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Social Media Monitoring vs. Social Media Scanning: Know the Difference

Your Guide to Understanding Important Differentiators Between Social Media Monitoring & Social Media Scanning for Schools

The digital world is a complex place, and that complexity can be polarizing. On one hand, the accessibility of information through digital and social channels raises legitimate concerns around issues like privacy, free speech, monitoring, surveillance and bias – all of which need to be addressed and taken very seriously. On the other hand, because this method of communication is still relatively new in comparison to historical, non-digital techniques, there is an increased potential for misinformation from those without the experience required to be called an expert – which at times can be hard to detect based on lack of awareness and understanding.

Now, as if that wasn’t enough, layer in the life-or-death stakes of physical, social and emotional safety. This intersection – or collision – between all these factors makes social media scanning an especially confusing environment to navigate. We understand because we help people traverse these complexities every single day.

It is our hope that this resource serves as a valuable tool to help you and many others recognize the differentiators between social media monitoring and social media scanning.

Know the Difference: Social Media Monitoring vs. Social Media Scanning

These terms are often used synonymously, which can, unfortunately, cause confusion and contribute to misinformation regarding the process and benefits of social media scanning. Increase your understanding of important differentiators between social media monitoring and social media scanning with this free guide.

Social Media Monitoring vs. Social Media Scanning for Schools

Let’s get started with a few important definitions.

What is Social Media Monitoring?

Social media monitoring is the process of identifying and determining what is being said about a brand, individual, location, or product through different social and online channels.

When this technology is discussed in relation to locations like schools, it is also commonly linked to topics such as profiling, tracking, and surveillance. This narrative is caused by limited process oversight and/or a failure to take measures necessary to protect constitutional rights by the social media monitoring organization.

The following example, along with other similar story lines, have all played out very publicly in the news leading to a “big brother” reputation and a devaluing of the actual safety benefits that tools like social media scanning can have for school communities.

In October 2016, the ACLU investigated social media monitoring companies used by law enforcement agencies for surveillance purposes. Following the investigation, the largest social media companies denied data access to many monitoring solutions; forcing some out of business.

The primary issues raised by the ACLU were two-fold. First, social media monitoring companies allowed their end-users to profile and/or surveil social media users. Second, they allowed end-users to enter whatever search parameters they wanted with no oversight or accountability.

What is Social Media Scanning?

Fundamentally based in protecting constitutional rights, social media scanning respectfully provides awareness about imminent safety and wellness concerns via the analysis of language within various, public social communication channels.

Social Media Scanning DOES NOT:

  • Access private social media accounts
  • Look for or track protected free speech, protests, or other lawful and constitutionally protected language or activities
  • Monitor people’s phones
  • Use facial recognition technology
  • Use a database of students to track their activity online

Social Scanning DOES:

  • Scan public social media posts for threats of violence in text content and images, which can be seen by anyone, anywhere, anytime
  • Keep people safe by sending alerts of threats of violence or harm to others.
  • Detect “leakage” of the intent to commit violent acts when they are shared publicly
  • Alert people about threats such as bomb threats, shooting threats, sexual violence, and abuse
  • Provide awareness of threats made publicly by people who are outside of school networks, like former students or community members


Why This is So Important

The youth mental health crisis is well-documented. In 2022, Mental Health America and
the CDC both released data that sheds light on just how desperately students are in need
of support.

  •  44% of students report feeling sad or hopeless
  • 60% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment
  • 2.5 million youth in the U.S. were diagnosed with severe major depression in 2022

It is vital for educators, parents and communities to understand the risks that come with this level of social media usage and find ways to mitigate against the following:

  • Exposure to harmful or inappropriate content (e.g., sex, drugs, violence, etc.)
  • Exposure to dangerous people
  • Cyber bullying, a risk factor for depression and suicide
  • Oversharing personal information
  • Exposure to excessive advertisements
  • Privacy concerns including the collection of data about teen users
  • Identity theft or being hacked
  • Interference with sleep, exercise, homework, or family activities

How Does Social Media Scanning Work?

Now that we have outlined what social media scanning is and what it does, let’s get into how it works.

Social media scanning uses language analysis technology to process large volumes of social media posts to first determine if they are related to a school district, and then determine if they contain threats. By applying linguistic concepts such as sentence structure, word meaning, tense and tone (or sentiment), we can help analytical models better understand whether a particular communication is threatening or concerning.

These logic-based processes “understand” various pieces of language in a systematic manner and pay attention to the following:

Sentiment – Sentiment measures the emotional quality of language through analysis to help understand positive and negative emotions – words that express happiness, fear, harm, or anger. Clues about sentiment can also be derived from emojis.

Same word, different meaning – Sentences may have the same grammatical structure, but the meanings can be entirely different. Consider the word ‘shoot,’ which can be synonymous with ‘darn’, be in reference to a camera / photo or mean the action of a gun.

Tense – Focusing on tense, social media scanning accounts for when the harm occurs. An author may be writing about an event that will occur in the future (e.g., a planned school shooting), a threatening circumstance that is occurring in real-time (e.g., having a gun in a backpack), or a traumatic experience that happened in the past (e.g., sexual assault or abuse at home). Depending on the topic, tense is vital for understanding urgency.

For more information on how social media scanning considers the complexity of language, click here.

Social Media Scanning: Hot Button Issues and FAQs

At the top of this page, we mentioned valid concerns around hot button issues like privacy, monitoring, surveillance, and bias. Here is how social media scanning addresses each:

How Does Social Media Scanning Protect the Privacy of Individuals?

Social media scanning only scans public social media. Authors must post publicly and must self-identify in a way that connects them to the school community, such as someone listing the school’s name in their social media profile or following their official social media account. Social media scanning can only see the same things that anyone else could see, but we can scan with a scale, speed, and accuracy that no human could. For an alert to be sent, it must be associated to the school district through one of the methods mentioned above (or others) and must contain a threat or concerning language.

What Steps Does Social Media Scanning Take to Reduce/Remove Inherent Bias?

Language is analyzed in each individual social media post as it is scanned. It is not compiled at the author- or group-level and data is not collected or stored about individuals. This is the essence of the “scan, not monitor” mission.

Social media scanning mitigates bias by avoiding the use of historical or demographic information as we determine whether a social media post requires attention. Instead, the analysis focuses on whether the posted content objectively contains threatening or harmful language.

How are Those Who Mention Harmful Personal Intent Associated to a School or Organization While Respecting Privacy and Not Adding Bias?

Content alone triggers alerts.

When it comes to ethical social media scanning, if someone mentions intent to harm once, an alert will be issued. It doesn’t matter what their history is or what their demographics are. It’s vital to understand that it is the language of the post that is being analyzed, not demographics or past activities.

Because it is the content alone that triggers alerts, social media scanning does not provide the ability to profile or target people / groups who may want to do harm. Instead, it is protecting those who may be vulnerable. Let’s look at an example:

If someone posts, “I want to kill [name of the principal of the school],” the individual who posted is not the focus. Instead, the intent is to ensure the protected person knows about this threat. It is up to the school (social media scanning client) to investigate the author and determine the context.

Identifying Harmful Acts at Digital Speed

The world is changing, and school leaders must find ways to identify harmful acts at a digital speed – before they negatively impact their staff, students, and community.

We know you would do anything to prevent someone from doing harm to themselves and those around them, but how do you know what is harmful, and how can you keep up?

Social media scanning is a tool that can scan billions of digital conversations in near-real time, decoding intent and measuring sentiment to uncover harmful language across and about your school. It can help you find that needle in the digital haystack and, as mentioned above, alert you only when action is needed on the following:

Harm to Others

  • Bomb Threats, Shooting Threats, Knife Threats
  • Child Abuse

Rape, Sexual Abuse Digital Sexual Violence

  • Threats and descriptions of sexual violence
  • Digital sexual violence (non-consensual distribution of photos/videos)
  • Sexual abuse, incest

Scanning the Digital Landscape Beyond Social Media

Detect helps districts proactively address alerts of harm language and get a student the help they need when they need it by scanning school-owned sources and web searches, in addition to public social media, for suicide, bullying, wellness concerns, violence, and more.

  • Gain insight into harmful content in district-owned email domains
  • Signals allow you to get ahead of harmful intent before it escalates
  • Protect staff and students from harming themselves and others by knowing before it happens

See Our Full Threat Detection & Prevention Suite

How Can Navigate360 Help?

Safety is a human right, and our need to be connected is a human drive. The explosive proliferation of digital conversations finds some users posting their harmful intentions — publicly — towards the people and places where we learn, work, and play.

Navigate360’s social media scanning solution Detect provides schools with insights into those threats to help maintain the safety and positive climate of your school community. We do this with a commitment to protect our collective (and constitutional) rights to privacy, freedom of association, and freedom of speech; a commitment found in the DNA of the design and delivery of our service.

For additional information on how to overcome misconceptions in your district, please contact us at any time.

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