Eavesdropping on Instagram

The police and school departments in Lowell are preparing to hire a company to monitor social media use within the city’s borders, scrubbing public posts on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites for speech that could be considered dangerous or threatening.

Local officials say they need the monitoring tools to track bullying, suicide notes, and various types of threats, but civil libertarians tell the Lowell Sun that police and educators should not be spying on the general public.

“People should be able to criticize government in a free society without some cop somewhere writing down everything they say,” said Kade Crockford, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts’ Technology for Liberty Project.

The companies that monitor social media typically use algorithms to track key words or phrases in public posts within a set geographical area. Posts that trigger concerns are passed on to local officials, who must decide whether and how to act on them. The companies also help identify and track down troublesome posters.

Lowell officials are interviewing Social Sentinel of Burlington, VT, and Geofeedia of Chicago. The Sun reports that a Social Sentinel contract for just the school system would cost $17,000 the first year and $15,000 for subsequent years. Both companies monitor such websites as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, and Google+. Social Sentinel also monitors Tumblr, Vimeo, and Meetup.

Social Sentinel has a contract this year with the Washington County school system in Maryland, headed by Superintendent Clayton Wilcox. Wilcox told the Burlington Free Press the service is a needed tool for keeping school children safe.

“We have to go where kids are, and they’re using social media,” Wilcox said.

Geofeedia’s client list includes the Los Angeles and Chicago police departments, McDonald’s, several malls, and a host of other businesses. Geofeedia even helps journalists track down photos and eyewitnesses to breaking news events via social media.

BEACON HILL

Speaker Robert DeLeo is taking his time making committee assignments and The MetroWest Daily News is not amused.

Thirteen senators came to Lawrence Monday night and received an earful from area residents about public safety, the opioid epidemic, the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal, and income inequality, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Meet the state’s feisty, competitive new treasurer, Deborah Goldberg.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Two Boston city councilors want to add a new tax on liquor sales in the city to fund addiction treatment programs.

Testimony began Monday in the suit by Hingham officials to force the purchase of the town’s water system from the private supplier Aquarion under the terms of an 1879 contract. The town claims the system’s value is $58.6 million while Aquarion officials say the value is more than three times that amount.

In his state of the city address, Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera says the budget is balanced and crime is down, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

OLYMPICS

Some of those big-ticket transit projects that Boston 2024 backers said were already approved and in the state funding pipeline actually aren’t, the Globe reports.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Robert McDonald, the secretary of veterans affairs, falsely claimed he served in the military with special operations forces, the Huffington Post reports.

The US Supreme Court agrees to hear a case that turns on how legislature is defined, Governing reports.

The standoff in Washington, which has House Republicans threatening to force a shutdown of theDepartment of Homeland Security, could hurt efforts to secure disaster funding for the state’s string of winter storms. Senate President Mitch McConnell unveils a measure he says separates Homeland funding from President Obama’s immigration orders.

State legislatures around the country are increasingly being lobbied by corporate interests to pass laws to override local ordinances that conflict with their business interests, such as regulating landlords, building municipal broadband networks, restricting use of plastic bags, and fracking.

You can smoke if you got ’em, but…. Alaska’s new law regarding recreational marijuana use goes into effect today. Smoke in a public place, and you’ll get slapped with a $100 fine.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A new study says more than a third of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover their credit card debt, meaning a sudden emergency like a catastrophic medical event or other unexpected major purchase would put them over the financial cliff.

Rents in Boston continue to soar, up 4.6 percent from a year ago, with the median monthly cost of an apartment now $2,149, nearly $800 more than the national median of $1,350.

The Pawtucket Red Sox have been sold to a new ownership group including members of the parent club that plans to move the Red Sox minor league affiliate to Providence, a tough blow for Pawtucket.

A woman who co-owns a Boston video gaming company has pulled her firm from the exhibition space of next month’s huge PAX East video gaming convention at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center because of safety worries for five women who work for her company.

EDUCATION

Guadalupe Guerrero, one of four finalists to be superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, faces questions over his earlier tenure as principal of a Dorchester elementary school that wound up in state receivership because of years of abysmal student outcomes.

State officials give KIPP Academy charter school in Lynn the green light to add kindergarten through fourth grade, the Item reports.

A Boston Herald editorial rips state education commissioner Mitchell Chester for not approving any new Commonwealth charter schools during the recent round of applications and says the new governor should figure out a way to show him the door.

Former governor Deval Patrick will be the main commencement speaker at Harvard this spring, WBUR reports.

Many Dartmouth High School students, especially females, are upset about a decision by the superintendent requiring all graduating seniors to wear the green robes traditionally worn just by the males. State law mandates gender-neutral garb.

TRANSPORTATION

Former transportation secretary Jim Aloisi offers some short- and long-term advice for fixing the T without raising taxes. His suggestions include transferring T debt to the state, shifting highway funds to the T, and moving to congestion toll pricing.

Shortly after going on a rant about criticisms of the T at a press conference earlier this month, MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott said she was resigning, effective in April. Now she is saying she planned to walk out early on her three-year contract all along. She’s even giving high praise to Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration for helping her get the T back to some semblance of normal service much faster than she had predicted.

MBTA officials say they will consider offering refunds for poor service, WBUR reports. Commuter rail customers say the system is a mess, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Their impressions are well-founded, as T officials acknowledge that commuter rail service will not be fully functioning until sometime in March. The chief mechanical officer’s position with Keolis, the French company managing the regional commuter rail, has been vacant since August, the Herald reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Wilmington is moving to automated trash pickup, which will save the municipality money but probably reduce recycling potential, the Sun reports. CommonWealth surveyed the state of trash pickup in Massachusetts in its recent issue.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Manhattan jury found the Palestine Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization liable andordered the group to pay more than $650 million for a series of terrorist attacks in Israel in which some Americans were killed and injured.

The judge in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial reversed her earlier ruling and now says she will let the sister of the victim, Odin Lloyd, testify about texting with her brother in the moments before he was shot to death.

One-time big-shot lobbyist Richard McDonough, who is in federal prison for his role in the corruption scandal that took down then-Speaker Sal DiMasi, now faces new charges of pension fraud.

MEDIA

Boston.com has finally hired an editor as well as a deputy editor. The site has had a few miscues over the last several months that have been blamed on the lack of someone in charge.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

ProPublica and NPR rejected a demand by the American Red Cross to run a correction on a series of stories collaboratively reported by the two news outlets that cast a critical eye over the Red Cross’s response to Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac and raised questions about the nonprofit agency’s use of donations.

Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly continues to defend himself against charges he embellished his war reporting record even as more former colleagues come forward to say he’s outside the “no spin zone” in his claims.