Schools Monitoring Social Media to Prevent School Shootings
Schools are beginning to monitor social media more closely in an attempt to prevent school shootings.
Some schools are using private companies to do this work. The companies scan the public social media postings of anyone, including students and adults, within a certain radius of the school, sending posts that algorithms flag as a potential threat and alert school administrators and other authorities for review. These threats include not only potential shootings but also suicide, self-harm, and sexual exploitation.
Florida officials included a provision for social media monitoring in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act after the Feb. 14, 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 and injured 17 more people. The act requires that state officials create a database that combines law enforcement and social services records for individuals with information from personal social media accounts. The shooter in the Parkland school shooting had posted images of guns and dead animals, and sent threatening messages through Instagram.
Florida State Senator Bill Galvano, JD, stated: “What we saw after the Parkland tragedy is that there were clear [warning signs] that didn’t end up being followed through on or processed. It was very important that we create within our school system the opportunity to report the information that is out there, so that things are being captured and you don’t have one group knowing something and not sharing it with another group.”
Chad Marlow, JD, Senior Advocacy and Policy Counsel for the ACLU, stated, “student surveillance — and indeed surveillance in general — has been shown to have no deterrent effect on violent crime… Even if, after-the-fact, many school shooters are found to have posted threatening statements online, that doesn’t mean most, or even a significant number of students who post threatening statements are likely to become school shooters. The false positives from such surveillance would not only fail to identify a harmful needle in the haystack, they would increase the size of the haystack.” Some have critiqued social media monitoring as less effective than gun control laws.
ACLU, “Students Suspended for Posting Gun Photos on SnapChat File Free-Speech Suit,” aclu-nj.org, Apr. 10, 2019
Audra D. S. Burch and Alan Blinder, “Parkland Officer Who Stayed Outside During Shooting Faces Criminal Charges,” nytimes.com, June 4, 2019
Gaggle, homepage, gaggle.net (accessed June 7, 2019)
Benjamin Herold, “Schools Are Deploying Massive Digital Surveillance Systems. The Results Are Alarming,” edweek.org, May 30, 2019
Benjamin Herold, “To Stop School Shootings, Fla. Will Merge Government Data, Social Media Posts,” edweek.org, July 26, 2018
Chad Marlow, “Student Surveillance Versus Gun Control: The School Safety Discussion We Aren’t Having,” aclu.org, Mar. 4, 2019
Lesli A. Maxwell, “Parkland Shooting Investigation: Cruz’s Violent Acts Well-Known, but Not Reported or Acted On,” blogs.ed.week.com, Nov. 3, 2018