The real story: What's up with schools snooping on students?

In October last year, Glendale Unified school’s (California) decision to monitor students social network accounts gave rise to a controversy which led to a debate whether schools have the right to keep a tab on student’s social media lives. The school hired the services of a private company, named Geo Listening, to monitor about 14,000 students posts related to substances, violence, disruption of class and school activities, sexual harassment, using fake identification, hate speech, racism, and anything else that has the potential to cause harm. The school claimed that the step was taken to ensure internet safety for teens by paying the company $45,000 from California State exchequer. The company takes screenshots of any immoral conversation and mail them to an administrator concerned, along with other relevant information. Nevertheless, the issue has divided the opinions of students, parents and teachers, with both sides either supporting the initiative or opposing it on moral grounds.

Divided opinion

"No matter where they are, if they are advertising it in the public domain, it's no different than if they're standing in front of a teacher," Chris Frydrych, founder and CEO of Geo Listening, told the Los Angeles Times regarding the company’s initiative.

On the other hand, Lee Tien, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Ars Technica: “I would ask, what business is it of the school’s what my child does on Facebook? Does the school think it has a general roving commission to conduct surveillance on students outside of school?”

A healthy number of academics believe that Frydrych’s conclusion is ill-found. They say that comments made on social networks are fundamentally different than the things that are said in classrooms. Posts will communicate things in a slightly different manner than real life communication. For instance, who decides if a comment was meant to be sarcastic or ironic?

The debate surrounding privacy has its valid points, but the problem of cyberbullying is aggravating and schools across the country are trying hard to solve this issue.

Bare necessities

Schools have faced the wrath of parents for failing to address the issue of cyberbullying happening in their backyard. On the other hand, schools claimed that they were powerless when bullying happened outside the school and via the internet. Even though the argument against schools trolling the social media accounts of students is that it violates a student’s privacy, but this has been happening since long. Students know that school authorities have been watching them since long and they set the privacy settings accordingly.

Last year, Florida passed an updated cyberbullying law that has been termed the best model in the entire country. This particular law gives schools more authority to investigate cases of online bullying outside school premises if the occurrence is harming a student’s profile.

Power to parents

In the entire debate about schools snooping on students, the real power belongs to you; the parents. You have the power to dictate terms and not allow a third party to collect personal information about your children. Schools can never be as trustworthy as parents in guarding intimate information related to their kids. Parents should be the ones to install internet monitoring software on their child’s computer. Even so if schools are given the right to snoop, then the process should be based on accountability and transparency. Everything said; the real decision should still rest with parents because you are the only natural allies that your kids can ever have.

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