Southern California’s Glendale School District has hired a company called Geo Listening to piece together the cyber tidbits of its 14,000 or so middle and high school students, reports the Los Angeles Times. The effort, costing $40,500, is aimed at unearthing the earliest signs of bullying and self-harm. The company’s computers scour an untold number of public posts by students on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, for example. Analysts are alerted to terms that suggest suicidal thoughts, bullying, vandalism and even the use of obscenities, among other things. While acknowledging some of the benefits, critics contend that the monitoring could have a chilling effect on students’ free speech. They contend it opens the possibility that students could be disciplined for comments made outside of school.
District Superintendent Dick Sheehan said the district was reeling from the recent suicides of students in the area and was searching for ways to reach out to those who need help. “We think it’s been working very well,” Sheehan said. “It’s designed around student safety and making sure kids are protected.” The company said it expects to be monitoring about 3,000 schools worldwide by the end of the year. The list of issues the company looks for is extensive. It includes controlled substances, self-harm, disruption of class or school activities, hazing, sexual harassment of peers or teachers, threats or acts of physical violence, use of fake identification, hate speech, racism, weapons and suicide or despair.