Fla. School District Shells Out Tax Cash to Spy on Students’ Social Media

P. Gardner Goldsmith | April 26, 2016
Font Size

Leave it to the government to pile one insult upon another, then claim it’s helping people.

According to the Washington Post, Orange County Public Schools in Florida shelled out $18,000 last year to pay the private firm Snaptrends to scan students’ social media posts and flag “criminal or threatening behavior”.

The program is set to continue next year, raising the question: When did students -- who are forced to attend government-approved schools -- start being considered potential terrorists who need to be monitored by a FISA, NSA-like spying system?

Indeed, one wonders where the boundaries of the school district end in this Orwellian system.

Using the same excuse as the NSA to try to justify its collection of private data from the internet, the Orlando County school district claims that Snaptrends does not monitor specific students. Snaptrends “merely” searches for “keywords” that might indicate “danger.” Only when such words are found does it investigate the public posts of specific students and alert the school system.

According to Sheri Bobinski, who manages media relations for the school district, the system “respects students’ privacy”, because it scrutinizes students’ public posts only after the company flags those frightening keywords.

The school district offers no indication as to what happens to the data collected in an “investigation,” and offers no full list of “keywords” that might spark such an investigation, in whatever combination.

So, kids, mind what you say about public school even outside school. If you’re an Alice Cooper fan in Orlando County, and you post the lyrics to “School’s Out,” expect to have all the posts you’ve placed on social media inspected by authorities.

According to the Post, government schools in California and Alabama also have adopted this system, and officials claim that it has led to the prevention of at least one suicide attempt. The thing is, you have to trust them on that because, of course, the information is private. Well, kind of. It’s private if you’re a taxpayer interested in trying to find out what your public resources are doing. It’s “public” if you’re a student trying to navigate the Minotaur’s Labyrinth of government-run school systems.

A private school system would not create such dilemmas. Only the parents paying for the school, the school administrators, and the students would be involved. Parents could choose to decide whether they wanted their children to attend a school that conducted such out-of-school media searches or not.

Thanks to the bully-arena that is the public school, everyone who pays taxes is implicated, and kids will be monitored whether they, or their parents, like it or not.

At George Orwell High, the boot is always ready.