School Pays To Get an Algorithm Scan Students’ Social Media For Threats and Suicide Risks Posts

When someone visits the buildings of Shawsheen Valley Technical High School in Billerica, as they walk through the secure foyer, they have to get their driver’s license or another state-issued ID scanned. But the secure foyer does kind of a high-level national background check, too, explains Superintendent Tim Broadrick. From a report: The “LobbyGuard” scanner is the size of a computer tablet. It scans a driver’s license, takes a picture of the school visitor and if all is OK with the person’s background check, almost instantly clears the person to enter the school. An employee behind a window then pushes a button and unlocks the door to the school hallway. Amid nationwide concern about school shootings, there’s talk at Shawsheen Tech of covering the wall of glass in the lobby with a special film to make it harder for a bullet to pierce. There’s also a police officer — known as a school resource officer — stationed at the school. He has an office in the lobby. And the school has adopted another security measure to try to protect students from attacks — one you can’t see. It’s a computer program designed to detect threats against the school in social media posts. And it runs 24/7.

“It’s receiving and filtering and then gives us alerts when certain kinds of public communication are detected,” Broadrick explains. Shawsheen Tech buys the social media scanning service from a Vermont-based company called Social Sentinel. It’s one of many technology firms doing some form of social media scanning or monitoring. Social Sentinel claims it’s the only one with expertise in protecting schools. Shawsheen Tech has about 1,300 students. It pays Social Sentinel approximately $10,000 per year, according to Broadrick.