Growing public concern about the safety and security of schools has led many schools and school districts within the United States to hire private companies to monitor students’ online interactions and the content they create, including on social media. The use of such technologies supposedly increases schools’ awareness of what students are doing online and, thus, helps to identify and prevent potential issues such as mental health problems, cyberbullying, or self-harm that might otherwise go unnoticed. However, there is currently no evidence to support that social media surveillance or content monitoring is able to effectively address these public health and safety issues.
Thus, our study explores how the different voices present in the discourse – students, school officials, privacy advocates, and service providers’ representatives – justify or condemn the surveillance of student-produced online content in publicly available news media articles. We adopt a critical discursive psychology approach to study news articles, which were published in international media in the last 3 years (2019 N = 53; 2020 N = 56; 2021 N = 77), reporting on the use of digital surveillance technologies targeting student-produced content.
Results and conclusions
Three dominant interpretive repertoires emerged from the analyzed news media articles: ‘silenced students, expert adults’, ‘a solution in search of a problem’, and ‘the normalization of surveillance for a good cause’. Our findings show that, under the auspices of protecting children, schools are actively engaged in ‘doom-monitoring’, which is the indiscriminate and inaccurate surveillance of people in anticipation of the next bad thing. The opinions and views of adults, including school officials, vendors, and civil liberties advocates, dominate over the voices of students.