Schools snoop students’ social media to sniff out security threats

For now, you have to do something overt to attract the attention of campus social justice warriors before they can censor you (post a valid critique of a video game, say, or question the employment rates of Gender Studies majors).

But what if the hordes of radical feminists and experimental art students were able to discover your racist, sexist and discriminatory tendencies before you’d ever set foot on the quad? If one school in Florida has its way, your social media profile could provide plenty of fodder for a Minority Report-style effort to curb aggression on campus.

Orange County school districts, near Orlando, have contracted with a startup called SnapTrends, which designs software for “location-based social media discovery.” While it sounds like the capability would be essential for marketers, SnapTrend actually sells its product as a security tool, helping corporations deter espionage, helping law enforcement monitor local activity, and yes, helping schools combat “cyber-bullying” and “potentially volatile situations.”

The school district says it ran nearly 3,000 searches last year to detect unsavory behavior among elementary and high-school students, though they won’t disclose exactly what they searched for (police conducted 12 investigations as a result). They assure parents that the search function only picks up “public” social media posts, but that includes much of Facebook and potentially all of Twitter and Instagram. There is no indication how long the data is stored (or whether any of it will go in a the ever-mythical “permanent record”).

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