1,100 Schools Now Scan Social Media For Violent Students – and Alcohol Use

In the hunt for potential acts of student violence, “schools are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence-backed solutions,” reports USA Today. Bark Technologies, Gaggle.Net, and Securly Inc. are three companies that employ AI and machine learning to scan student emails, texts, documents, and in some cases, social media activity. They look for warning signs of cyber bullying, sexting, drug and alcohol use, depression, and to flag students who may pose a violent risk not only to themselves, but classmates. When potential problems are found, and depending on the severity, school administrators, parents — and under the most extreme cases — law enforcement officials, are alerted. In the fall of 2017, Bark ran a test pilot with 25 schools. “We found some pretty alarming issues, including a bombing and school shooting threat,” says Bark chief parent officer, Titania Jordan….

The Bark product [which monitors more than 25 social media platforms] is free to schools in the U.S. for perpetuity. The company says it can afford to give the service away to schools, because of the money it makes from a version aimed at parents… Bark is currently used in more than 1,100 school districts, covering 2.6 million children. If it detects something that is considered exceedingly severe such as a child abduction or school shooting threat, the issue is escalated to the FBI. According to Jordan, Bark sends out between 35,000 and 55,000 alerts each day, many just instances of profanity. But 16 plausible school shootings have been reported to the FBI since Bark launched its school product last February, she says.

The article notes these solutions have three major limitations:

  • “A school can’t police a student’s smartphone or other devices outside the ones it issued, unless the student signed into a social media, or other account, using the email or credentials the school provided.”
  • “None of the companies USA TODAY talked to for this story claim the ability to catch suspect behavior every time.”
  • “Students also are often more tech savvy than their parents and won’t tell them about every account they have.”