Countering Potential Campus Threats with Social Media Monitoring

School and university administrators are starting to appreciate these services as an effective tool to improve campus security and identify at-risk individuals.

Countering Potential Campus Threats with Social Media Monitoring

Of course, not all social media platforms are open to the data mining.

“There are some social media services that don’t provide their information publicly, which is fine.  They’re making business decisions,” Margolis says, “but we’re actively building relationships with those companies.”

How Does it Work?
“The first thing we do is ask ‘What are the acronyms of your school?'” Peterson says. “Then it’s ‘What is the terminology you’re looking to track?’ Then we set up the geofence, and so what’s nice is when an incident does occur, schools can go back and search for evidence or anything in the data.”

Because it’s such a new industry, companies are eager to teach their clients how to maximize the value of their service. Companies do everything from providing online and in-person training, assigning each client to a customer care team and hosting annual conferences for clients to discuss best practices.

“We’re really partnering with our customers throughout the process,” Harris says. “It isn’t just them buying the software. It’s finding the appropriate use of social media. It’s all evolving and so there’s an education barrier. Our goal is to provide as much education as we can.”

Schools can set up geofences around one building or multiple buildings across different campuses.  Sports stadiums and other school buildings have also been selected.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and effort and brainpower developing our service around each school’s particular needs,” Margolis says.

RELATED: Measuring Campus Health with Social Media

Many of the companies simply provide software-as-a-service, so there’s rarely any installation process or IT involvement. Still, schools sometimes struggle to find the resources needed to devote to the service. Smaller schools will sometimes designate one person to oversee the operation, whereas larger schools, universities and K-12 districts might give that responsibility to their public safety departments. Revere Public Schools in Massachusetts, for example, elects to receive one report a day from Social Sentinel.

“We have our school resource officer involved with accessing the service and our technical director as well,” Revere Public Schools Superintendent Chris Malone says. “But predominantly, I’m the one who diligently reads the messages and then re-forwards the information to administrators who would want to take a closer look or follow up, although long term I’m probably not the ideal person to be monitoring this stuff.”

Malone’s district began working with Social Sentinel two years ago to determine which terms should be flagged and which ones would turn up too many false alarms.

“Most terms were suggestions from Social Sentinel where I’d describe an issue and let them give me feedback, saying ‘Okay, if that’s an issue, here are some keywords to look for,'” Malone says. “So it’s a lot of back and forth because we weren’t sure how to manage it at first.”

Malone believes it’s important to give the people checking the data the power to make important decisions and the resources to react to any threats they may find.

RELATED: Tackling Social Media Monitoring’s Liability, Clery Compliance Questions

Should Schools Be Concerned About Privacy?
Privacy is the most obvious concern people might have with social media monitoring. In fact, some companies don’t like the term “social media monitoring” because they say it makes them sound like Big Brother. They’re quick to point out that everything they’re looking at is coming from public domains. Further, the companies talk to their clients about the ways their information gathering is to be used.

“We’re clear with our clients that this is an alert service not a monitoring service,” Margolis explains. “We give schools a framework to operate efficiently and consistently. It’s not built for fishing expeditions; it’s designed to help our customers understand what’s happening or what’s happened on their campus.”

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About the Author


Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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