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Florida public schools to spy on students' social media, report says

Technically Incorrect: The Orange County Public Schools District reportedly gets software for monitoring posts made by students, saying it wants to anticipate and prevent cyberbullying and other crime.

2 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

A sample of a Snaptrends monitoring screen. Snaptrends. screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The more things that technology can do, the more it leaves open the possibility of further good and further not so good being perpetrated.

Please decide, therefore, whether you think it's good that a school district buys itself software to monitor the social media activity of its students.

This is what the Orange County Public Schools District has chosen to do. As Click Orlando reports, the district announced on Thursday that it has signed up with a service called Snaptrends, which bills itself as "Pioneering Location-Based Social Media Discovery." It promises to "quickly identify actionable insights."

One person's actionable could be another's reprehensible.

The public schools insisted that the purpose of the software reportedly was "to proactively prevent, intervene and (watch) situations that may impact students and staff."

These days, there's a certain consciousness that we're being watched by all sorts of people. But don't kids deserve a little social media privacy, in which they can be, well kids, away from adults' eyes?

I have contacted the Orange County Public Schools District to ask how far this monitoring will stretch -- current information suggests that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube will be monitored for specific keywords.

I also asked what the district would say to a parent who believes this is unnecessary stalking of their kids. I will update, should I hear.

Schools from Huntsville, Ala,. to Glendale, Calif., have decided that they must, in one form or another, monitor what their students do on social media.

However, how much deeply personal -- and irrelevant -- information might they come across during such monitoring?

Some kids will be better at setting privacy controls than others.

Some schools might believe, however, that if their monitoring saves just one life it's worth it. Skeptics would say that the NSA might once have used the same argument.

We've all become used to Google, Facebook and other commercial cohorts scanning our messages and generally following us around 24 hours a day. Somewhere buried deep within us might be the idea that they're only doing it for commercial reasons and don't care one whit about our personal lives and predilections -- unless they can make money out of them. It's business, not personal.

With schools, it's a little different. They're specifically monitoring what kids do in private -- even if that might be publicly available information -- with a view to preventing bad behavior.

At what point can such monitoring simply go too far?