15 colleges with strict social media policies

November 21, 2011

School's enact strict social media rules for good reason.

Social media is so prominent, particularly on college campuses, that it’s difficult to find a college without a social media policy these days. The vast majority of college social media policies detail guidelines and helpful ideas for getting the most out of social media as a student or university representative, but some take a negative turn, cutting off communications, restricting what can be said, and enacting strange requirements. Read on, and we’ll take a look at 15 colleges that are doing weird things with their social media policies.

1. Sam Houston State University

SHSU has been in the news lately for their controversial social media rules that have been so restrictive, students are putting up a strong opposition to them. The university created a new “social media universe” for students and groups to join, which sounds fine enough, but it came along with a new policy that requires any student group using the name Sam Houston State University or SHSU to join the official universe or change their name. This means that the SHSU Lovers of Liberty would have to either join the SHSU social media universe, or change its official name. Students have argued that this violates free speech and goes too far in trying to control the use of an organization’s name.

2. Villanova

Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright has taken a hard stance on Twitter, enacting a Twitter blackout for VU Hoops players during the 2010 season. It was not a popular decision, but it seems to work for the Villanova program. Critics have, not surprisingly, been disappointed that the players’ tweets were snuffed out, but they do understand the need to minimize distractions for the players. And Coach Wright did show that he’s not completely anti-Twitter: he joined the social media site in 2011. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to let players tweet in-season.

3. Colorado State University

The Colorado State University athletic department has a strict social media policy, which does not allow players to “post anything to embarrass the team.” While that vague rule sounds like a good strategy, it doesn’t seem to have worked for the university. In August 2011, CSU made headlines for a back-to-school megaparty that included 2,000 attendees, 10 people who ended up in the hospital, and 10 arrests, including charges against two football team members. The event had been advertised on Facebook as “the biggest pool party of the year.” There’s no word on whether or not CSU has decided to tighten up its social media policy to avoid a similar debacle in the future.

4. Ontario College of Teachers

Although social media is increasingly being recognized as a great way to communicate not just through friends and family, but through colleagues, teachers, and students, the Ontario College of Teachers does not see it that way. Rather, the college advises members to avoid using social media for student communication, avoiding Facebook friend requests, Twitter follows, personal email exchanges, and more. Instead, the teachers should only communicate online through “established education platforms” like course websites. While some teachers and education professionals don’t understand the need for such restrictions, others applaud the ban as a way to prevent social media abuse from students and teachers.

5. Kansas State

In years past, Kansas State coaches have taken a hands-off approach to athlete social media interactions, but after some abuse by the football and basketball teams, including basketball player Jamar Samuels sharing that he’d be “getting twisted tonight,” they’re singing a different tune. After his tweet, Samuels was not allowed to train or play, unofficially suspended for his poor judgment. In order to head off any problems, the K-State men’s basketball team conducted a training session for social media, focusing primarily on Twitter behavior.

6. New Jersey Institute of Technology

New Jersey Institute of Technology was the first university to try out UDiligence, a big brother program that monitors the Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter pages of athletes to point out any posts that might reflect negatively upon the school. According to UDiligence, anything that gets flagged will be sent in an email alert to coaches and administrators so that they are able to take action. Schools, including the New Jersey Institute of Technology, find great value in the program, paying in the neighborhood of $5,000 for coverage of 500 athletes. Although New Jersey was the first, they’re certainly not the only ones, with now dozens of teams using the program to keep an eye on the online activities of their students.

7. University of North Carolina

In 2010, the University of North Carolina was slapped with allegations of potentially major violations in the football program from the NCAA. The school was accused of not watching its football social media well enough, failing to catch violations. Critics have argued whether social media monitoring of athletes and other students may violate privacy rights or lead to mistaken assumptions, but UNC’s opinion following the accusations was made clear: they laid out a strict Twitter policy. In the 2010-2011 Student Athlete Handbook, UNC’s policy states that “each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitor the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings,” and other staff members may monitor posts as well, with a variety of punishments available including removal of the posting and dismissal from the team.

8. University of Colorado

The University of Colorado is quick to point out the fact that they “don’t regulate adult behavior, with the exception of academic dishonesty and criminality.” The school’s general social media policy is relaxed, with guidelines for departments to follow before getting online. And while this works for the general student, faculty, and staff population, athletes at CU follow a stricter set of rules when posting online in light of the often intense scrutiny that CU athletes, especially football players, experience. One strict CU athletics social media rule that’s been made publicly available: football players are not allowed to post or tweet anything about the team.

9. Ohio State University Medical Center

Ohio State takes a somewhat hypocritical social media stance when it comes to its Medical Center employees. In one sentence, the university points out the benefits of employees engaging with patients and the community to make health care more personal, but in the next, lays down the law that employees may not use social media for work purposes. According to the Social Media Participation Policy, “you, the employee, may use Social Media for personal use only during non-working time.” We’re not sure how employees can help personalize health care when they can’t actually talk about it, and it certainly doesn’t seem fair to expect them to engage as a health care professional off the clock.

10. Montana State University

Montana State University’s athletics department seems to encourage social media among staff and players, but their rules are a little too restrictive to truly allow users to express themselves. For example, restricting students and others from sharing confidential information like lawsuits and the hiring or firing of staff members certainly seems reasonable, and most people support the university in their pursuit to keep what’s private under wraps. But at the same time, restricting posters from “link[ing] to an external site promoting a product or service that is not affiliated with Bobcat Athletics without talking to the Marketing Director or Bobcat Sports Properties first” may be holding players back from sharing something as simple as a link to their favorite restaurant where they’re enjoying dinner. But perhaps the most baffling rule found in MSU’s policy is this: “Do not post information about specific student-athletes, unless it is related to an award or honor.” That means, unless a teammate wins an award, players can’t share updates about spending time with them or what a great job they’ve done at a game, which just seems odd.

11. Eastern University

Eastern University is, like MSU, one that seems to be open and welcoming of social media, but is still unnecessarily restrictive. And although we can understand the reasoning behind some of the strange rules enacted by the Eastern University Communications Office, we have a hard time believing that everyone keeps up with them. For example, the policy requires all Facebook group pages to have a minimum of one update per week so as not to sit inactive: a good idea in theory until summer comes around, or during busy seasons at the university. Another nitpicky rule in the policy is Twitter account naming, which requires all accounts to begin with “Eastern” followed by the department or organization, but never allowing underscores or numerals. Like Facebook, Twitter accounts must be kept up to rigorous standards or risk facing deletion, with a minimum of one update per day, which for some departments and users just seems excessive. Eastern’s policy certainly has good intentions, but it is just way too strict to faithfully follow.

12. London School of Economics

Social media is all about being yourself and sharing your honest opinion, whether it’s positive or not. And while we’re sure universities expect professors, staff, and students to relay information that reflects well upon the institution, the fact is that not everything can be happy-go-lucky. The London School of Economics knows this firsthand, and was the subject of a critical speech posted by lecturer Erik Ringmar. Instead of responding positively, correcting misinformation, and moving on, the university objected to his post, which ultimately led to his resignation from the school.

13. Syracuse University

At Syracuse University, social media participation does not include creating groups to make fun of instructors. In 2006, four students at the university were placed on probation after creating a Facebook group: “Clearly [instructor’s first name] doesn’t know what she’s doing ever.” The group shared personal attacks against the instructor, and after punishment and possible expulsion, agreed to take down the group and steer clear of the instructor in the future.

14. North Carolina State University

While some schools like the University of North Carolina are criticized for not monitoring social media accounts enough, the same isn’t likely to be said about North Carolina State University, which takes social media monitoring to a whole new level. In 2005, a resident advisor discovered photographs of students violating the school’s underage drinking policy on Facebook, and used the photos to write up citations for 14 students. Some of the students who were targeted in the citations discussed the strange incident, commenting, “I feel harassed. I feel humiliated.” But NCSU’s housing director Susan Grant pointed out that the citations were fair, and the RA was just doing her job to enforce the university’s policy.

15. Columbia University Department of Surgery

Although most social media policies are friendly documents explaining how to get along with others in the world of social media, some are just downright scary legal stuff. Columbia University Department of Surgery falls into the latter category, and understandably, as a part of the school that deals with sensitive patient information. One would expect the social media policy to forbid actions like posting personal patient health information, and it does, but some of it just goes too far, reserving the right to “delete or block any post or user account at any time without notice for any reason,” and this lovely rights grab: “The posting of content on any the Department of Surgery Web or social media site, grants the Department of Surgery the irrevocable right to distribute, publish, display, or create derivative works of this content for any the Department of Surgery purpose.” But perhaps the scariest part of the university’s social media policy is one that puts users on the hook for damages that may be caused by their social sharings: “The Department of Surgery, its corporate affiliates, officers, directors, employees, contractors, agents, successors, and assignees are indemnified of any legal liability, that occurs as the result of a posting by an outside party on a Department of Surgery Web or social media site, that violates a law or creates a legal claim. Any costs, liabilities and reasonable attorney fees arising out of such a claim, will be reimbursable to the Department of Surgery by the poster.”

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