The Orlando Sentinel reports that Orange County, Florida, is undertaking a sweeping effort to snoop on social media activities of the students and staff in the county, for the nebulous task of "[ensuring] safe school operations," and say they will use the software (at a license cost of about $13,000 per year) "to conduct routine monitoring for purposes of prevention or early intervention of potential issues where students or staff could be at risk to themselves or to others." The software they're using is from Snaptrend, which offers "location-based social media discovery."
In one case, a student made suicidal threats on social media that the software was able to pick up. Law enforcement was notified, and officials were able to get in contact with the student's family.
"This is a tool that gives the district intelligence into a situation that could possibly prevent something more serious from happening," said Doug Tripp, Orange County Public Schools' senior director of safety and security. "This is the district's ability to collect a wider array of information, aggregate it, analyze it and take action where action may be necessary."
District officials said the software provides safety. At least one parent, however, said it's an invasion of privacy.
The idea and practice of monitoring students' social media accounts is not new, but the school district is hoping the software will help better identify and prevent threats.
A short message to parents about SnapTrends went out Wednesday night — two weeks after the district began tracking posts.
Christina Brune, who has two children in Orange County schools, is worried the software goes too far in violating her children's privacy.
"Most of the kids that I'm aware of don't do these kinds of postings when they are in school anyway," Brune said. "They shouldn't be, and most of what they are going to be doing is going to be after school anyway."
SnapTrends uses geographical fences to collect information for certain areas and uses keywords to monitor accounts on social media.
"Whether somebody is expressing that they are depressed, unhappy sad — those are important terms that we'll be monitoring," Tripp said.
The company will assist district law enforcement and security personnel in monitoring publicly available social media communications that are relevant to school operations and personnel.
SnapTrends is currently used by the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange, which is the local law enforcement fusion center.
Orange County Public Schools will also use the software for monitoring purposes to supplement other forms of law enforcement information being used during an emergency situation.