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Orange County Schools Hires Firm To Monitor Social Media For Threats

A picture of two children playing Pokemon GO on smartphones.
Creative Commons
As more kids move online, Orange County Schools follows to look for potential threats.

Orange County Schools has hired an online security company to scan social media for threats, but it's unclear what they're looking for or what they'll do about it.The company, Social Sentinel, will monitor public social media content, flag possible threats and notify school officials of threats against school students, staff, and events, according to an OCS press release. Officials said the company has not been given a list of student names, nor can it review private content.

Schools officials did not respond to WUNC's requests for an interview. But in the press release, Orange County Schools' Superintendent Todd Wirt said students, parents, and staff are acutely aware of the need for implementing as much safety and security as possible in the school community.

"When we find ways to secure our schools - whether it’s building safety measures into our schools or responding to online threats - we want our families to  know that the safety of our students and staff is the top priority,” Wirt said.

The OCS statement said an administrator would review any red flags in context to determine the "type and severity" of any potential threats, and said the school system is working with law enforcement. OCS officials did not say what constitutes a threat, how data will be stored, or what role law enforcement will play.

Mike Meno of the American Civil Liberties Union said this ambiguity makes students vulnerable.

"This is an expansion of school's ability to monitor students, and I think whenever we're talking about giving government entities increased powers to do that, that is something that should be done after a lot of conversation with parents and students and with safeguards in place," Meno said.

Meno added that Social Sentinel monitoring does not appear to be limited to high school students, but to children throughout the school system. He said these students are still immature, and he worries this protocol might expand the number of young people being caught up in the "school-to-prison pipeline."

"We need to make sure that students aren't going to face a lifetime of consequences for, perhaps, one thoughtless comment that they made online," Meno said.

Meno urged students and parents to demand more information and input on whether and how this monitoring protocol is implemented.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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