Md. school district to monitor students' social media - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Md. school district to monitor students' social media

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A Maryland school district will be one of only four in the nation to use special software to track students' social media posts with the idea to keep students safe.

The program is called Social Sentinel and it monitors sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Starting this school year in Washington County, if students are posting on social media, they will be very closely monitored.

“We've seen a rise in cyberbullying,” said Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox. “We've seen a rise in the use of social media in general, but often times in inappropriate ways, so we thought that because that's where kids are, that's where we need to go as a school system.”

Any public post to a social media site on school grounds in Washington County will be run through a new system and checked for certain flag words.

“In the wake of all of the school violence, the one thing that we know is that parents' highest desire for us is to make sure that when we have their children, that those kids are safe in our care.”

Wilcox showed us how the program works. I posted an innocent tweet containing the word “bomb.” My tweet was immediately flagged and he was able to pull up my location and profile.

The service can't monitor emails or texts. And if your social media account is private, your posts do not show up.

Washington County is one of the first school systems in the nation to monitor digital conversations. But Wilcox says there are plenty of private companies already doing it as a marketing tool.

“Some of these companies are actually monitoring school campuses,” he said. “The reason they are doing that is because they want to see what's hot, what's new, what's trending and then they can sell part of that database to various industry groups.”

Wilcox is sending out a letter to parents explaining the service and asking for students to join a committee to help keep officials abreast of the latest lingo.

For now, only high school and middle school campuses are being monitored.

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