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For parents guiding children through adolescence, the Internet presents a major challenge. According to a survey from McAfee, 70% of kids admit to hiding their online behavior. Like real school hallways and classrooms, the Internet acts as a parallel universe filled with posts, texts, and tweets, too often rife with bullying and threats. In order to alleviate potential problems, the Glendale Unified School District in California is paying the company Geo Listening to monitor the social media accounts of over 13,000 middle and high school students.

The Glendale Unified School District debuted their program after being sued last year by a family whose 15 year-old committed suicide by jumping off the roof of Crescenta Valley High School. By hiring Geo Listening, the district hopes to prevent such tragedies by catching early warning signs. The company aggregates data from social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube and flags keywords that suggest abuse or cries for help. Since its launch last year in three schools, the service was able to identify at least one student at risk of suicide and find them the appropriate support programs.

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The Cyberbullying Research Center finds that over half of teens have been bullied online, and nearly 50% say that they have engaged in harassing others. More than one in three have experienced threats, and 10 to 20% are subject to regular abuse.

However, at a time when the nation is debating the validity of surveillance practices by the government, some see Glendale Unified’s actions as a breach of privacy. On one hand, Geo Listening is only looking at information that has been voluntarily posted to the public. On the other hand, their technology can store and track data beyond the capability of a single observant human. Glendale Unified sees their actions as being able to single out those who need to be enrolled in anti-bullying courses or obtain psychological help. Some families feel uneasy that their social interactions are being scrutinized and co-opted by an outside organization.

What do you think about Glendale Unified’s program? Are their methods an enlightened way to keep kids safe, or spying? Vote in our poll above.

via VentureBeat

Second images via Wikicommons user JohhnyMr Ninja