Are Colleges Monitoring Public Social Media?

When it comes to school threats, the answer is mostly yes, but…

A big study came out recently and surprisingly, to us at least, it hasn’t gotten much attention. We say surprisingly because the topic of the study is campus safety, an issue that has been very much in the news of late.

The 2015 Campus Safety Survey was conducted by Margolis Healy in April-May of this year. In the survey they interviewed 513 campus officials – safety officers, members of school management and senior leaders – who answered questions anonymously. Overall, U.S. colleges appear to be well prepared for emergencies (86% have an emergency operations plan), but one area of particular interest to us is the survey’s look at how social media monitoring fits into school plans.

third-u-campus-safetyCampus threats, against individuals, groups or the school in general have been posted to social media with alarming frequency of late. From this month alone:

Mizzou student arrested for Yik Yak threat


Kean U alum due in court over tweets threatening black students



While some, or most, of the threats have been hoaxes, the safety of students and staff is critically important. How are colleges trained and staffed to find and deal with such threats?

Overall, the study shows that 63% of responding colleges report that they have at least one staff member monitoring public social media. It is more common for school leaders to monitor social media (76%) than for campus safety staff to do so (65%).

The key number above – 63% of schools monitor social media – appears to be overstated. 4% of those responding that they do monitor actually rely on students to report incidents, which isn’t actually monitoring at all.

Two thirds of the monitoring that is being done is conducted manually. Only 8% of schools are using monitoring software or contracting with a professional organization to do it (Let us know if you’d like to discuss a custom solution for your school).

Which social networks are the schools monitoring? The results could paint a better picture, in our opinion:

  • Facebook – 95%
  • Twitter – 76%
  • Yik Yak – 54%
  • Instagram – 49%
  • YouTube – 39%
  • Google+ – 23%
  • Flickr – 20%
  • Tumblr – 16%

What do those results tell us? Facebook is the most-used social network by adults, so it’s no surprise that it’s number one on the list. The fact that it is speaks volumes to the efficacy of the manual monitoring that is being done – it probably leaves a lot to be desired. Based on the threats posted recently, Yik Yak and Twitter are much bigger threats than Facebook. Actually, since one’s real identity is a cornerstone of Facebook (whereas Yik Yak is anonymous, and setting up a rogue Twitter account takes a minute or two), Facebook isn’t much of a risk at all.

In our experience, the networks where threats are likely to show up are, in order, Yik Yak, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. Don’t bother writing that list down; it will change.

You might be able to take the temperature of your college community by following your school’s Facebook page or following a few student leaders on Twitter, but to effectively monitor for threats, a more involved effort is required. If you work at a college and would like to discuss a solution for your school, please let us know.





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