Maryland school district to start monitoring students' social media posts with new software

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Md. (WJLA) - Washington County public school officials announced that, with the start of the new school year in just two weeks, they will be using new software to monitor students' social media posts.

The county will be one of only four school districts in the nation to enlist a new software program called Social Sentinel that tracks social media accounts for certain keywords.

To those that question the legality of such monitoring in the face of privacy rights, school officials said the software uses "geofencing" protocol to only track posts that are made while the student is on school property.

School officials said the goal is to protect student safety. Examples of such posts that will be tracked include those that feature keywords like "kill," "bomb" and others.

School officials said they will also be consulting with parents and members of student government for feedback on what additional keywords should be added to the watch-list.

Threats will be flushed out, officials added - if a keyword is caught, the post will be read to check for threats of violence, bullying or harassment, reference to using drugs or alcohol, references to weapons, and the like.

Threats of violence will be forwarded to police; threats of bullying or harassment of another student will be forwarded to school officials, they explained.

The software system will cost the district approximately $20,000 per year.

Washington County Public Schools includes schools in Hagerstown, Boonsboro and Hancock, Maryland, as well as other nearby areas.

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