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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Canadian Judge Bans Teen From Social Media

A ruling this month by a Canadian court illustrates just how important the role of parents is in monitoring and controlling what teens do online.

In the case, an 18-year-old Nova Scotia male (who was 17 at the time of the charges) pleaded guilty to sexual assault, mischief and assault with a weapon on an ex-girlfriend and an unnamed male, but was also guilty of sending numerous threatening messages via social media. As part of the sentencing, he has been banned from using social media, and the social media ban is reportedly the first of its kind in Canada.

The teen is obviously troubled, having been convicted 14 previous times for theft and assault. The details of the case are grisly, and don’t leave much to the imagination.

“The assault with a knife involved another male and occurred at a local high school. The teen put the knife to the neck of another student and pondered aloud whether he should kill him.

The sexual assault involved the former girlfriend after he accused her of cheating on him. In demanding sex, the teen touched the woman’s breasts and vagina despite her persistence that he stop.”

On the social media attacks:

“..repeated messages the teen sent his former love over a two-day period in December 2013. [The prosecutor] said the youth made 22 references for the girl to die or kill herself, 25 references to her being a pig, whore and a slut and 27 references, in one sentence alone, of her being a whore.”

In total, the sentence includes the following: six months of house arrest followed by 15 months of probation, a two-year ban on owning firearms and a 21 month ban on using social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). He was required to delete the accounts within 24 hours and hand the passwords over to a sentencing supervisor.

Whether the punishment for the real world assaults is just, and whether it will be a deterrent to future assaults, is anyone’s guess. In our opinion, the social media ban will not be effective.

First, there are plenty of social media sites and apps in addition to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He may choose to use another one. Second, shutting down existing accounts and handing over the passwords in no way prevents him from starting new accounts on those networks under an alias. All he needs is a new email address.

Short of putting him in jail with no access to electronics (we’re not advocating this, just pointing it out), the only way to effectively guarantee that he will not be digitally abusive is to hold a parent responsible for controlling his behavior – what electronics he can access and what he can do online. Since he is no longer a minor, that can’t happen. The authorities cannot effectively police what he does 24×7.

At the time of the online assaults, the perpetrator was 17. It sounds like at that point the parents had already lost control of what he was doing online. You don’t have to let that happen in your family.



Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.