DOJ Funds Backed Monitoring Chicago Students’ Social Media

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After a social media analyst for the Chicago Public Schools reviewed the Facebook profile of a high school student and suspected he might be in a gang, a police officer was summoned in 2017 to conduct an intervention. There wasn’t any imminent threat of violence, but the officer and a school district security official met with the student. They asked if he was in a gang. “That is my business,” the student replied. The officer, a member of the Chicago Police Department’s Gang School Safety Team, told the student he needed to be more respectful. The student said he was not in a gang but did hang around gang members, reports ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ radio.

Over four years, more than 700 Chicago students have been called into similar interventions based on social media activity that points to possible gang involvement. The interventions are one result of a $2.2 million award the district received in 2014 through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, which provides grants for violence prevention efforts. The grant covered salaries for two intelligence analysts to analyze students’ online conversations. Jadine Chou, the school district’s chief of safety and security, said the analysts used keyword searches to find threats at the program’s target schools, rather than plugging in individual students’ names. Funding ran out after 2018, but district officials said they plan to continue the program in some manner, saying it keeps kids safe and gives them much-needed support. The approach has raised concerns. Most students and parents weren’t told about it or that school officials would be taking on a greater role in monitoring students’ lives.

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