Hidden Harms: The Misleading Promise of Monitoring Students Online

The pressure on schools to keep students safe, especially to protect them physically and support their mental health, has never been greater. The mental health crisis, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and concerns about the increasing number of school shootings have led to questions about the role of technology in meeting these goals. From monitoring students’ public social media posts to tracking what they do in real-time on their devices, technology aimed at keeping students safe is growing in popularity. However, the harms that such technology inflicts are increasingly coming to light.

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) conducted survey research among high school students and middle and high school parents and teachers to better understand the promise of technologies aimed at keeping students safe and the risks that they pose, as reported by those most directly interacting with such tools. In particular, the research focused on student activity monitoring, the nearly ubiquitous practice of schools using technology to monitor students’ activities online, especially on devices provided by the school. CDT built on its previous research, which showed that this monitoring is conducted primarily to comply with perceived legal requirements and to keep students safe. While stakeholders are optimistic that student activity monitoring will keep students safe, in practice it creates significant efficacy and equity gaps. Continue reading here.

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