Bullies Beware: Schools Hire Social Media Monitors

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Students work on laptops in the library. (Enokson/Flickr)
Some schools are hiring companies to monitor students' social media use. (Enokson/Flickr)

School bullying used to take place in hallways and classrooms. Now much of it happens online, beyond the gaze of teachers, coaches and administrators.

The problem has taken on new meaning since the case of Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old Florida girl who was bullied by classmates on social media. She killed herself in September.

Some companies are coming up with ways to intercept these conversations by monitoring public posts on social media to look for students in distress.

One such company, Geo Listening, was founded by Chris Frydrych. The California technology services company works with schools and school districts across the country to monitor students' social media use.

Frydrych joins Here & Now's Robin Young to discuss his new company and how it could help reduce bullying and suicide.

Interview Highlights: Chris Frydrych

On why monitoring social media is useful

“Students have moved their conversation to the technological world and it’s actually a much more engaging conversation. But it’s not heard anymore, so you can’t be disciplined in a school because the teachers and the administrators aren’t seeing the actual lead-up to an action, maybe a fight or something else more disturbing. So what we’re there to do is to bubble caption over the children’s head so that the people that are there every day, in a physical sense, have the ability to know which kid needs to have a hello said to them.”

On why parents cannot fulfill this role

“It’s impossible for any single person to be able to see everything. We talk about the self-harming teens. During school hours, we’re seeing those students post once every three minutes during class time. And in the late night hours, we see some of them post once a minute for hours on end. And they’re in these environments where there are 1,200, 2,000 other young people just like them.”

On whether this invades children’s privacy

“When Geo Listening works with a school or school district, we don’t actually change any of their policy and we only report things that are in the public domain. A lot of schools' codes of conduct require students to act with a level of dignity and respect. The discussion of free speech is not between Geo Listening and the courts—it’s between the interpretation of what a student has posted or done… There are different states across the country that have different rules as to where you can take action on content… We have given access to kids to a much more dangerous vehicle than an automobile and we’ve given them no guidance, no governance and it’s time for us to step up and be the adults that we’re supposed to be for them.”


This segment aired on December 9, 2013.


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