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

May 10, 2021 by Jatheon

K-12 schools, universities and other educational institutions rely on digital communication technologies for their day-to-day operation. Simultaneously, they’re 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 being 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. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have been placed under even higher pressure to ensure they operate in line with records management regulations and deliver classes properly, while students’ screen time has increased exponentially.

In this article, we cover social media archiving for K-12 districts and discuss topics such as:

  • the advantages and disadvantages of social media use among students
  • where email archiving fits into K-12 records management
  • why social media archiving matters to schools
  • how to manage risks in K-12 education
  • how to stay compliant with relevant archiving regulations.

Endless scrolling, cyberbullying and the (unregulated) digital world of social networks

How do teenagers and school kids spend most of their free time? Swiping, liking and commenting on their devices, on and off school grounds.

Students have near-constant access to social media and the internet, which can cause problems for school boards, administrators and educators. Between devices carried in pockets, laptops and the school’s own network of computers, there are plenty of opportunities for students to learn and do work digitally, but also to engage in inappropriate behavior.

Perhaps paradoxically, the success of the more durable networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok has been driven significantly by kids who use the networks to share content and communicate with friends. The issue with social networks arises when students use it for less savory purposes.

Bad news for school districts? Educational institutions ignoring that side of students’ internet use set themselves up for potentially serious problems in the long run.

Cyberbullying, sharing information that could get students in trouble with legal authorities or expose them to criminals, and sharing inappropriate content are all common issues in educational institutions.

While schools can’t monitor everything students do when not physically at school, they have a duty and a responsibility to work on prevention and assuage potential risks.

Unrestricted access to social media can encourage a range of risky behaviors among teens – cyberbullying has led to physical violence, self-harm, depression and even suicide. personal information and is on the rise among teenagers.

70% of K-12 kids have witnessed cyberbullying take place – a disturbing number when we know that cyberbullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

The issues for school boards and local governments are serious too. Students who have been bullied or harassed on social media could take action against school officials, especially if no plans or systems exist to mitigate such behaviors.

To ensure student safety, legislation has been enacted since 2006 and the majority of US states now have harassment laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication. Educators are now required to monitor internet browsing and use social media monitoring in order to keep students safe and prevent liability issues for the school district or university.

So what can be done?

For school boards, educators and administrators, increased visibility into potentially dangerous or harmful behavior could come from social media monitoring software and similar tech solutions.

Schools that create a record of what’s being posted on social media or what the students are searching have two major advantages – they can detect cyberbullying, harassment, self-harm and other risky behaviors in their early stages and identify perpetrators more quickly.

With the right solution, training and strategy, schools with a social media archiving program in place are in a much better position to avert potentially serious incidents before they occur.

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. Email 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 can 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. Additionally, this slowed down the workflow, dampened efficiency, and caused a lot of room for data mismanagement and non-compliance.

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.

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.

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

At other times, the presence of historical email records may help the school in building a case against a former employee. In this scenario, an email archiving system 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 enables quick clarifications of instructions, so it’s no surprise these conversational tools are so 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 K-12 districts need to be able to properly archive them:

  • According to Datareportal, the beginning of Covid-19 lockdown initiated a “monumental increase in online and digital activities”, with the annual change in the number of social media and messaging app users amounting to 13.2%.
  • A 2020 research showed that 97% of colleges used social media to attract applicants.
  • According to Pew Research Center’s survey Teens, Social Media and Technology, 95% of US teens aged 13-17 have access to a smartphone, 85% are on YouTube and 72% are on Instagram.
  • 75% of students in grades 7 through 12 have at least one social media profile, while the average age for opening their first social media profile is 11.4.
  • 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 the US, the number of school shootings rose by 27% in the 5 years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic (which caused the shift to remote learning for part or all of 2020).
  • Given that suicide is the second leading cause of death among persons aged 15-19 and the third leading cause of death for children aged 5-14, 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:

K-12 Education Compliance: Instant Messaging Troubles in the Education Sector

Tools such as Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp 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.

While instant messaging platforms are a popular tool in the education sector, they lack the internal backup and archiving capabilities necessary from the compliance standpoint. Click To Tweet

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 organizations 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 K-12: Social Media and IM Archiving

There are technological and operational measures that school boards and IT teams can take to minimize and eliminate risky social media behavior.

Since most K-12 schools already archive email communication for compliance, FOIA and legal requests, the archiving of social media content is just a small, additional step to full compliance and better risk management.

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.

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

Here are some social media archiving and monitoring software capabilities to look for:

  • Implementation – Social media archiving platforms are available either as add-ons to email archiving software (even within hardware setups) that the school or district is already using or as standalone platforms that retain only social media channels and/or communication on chat apps. Cloud deployment is the most typical in recent years.
  • Indexing – The solution needs to allow granular indexing and recognize various kinds of metadata, together with time-stamps.
  • Keyword searches – The social media archive needs to support advanced searches for keywords matching multiple criteria (e.g. date ranges, name of the person who made a post, type of action etc.)
  • Alerts – The solution should also be able to alert administrators of potentially harmful or dangerous social media behavior by automatically searching for pre-defined restricted keywords and phrases.
  • Direct message capture – 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. Newer technologies can 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.

We’ve already listed some of the major benefits of archiving social media for K-12 schools, but here’s a quick recap:

  • Mitigate legal or regulatory issues – 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.
  • React proactively to disruptive behavior – 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. This gives the school boards confidence that troublesome posts happening on school grounds or on school time are accurately detected and reported before the situation escalates.
  • Get actionable insight – 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.
  • Establish stronger evidence in student and teacher-related cases – When proving guilt or innocence, written records have enormous weight. Whether it’s an HR-related inquiry or various accusations – damage of school property, threat of violence, inappropriate student-teacher relationships or exam manipulation, social media conversations might contain exactly the piece of evidence that can make or break your case.
  • Reduce manual work and the risk of human error – This approach to social media risk management automates much of the rote work of manual monitoring, letting educators and staff focus on the higher level tasks of addressing harmful posts.
  • Improve student safety through monitoring – With the additional knowledge provided by social media monitoring, school staff are more apt to recognize patterns of abuse and correctly define a series of incidents as harassment instead of a one-off fight or argument gone wrong. Information provided by the continual monitoring of social media posts, chats and searches can be the key missing piece in the puzzle and empower administrators and educators to act with more confidence, ultimately improving student safety.

Staying compliant with K-12 records retention laws

Now that you’re aware of the importance of archiving social media in K-12 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.

K-12 risk management for intermediate units

Risk management in K-12 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 K-12 schools, here are some more resources to help you get started:

The Ultimate Education Compliance Checklist for Data Archiving in 2020

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

How to Create a Comprehensive Social Media Monitoring Strategy

Jatheon specializes in large-scale email, social media and WhatsApp archiving for the education sector. Check how our cloud archiving solution can help your district retain all educational records in a single secure archive.

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