Information Security

Study Shows Millions of Student Privacy Breaches on Social Media

A 15-year study of 18 million Facebook posts linked to U.S. schools and school districts shows that millions of students have been unintentionally put at risk by identifiable images, names, and locations available to the public.

The study, “Posts About Students on Facebook: A Data Ethics Perspective,” was conducted by six researchers from various schools and universities and published in Educational Researcher, the journal of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). The researchers used CrowdTangle to access public posts on all U.S. public schools and found that nearly 14 million pages contained individual images. Of those, nearly 5 million were identifiable as students, and about three-quarters of those gave first and last names. “The posts we studied may represent the largest existing collection of publicly accessible, identifiable images of minors,” said study co-author Joshua M. Rosenberg, assistant professor of STEM education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The study notes that while government agencies in the U.S. and abroad may access such data for legitimate purposes, it may also be obtained by others for harmful or illegal purposes. Citing data from the Australian government that tens of millions of images from social media of minors have been downloaded and saved on child exploitation sites, the study calls on governments, schools, social media platforms and parents to take certain steps to prevent or reduce risks. A video of Rosenberg discussing the findings and implications of the study can be found here.

To access the study, visit the citation page.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.