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Big brother heads to Glendale

Students posting about their dreadful return to school on social networking sites beware: the Glendale Unified School district announced last week that it would begin monitoring their online activity.

Geo Listening, a Hermosa Beach company, will collect information from students’ posts on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube and deliver a daily report to Glendale school officials, according to the Los Angeles Times.

While the Glendale News-Press also reported that posts would be monitored and categorized in relation to cyber-bullying, substance abuse, truancy and vandalism. The tactic seems more of a Big Brother move than anything else. The program was piloted last year at three schools after a 15-year-old student committed suicide as a result of being cyber-bullied.

Still, the service, which costs the district $40,500 a year, crosses a line between monitoring and parenting. Glendale district superintendent Richard Sheehan told CBS Los Angeles that these reports would keep them “a step ahead of the kids.”

The school district plans on using the program to take action if students are in danger of harming themselves or others, such as enrolling students in anti-bullying programs or connecting them with a counselor.

Yet there are few users on any social media platform that are likely to post, “I am being bullied at school, help me.”

Though there is good intention behind it, it should not be the school district’s perogative to monitor teenagers’ social media, especially when only a small fraction of the 13,000 Glendale students may be participating in dangerous or illegal activity – or at least posting about it.

Instead, students will likely be much more cautious of what they post to avoid any administrator involvement.

The biggest issue may involve First Amendment rights, as schools are likely to find common posts from students complaining, be it about the school, the instructors or even the lunch. If so, will there be retribution from district employees?

Users have already begun to mock the district’s move, with the hashtag “#GUSD” revealing sarcastic tweets on Twitter.

One person, who tweeted under the username IzzyPorro, said, “*tweets Wiz Khalifa lyrics* gets in trouble by GUSD,” questioning what sort of posts the district may be really looking for. Other posts mention that the district should have spent the money towards building curriculum rather than stalking its students online. The service is going to have a difficult task filtering out posts that mention the district from users who may not even be students there, which in turn may waste money if nothing is found.

The service only monitors publicly accessible social networks. The GUSD can expect more users to be switching their privacy settings soon.

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