita Cobb, the school system's director of Student Support Services, to evaluate whether it is a true threat or a false alarm. Cobb told the school board Monday night she is working to have at least one Orange County sheriff’s deputy alerted as well.
Social Sentinel claims to search for thousands of keywords, including "kill,” “die” and “bomb."
Cobb said when she gets an alarm, she looks at posts before and after the post in question to help decide whether it is a threat.
Superintendent Todd Wirt said Orange County is one of two school districts in the state using Social Sentinel.
Numerous firms offer to scan social media, but Social Sentinel is unique in focusing on schools.
That concerns some who question whether the company's work invades students' privacy.
“I think anytime we’re expanding school officials’ ability to monitor student activity outside of school I think that should give students and parents pause,” said Mike Meno, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.
Meno said the Orange County Schools’ including the Sheriff’s Office concerns him as well. “North Carolina has some real ongoing problems with the school-to-prison pipleline, referring students from schools to the legal system," he said. "We know from data that those tools are often used disproportionately against students of color, increasing the school-to-prison pipeline.”
But the school board's attorney, Jonathan Bloomberg, supports the move and calls it brave.
“We’re in a new frontier,” he said, “but I certainly support the ‘rather know it and deal with it’ approach than sort of stick your head in the sand.”
DPS spokesman Chip Sudderth said district leaders in Durham have begun talking about using such a service.
"We've had some initial conversations," Sudderth said. "We're evaluating the cost effectiveness and the effectiveness of those kinds of programs.
He said whether such monitoring of students' social media violates their privacy is also part of the conversation.
"Those services track information that is released on the public internet, so we are not only evaluating the cost effectiveness and effectiveness of such services, but also issues related to student privacy," Sudderth said.
To read more CLICK HERE