Schools try to stay on top of trouble by monitoring social media

Mid-Missouri school officials want to prevent incidents by looking for signs through social media

COLUMBIA, Mo. - A school district in Los Angeles is paying a firm more than $40,000 to monitor its students' social media posts. They want the company to be on the lookout for things like cyberbullying, threats against the schools, or suicidal intentions. According to reports, there have been two occasions where potential incidents were prevented.

ABC 17 News checked in with two of the largest school districts in Mid-Missouri to see if school districts are doing anything similar or would be looking into doing this.

Columbia Public School officials said they're currently paying a company to look into what's being said on social media. It's not specifically looking at what students are saying, but it's one of the services the company provides.

Columbia and Jefferson City school officials said their schools are no different than almost every other school in the nation.

"It is a way of life, it is how they communicate and so they need to have a better understanding of the power of the words that they choose," Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.

Baumstark said they pay an out-of-state company about $2,000 per year not only to keep up with school news discussed in the community, but also what is being discussed by their students regarding school. She said if they do end up getting notified, they will investigate it internally and decide if law enforcement needs to be involved.

But Jefferson City school officials said they rely solely on what is seen, heard or read by local residents when it comes to monitoring social media.

Both Columbia and Jefferson City school officials said they spend time with students and talk to them about implications of what's done on social media. They also want to be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.

"It really is about the power of a bystander and that's one of the things, even through what we've done with our social norming behavior campaigns, it's all about the power of the bystander," Baumstark said.

Baumstark said they've even started Twitter handles for each high school for students to report mischievous activity.

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