Social media use in distance learning raises privacy concerns

Dive Brief:

  • Connecting with students over social media raises equity and privacy concerns, The 74 reports. Though social media sites give teachers a convenient way to connect with students, children younger than 13 are prohibited from signing up for many social media platforms because they collect user data, which runs counter to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
  • Students also may not have access to social media or they may have connectivity issues, making content streaming difficult, and the practice can also raise concerns about the potential for educator misconduct. 
  • Parents are concerned about the digital safety of students, as well, according to a report from the Center for Democracy and Technology that found 62% of parents reporting they are at least somewhat concerned about the privacy and security of data collected by schools, and only 40% saying their child’s school explained to them how it protects this information. 

Dive Insight:

Communication should only be carried out on platforms with strict privacy rules, with only general information shared on social media. Educators must remember that social media use could result in Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) violations, as well as attract harassment from online trolls.

Cybersecurity concerns existed long before school closures, but the uptick in ed tech use during the pandemic has made the situation more precarious. The rapid shift to online learning has opened doors for cyber-criminals, which The Consortium of School Networking cited as a top concern during the era of school closures. Cyberattackers tend to target schools because they are a rich source of personal data, but often lack the funds for strong security systems.

Cybersecurity concerns encompass all those who use K-12 systems, including employees and staff. In a George Mason University report, 62% of educators said administrators encouraged them to use ed tech, but only 44% said they were given training on the platforms. As of June, the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center said there have been 867 district incidents since 2016, although the actual number of incidents is likely higher. Those incidents included increasing numbers of data breaches and ransomware attacks, which can be extremely costly for districts. 

After schools closed in 2020, incident types shifted to “Zoom bombing.” 

In September 2018, the FBI issued a warning to parents about student data security issues. The PSA said malicious use of sensitive data could result in bullying, tracking, identity theft or other means of targeting children. In March 2020, the FBI warned that students may become more vulnerable to sexual exploitation during school closures. Victims could be coerced into providing photos or videos of themselves after offenders contact children through online platforms.

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