Alabama District to Monitor Students’ Social Media Accounts

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

An Alabama school district intends to begin monitoring its students’ social media and, if necessary, punish them accordingly for the content of their posts.

Dr. Casey Wardynski, the superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, says a robust monitoring system for students’ social media accounts is justified in the wake of fights throughout the school district. Students have circulated posts and videos on social media to plan, rally, and aggravate the confrontations between themselves.

Wardynski argues that if the district had the power to monitor these posts, it could prevent these conflicts before their outbreak. “We’re going to implement a procedure hat directly addresses an area that’s become a real concern again, which is how violence in our schools – how threats to our schools – interact with social media and how social media can play a role, if we pay attention to it, in heading off problems.”

According to Aaron Homer of the Inquisitor, Alabama already has a social media monitoring program that was set up in 2014 through the Students Against Fear (SAFe) Program. The program has monitored the social media accounts of 600 students. The program, spearheaded by Wardynski, was implemented after the National Security Administration (NSA) reported a potential threat to a teacher to authorities in the Alabama district.

The program is unable, however, to target all of the district’s 24,000 students. It has a much more limited scope, targeting only a few hundred. Wardynski wants to expand this program to provide teachers, police, and administrators of potential threats against school and student safety.

Anna Claire Vollers writing for the AL.com, which covers news from Alabama, the school’s director of operations would be empowered to use supervision technology, tips from students and teachers, and information from campus security officers to pinpoint potential troublemakers. In doing so, they would have access to these students’ social media posts and could punish students for postings regardless of whether such posts were done privately or publicly.

Various activists, public officials, and civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have raised objections to the expansion of the surveillance program, which was also heavily criticized at the time of its inception.

The expansion of the surveillance program in Alabama comes at a moment when educators and local authorities nationwide are debating the merit of monitoring students’ social media. A writer for eSchoolNews, Jerry Davich, cites several instances from this year in which students have been arrested after posting threateningly cryptic sentiments on their social media profiles.

“I truly believe this technology is a game-changer for both public and private safety,” said Sheriff David Lain of Porter County, Indiana, where there had been an occurrence of school officials using monitoring technology to prevent a potentially dangerous incident.

Indeed, school monitoring procedures have also been instituted throughout California and Canada. Amidst the specter of school shootings, there will be an intensified push among law enforcement and school officials to do everything they can to maintain the safety of campuses and school districts. “There may be some occasions when monitoring by school authorities may be justified, but it should only be conducted under very delimited, transparent and accountable conditions,” says Andrew Clement, a professor of information studies at the University of Toronto.