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Intersections: Finding ways to monitor that sinking feeling

September 05, 2013|By Liana Aghajanian

Sometimes when friends and I are feeling nostalgic, we'll recount our earlier days together, particularly when we were first introduced to the Internet, that wonderful tool that changed everyone's lives forever.

"Remember when you had to disconnect your phone to sign on?" we'll say between belly laughs. "And that awful, piercing connection signal that came just before the famous 'You've Got Mail!' proclamation by AOL?"

As a preteen, there were few things more exciting than being able to chat with your friends with user names that reflected the now cringe-worthy pop culture of the time (our poison of choice was "Titanic" and all the characters that came along with it).

Back then, you signed on and then you signed off. The Internet was a guilty pleasure, an activity you engaged in briefly, hoping that your signal wouldn't be cut off by a call your parents were expecting. It was a part of life. These days, the Internet — and how you choose to express yourself on it — is not a fragment of your existence, is it your entire existence.

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The news of Glendale Unified school district's plan to monitor students' social media posts made national headlines — from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to the news website Truthdig and dozens of blog posts and message boards discussing the hiring of Hermosa Beach-based Geo Listening to provide school officials with daily reports of student social media activity.

Perhaps the extreme lengths Glendale has taken seem pioneering, but social media monitoring in schools isn't particularly new.

Up north, the Lodi Unified School District had a social media contract that required students involved in extracurricular activities to inform officials if they saw their peers bullying or making inappropriate comments on social media sites.

Last month, the district suspended the rule and is now finding an alternate solution after a letter sent from an attorney contended that it violated state and federal law.

At Mount Wachusett Community College in Massachusetts, a "new media specialist" monitors mentions of the school online, watching for comments "that can affect its reputation to students who write they intend to harm themselves or others at the school," reports the Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise.

Geo Listening's third-party involvement, however, complete with daily reports, is a different kind of territory, one where it's not the students or school staff reporting information, but an independent third party.

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