Should We Rely on ‘Big Brother’ to Protect Our Kids?

The term “cyber bullying” is one that is popping up more frequently as new generations of younger children and teens establish social media accounts. But while we know cyber bullying is a dangerous problem, how far should we go to protect kids from being victims of online peer pressure and harassment? Should we go so far as to monitor their social media activity, right down to the last post or tweet? There are arguments for both, but what it really comes down to is safety.

A school district in California, Glendale Unified, recently hired a company called Geo Listening to monitor the social media activity of nearly 14,000 students in middle and high school, according to an article in Yahoo Finance. The goal was to prevent incidents of online bullying as well as problems such as drug use among students. The decision was made after two area teenagers committed suicide last year. Here’s how it works: the company has computers set up to run through thousands of public posts made by students on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and various blog sites. When terms pop up that suggest bullying, possible suicidal thoughts or even profanity, analysts check them out and, if needed, alert school officials.

At first glance, this appears to be a good idea and a sound way to protect children from cyber bullying, which has been blamed for several teen suicides in recent years. But some would also argue that the school district’s policy violates the privacy of the students. Fair enough – but also keep in mind that the majority of these kids are, in fact, minors. Add to that the fact that they’re posting in public forums – not passing notes to friends in class or keeping diaries. If they’re afraid of photos and statements being seen by their parents and other adults, then perhaps posting them on social media sites isn’t such a great idea.

And what about the actual posts? Every parent’s nightmare is having their child become the victim of an internet predator, and when children post “racy” photos or write posts that suggest an unhappy home life, they leave themselves vulnerable to pedophiles who scour social media sites looking for victims. In that regard, one could argue that there can’t be enough measures in place to monitor children’s online activity.

There really doesn’t seem to be an easy answer. Social media is an effective tool for marketing and even learning, since many teachers post homework assignments and even have Facebook pages set up with lesson plans. We want kids to be protected, but we also want them to learn the importance of respecting privacy.
In this case, though, if the end result is that children are better protected from cyber bullies and monitored to maintain their well-being, then maybe the Glendale School District’s idea isn’t so bad after all.