14 News Special Report: Social Safety Net - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

14 News Special Report: Social Safety Net

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Some Indiana schools are hoping to better protect their students from school violence and bullying by signing up with a new internet company that monitors students' Facebook posts.

It's an alert system called Social Net Watcher and its creators say the goal is to prevent the next tragedy.

Twice in the past year, Castle High School in Newburgh was put on alert after threats were reported on Facebook. Both posts were investigated and no one was hurt, but it was up to a parent or someone else to see those posts and report them to the police.

A scary situation that this first-of-its kind warning system may be able to detect before those threats become real.

"It just scares me to have to send my kid to school," says Tara Cupp. "It shouldn't be something that you have to think about."

Cupp says threats of violence posted on Facebook made her terrified for her son and other students walking the halls at Castle.

"I was very scared," says Cupp. "what parent wants to hear that another child is threatening to do stuff to other kids?"

The threats in August and in January were investigated by police, the latter forced Castle to issue a lockdown, and increase school security.

"Obviously, we're going to take every threat we get seriously and immediately get involved in the investigative end of it," says Brad Schneider, superintendent of Warrick County Schools.

He says he's well aware of the true dangers online threats can present. In 2011, 15-year-old Michael Phelps shot a classmate at Martinsville, Indiana's West Middle School. Investigators say he had posted about his plans on Facebook just days before.

Warrick County Schools Safety Coordinator, Rick Reid, says finding threats early could keep a student from carrying out any violent intentions.

"Advance notice is tremendously helpful and anything we can do to know ahead of time, the better off we're going to be," says Reid.

Enter Social Net Watcher.

"This was not created to put kids in jail. It was created to thwart a tragedy," says Bruce Canal, a retired Indiana State Police trooper who says he developed the Facebook app by modeling technology used by the FBI. "Let's make this clear: There is nothing in the security world that is fool-proof, but this is just one additional tool."

Social Net Watcher is pretty simple. It works by scanning students' Facebook pages, cross-checking words and phrases with Social IT's threat database. If a match is found, then text and email alerts are sent out to school administrators.

A red alert means a possible threat of violence. Green is for bullying, and yellow is for thoughts of suicide.

"When a student posts it, within 60-seconds, that phrase, if it matches our database, would be pushed to our client," says Canal.

North Daviess Schools is one of three clients currently in Indiana and Principle Jed Jarrels says kids are signing up and it's working.

"It's critical, simply because sometimes you just don't know what's going on in the minds of kids," says Jarrels.

Memories of the recent online threats at Castle have stayed with Cupp and her son, and while she says she may not support the constant monitoring of student's Facebook pages, she believes something needs to be done before the next tragedy hits closer to home.

"I don't think you should be monitored, however, if you take it to the next level where you're talking about hurting other people, then yes," says Jarrels. "But where do you draw the line?"

When a school corporation signs on, students and their parents must give the company their permission.

Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, recently signed a bill that allows schools to use funding for school security programs like Social Net Watcher.

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