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Cybersecurity & Standards, Government Surveillance, Privacy & Data

Social Media Monitoring in K-12 Schools: Civil and Human Rights Concerns

Systems for monitoring students’ social media posts are gaining popularity in K-12 education settings. Some schools and school districts are turning to social media monitoring as a response to the threat of mass shootings. Companies are marketing their social media monitoring services with claims that they can identify sexual content and drug and alcohol use; prevent mass violence, self-harm, and bullying; and/or flag students who may be struggling with academic or mental health issues and need help. There is limited comprehensive data, but available figures, as well as statements from the companies themselves, suggest that spending by U.S. school districts on social media monitoring tools has risen substantially in recent years. However, the claims of effectiveness by companies selling these products are largely unproven, and these tools can endanger the very students they are supposed to protect. Surveilling students’ social media activities raises the following serious privacy, free expression, and other civil and human rights concerns that schools, districts, and legislatures should safeguard against.

This brief, from the Center for Democracy & Technology and the Brennan Center for Justice, highlights the civil and human rights concerns we have with social media monitoring in K-12 schools.

Our primary concerns are:

  1. Social media monitoring software for schools is experimental and has limited efficacy.
  2. Resources dedicated to social media monitoring may be best focused elsewhere. 
  3. Social media monitoring is not a reliable method to predict mass violence.
  4. Social media monitoring invades students’ privacy.
  5. Social media monitoring can chill expressive activities that are critical for young people’s development.
  6. Social media monitoring can disproportionately burden minority, underserved, or vulnerable students