Social Media Archiving for Schools: Risk Management in K-12 Education

December 01, 2020 by Jatheon

K-12 schools, universities and other educational institutions rely on digital communication technologies for their day-to-day operation. This means they are also required to adhere to compliance legislation that regulates electronic data retention.

There are a number of laws that school districts need to abide by, the two essential ones including FERPA and FOIA. However, there are numerous situations and channels that schools need to monitor in order to capture communication on various channels and spot policy violations, thus preventing any potential incidents.

The number of social media channels is on the rise, and schools and teachers are increasingly relying on them to communicate with their students. In situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, schools are placed under even higher pressure to ensure they operate in line with records management regulations and deliver classes properly

So, today, we’re going to cover social media archiving for K12 districts and discuss topics such as:

  • where email archiving fits into K12 records management
  • why social media archiving matters to schools
  • how to manage risks in K12 education
  • how to stay compliant with relevant archiving regulations.

Why archive email and social media in the first place

Most of the critical and often sensitive student information flows through the school’s email system. This system is also used to facilitate teacher-parent communication, as well as the exchange of documents, official records, contracts and invoices.

In recent years, the majority of school districts have become accustomed to adopting email archiving technology. This way, they could automate centralized storage, protection and discovery of all email communication flowing through their schools.

Before email archiving, this information was often lost or locked away in individual mailboxes. This caused a lot of frustration to school administration and IT staff, who couldn’t access the data when they needed it the most. In turn, this slowed down the workflow, dampened efficiency, and caused a lot of room for data mismanagement.

Email and social media archiving ensures that all this information, exchanged across various communication channels, is stored, backed-up and safeguarded centrally on an ongoing basis.

Plus, archiving solutions have search and discovery tools built into them to ensure that organizations have access to the specific information they need, when they need it. This helps ensure efficiency and compliance.

So what happens to school districts without an archiving tool?

Without a dedicated solution, schools may find themselves in trouble if required to produce historical email records under a subpoena.

At other times, the presence of historical email records may help the school in building a case against a former employee. In this scenario, email archiving is an invaluable tool for an in house investigation, monitoring for workplace harassment, or arbitration of employee tribunal cases before going to court.

Why does social media archiving matter to school districts?

Capturing and archiving business data is vitally important, no matter the industry. But email is no longer the only electronic channel that’s used to exchange information.

Collaborative systems like social media and instant messaging platforms offer a sense of immediacy and conversation that’s hard for email to match.

Near-instantaneous communication facilitates problem-solving and quick clarifications of instructions, so it’s no surprise these conversational tools are popular.

The education sector is quite dynamic—schools, colleges and universities were the first organizations to fully and enthusiastically embrace new technologies such as social media and BYOD. It’s easy to find plenty of stats that speak to the importance of social media in education and show why K12 districts need to be able to properly archive them:

  • Since January 2017, the global use of social media has increased by 13%.
  • A 2018 research showed that 80% of colleges used Facebook to attract applicants.
  • According to Pew Research Center’s survey Teens, Social Media and Technology 2018, 95% of US teens aged 13-17 have access to a smartphone, 85% are on YouTube and 72% are on Instagram.
  • 75% of school pupils grades 7 through 12 have at least one social media profile.
  • According to EdTechReview, 59% of students who use social networks talk about education topics.
  • The same source found that out of those students who mention education topics on their social networks, 50% of them speak specifically about schoolwork.
  • In a country where the number of school shootings has risen by 27% in the last 5 years and suicide is the third leading cause of death among persons aged 10-14, having a comprehensive social media monitoring strategy sounds like a logical and mandatory step for every school district.

At the same time, based on the interviews that Education World conducted with K-12 school principals and IT leaders, most schools use social media and IM tools to:

  • improve productivity and professional development
  • connect with students, teachers, parents and stakeholders
  • spread the word about school news, student achievements or upcoming events
  • use group chats to collaborate on projects

Here’s what a social media archiving tool looks like in practice:

K12 Education Compliance: Instant Messaging Troubles in the Education Sector

Tools such as Slack, Skype or Facebook groups are replacing email for collaborative projects and everyday discussions among teachers and students.

While IM platforms are a popular tool in the education industry, the problem is they don’t have any internal backup or archiving capabilities necessary from the compliance standpoint.

During audits, lawsuits or FOIA requests, school districts may be called on to provide records of discussions their staff and students had on instant messaging platforms, but very few have such records.

From a compliance perspective, this can be an issue as the school district would become subject to penalties for failing to comply with records retention regulations.

On the other hand, effective and comprehensive policies for documentation, along with the right tools, can both protect organizations and provide opportunities for development and growth.

It’s possible to capture social media and IM data and transform it into a granular, searchable database.

School districts that can effectively gather and securely store email, social media and collaborative tools data are protecting themselves if regulatory or legal should arise. Plus, they are also ensuring that important data isn’t lost to mass deletions or a lack of policy.

Social Media Risk Management in the Education Sector

Managing risk is one of the most important ongoing needs for organizations, and schools are no exception.

Plenty of businesses have teams or entire departments dedicated to managing various forms of compliance, regulatory requirements, and legal matters.

This approach to risk management, seen across many different companies and markets, hasn’t been adopted in a widespread fashion when it comes to social media. Many organizations still have serious concerns about using social media as a business tool.

A report on social media risk developed by law firm Dixon Hughes Goodman, LLP, defined the major issues for organizations hesitant to adopt and embrace social media. The four large reasons for hesitation or disapproval of official social media use are:

  1. Reputational risk and the potential to sully a company’s name. Consulting firm Deloitte pointed out that reputation management has to be one of the largest concerns for businesses.
  2. Regulatory and legal concerns, such as the potential for divulging information before regulations or laws allow it.
  3. The loss of intellectual property, like inadvertently sharing internal communications or trade secrets.
  4. Fear of a new, unknown and potentially complicated system, especially one that involves less than complete control of the conversations started and opinions shared.

These are all legitimate issues which, if left unchecked, can result in negative consequences.

However, there are approaches, systems, and solutions – like social media archiving – that minimize these risks and allow businesses to use social media effectively and securely.

Effective Risk Management in K12: Social Media and IM Archiving

With social compliance and monitoring systems in place, school leaders and other stakeholders don’t have to constantly deal with concerns of inadvertently sharing intellectual property or sensitive student data, divulging insider information at an inopportune time or breaking relevant laws and regulations.

Social media archiving and monitoring platforms that allow granular indexing and automated keyword searches go a long way toward eliminating these risks.

With such systems in place, the major issues that schools have with social media are almost totally removed.

By taking an active stance in terms of social network use, K-12 schools can:

  • discourage disruptive behavior,
  • establish stronger evidence and
  • realize the potential to mitigate legal or regulatory issues.

With social networking being a common activity among students, teachers and parents, capturing and archiving what’s said on those channels is important.

Various archiving and monitoring solutions have been designed to assist schools in capturing the information shared on social media and instant messaging platforms, improve compliance and facilitate Freedom of Information and eDiscovery response.

Because of privacy concerns, most solutions are still able to capture only publicly available posts and employ geofencing technology to retain only the data that has been exchanged on school grounds.

However, newer SaaS archiving social media tools come integrated with the provider’s existing email archiving software and enable single-platform access and control.

Such solutions typically capture content from social media, BYOD and enterprise-owned phones and have the ability to capture direct messages exchanged on IM platforms such as WhatsApp.

Social media and instant message archiving provides valuable insight for educators and administrators. The secret lives of students (and teachers) on social networks – lives that inevitably cross over onto school time – are revealed to an extent. The information provided by such solutions empower school leaders to take action against harassment more quickly than would otherwise be possible, even if the abuse isn’t visible in the physical halls of a school.

The prevention of bullying is not the only reason why K-12 schools should adopt social media and IM archiving tools. Compliance with local, state and federal laws related to reporting incidents with students is a major concern for school boards, administrators and educators alike.

A failure to follow those rules and regulations, especially when it comes to documenting confrontations, can lead to issues with regulators as well as legal challenges from families who had children harmed by such actions.

Monitoring turns social media data and IM chats into actionable information and compliant records needed for various legal and regulatory challenges.

Staying compliant with K12 records retention laws

Now that you’re aware of the importance of archiving social media in K12 schools, here’s a quick step-by-step action plan to help you ensure proper records retention:

  1. Create a clear social media archiving policy. Write down all points of communication and all communication channels that your staff and teachers use to talk to their students and parents. Have a survey filled out so that you have a comprehensive list of channels you need to monitor. What are these channels used for? What kind of information is exchanged there: this will help you determine the file formats your archiving tool needs to be able to capture.
  2. Educate staff and teachers, as well as students and parents on proper and safe use of these communication tools. This will help significantly reduce the risk of data privacy violations and will also help your school district stay compliant.
  3. Check all the relevant regulations you need to comply with. If you need a quick starting point, check out our education compliance checklist. It should give you a good understanding of directions in which you should go.
  4. Once you have identified all the requirements your archiving tool needs to meet, look for a vendor that can help you capture information from all social media channels your school is using. This way you’re ensuring full compliance.
  5. Keep track of how your archiver is performing and assess whether it is successfully capturing all information.

K12 risk management for intermediate units

Risk management in K12 archiving can be particularly challenging for intermediate units (called RICs or BOCES in some states), as they often need to manage dozens of school districts and assist them in ensuring efficient and compliant records archiving.

In case you’re part of a team at an intermediate unit, you might want to check out how Jatheon MSP platform can help you manage all school districts from a single interface:

If you want to learn more about how to archive social media in K12 schools, here are some more resources to help you get started:

Email Archiving Benefits for All Your Departments: Management, IT, Legal and End Users

Web and Social Media Archiving: A Compliance Guide for K-12 Schools

How to Create a Comprehensive Social Media Monitoring Strategy

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