Some Vermont schools are already monitoring students’ online activity

Some Vermont schools are already monitoring students’ online activity


In 2018, authorities intercepted a planned
school shooting in Fair Haven, Vermont. In the aftermath, Gov. Phil Scott struck a
task force charged with recommending ways to prevent violence in the state’s schools. “The conversation about public safety is not over. We have more work to do to keep
our kids and our communities safe.” One of their recommendations was for Vermont
to invest in social media monitoring software, in the hopes of flagging warning signs by
would-be shooters. But whether or not state officials take up
the strategy on a statewide scale, plenty of school districts are already using these
technologies. Five Vermont school districts have had contracts
with Social Sentinel, a Burlington-based firm that scans public social media posts and sends
alerts to school officials when its algorithms detect signs of trouble. “Forty to fifty percent of
targeted violence in schools is telegraphed on these digital platforms…” And at least another eight have contracted
with companies that send similar alerts based on students’ activity on school-owned devices
and school email accounts. Privacy advocates say online monitoring could
lead to students getting in trouble for benign activity. “But there’s also a question of just transparency, how do you build trust with your communities? That the people who are flagged as a threat are actually a threat? Or the people at risk of self-harm are actually at risk of self-harm? And some experts say it could make intervening
more difficult when it’s actually necessary. “Schools should be a trusted place where students can learn and grow. Research shows that surveillance can undermine that trust, creating a prison-like environment where students feel like Big Brother is always watching.”

Danny Hutson

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