Social Net Watcher: Watching your students on Facebook - Tucson News Now

Social Net Watcher: Watching your students on Facebook

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Students growing up in this age of technology treat Facebook kind of like a playground. Out on that playground you can see a lot of different things including bullying and threats.

A new product on the market called Social Net Watcher hopes to act like somewhat of a supervisor out on that playground.

We remember the headlines back in January, two students from Flowing Wells High School were arrested because police say they threatened multiple students on Facebook. According to the Tucson Police report, they posted that they would "shoot up" the school.

The threat at Flowing Wells could have easily been missed. It was only brought to the surface after a parent reported it to police.

"It's because a student was sitting with another student and laughing and saying can you believe this kid said he's going to kill everyone. Then, a parent catches wind of it and she either calls the news media, law enforcement or the superintendent," Bruce Canal explained. "We think our program is much faster because the school administration is going to get it in real time."

Canal's seen it before. He's a retired state trooper and has spent the past three decades in security. He's now designed a new web-based software called Social Net Watcher that can scan students Facebook pages.

"We scan for phrases of a bullying nature, violence nature or a suicidal nature of the students that attend their school district," Canal said.

So if you read or post something that falls into those categories, like, "I can't take the tormenting anymore," or "I will kill them all," those posts get sent in real time to the schools administration.

Canal says, "We are not reading any students' Facebook postings, we are scanning for the phrases in the database."

We wanted to see Social Net Watcher in action, so we had Bruce make a fake Facebook post. He posted the phrase, "I can't take the pressure anymore, I will kill them all tomorrow."

Within a minute he receives an email, just like a school superintendent would, warning them of the potential threat.

It's a warning Flowing Wells Superintendent Nic Clement would like to have had back in January.

"I would rather have an early alert to something going on rather than a police report be made and TPD show up at our door early in the morning," Clement said.

Clement says the district hasn't looked into the Social Net Watcher program or any other social media monitoring systems.

"You've got to balance the privacy issue, freedom of speech issues, but balance those with school safety," He explained.

As a Superintendent for 30 years, Clement says you want to be on the cutting edge, but you don't want to get cut.

"You don't just jump right into it," he said. "You test it out, see how it's worked, but you also don't wait forever."

A terrifying scene played out in Ohio last year when 17-year-old T.J. Lane opened fire on his classmates, killing three of them and injuring two others. It's a shooting Bruce Canal says could have possibly been prevented with Social Net Watcher.

"He had 11 postings, 30 days in advance of the time he shot three kids and shot two others at Chardon High School," he said. "Of those 11, we had 10 matches. Social Net Watcher would have caught this kid."

Not everyone is sold on the idea of Social Net Watcher scanning their students' Facebook pages. We stopped by Pueblo High School on Tucson's south side, and parents had mixed reactions.

"I think it's more of a big brother thing," one father said. "I don't think it's necessarily the place of the school to monitor Facebook accounts. I think it's more up to the parents to take care of that at home and not at school."

Even if Social Net Watcher is in your student's district, parents and students have to agree to take part.

"It's only an invasion of privacy, if they're doing something wrong," another Pueblo parent said. "So if they're not doing anything wrong and don't have anything to hide it's OK."

Social Net Watcher is right now in five school districts across the country. Bruce Canal says they've caught some instances of bullying, but so far no serious threats of violence. Canal says if the threats are posted, they'll catch them.

Right now there are no school districts in Southern Arizona working with Social Net Watcher.

Would you support your child's school district inquiring about the program? Let us know right now on our Tucson News Now Facebook page where we have a poll. We will discuss the results tomorrow morning on KOLD News 13 Live This Morning and Fox 11 Daybreak.

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