University’s Proposed Social Media Policy Results in Student Protests

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently released an article about an article about how a university’s proposed social media policy backfired on them. Reporter Alexandra Rice reports in “University’s Proposed Social-Media Policy Draws Cries of Censorship” that students at Sam Houston State University didn’t take kindly to the administration having access — and editing privileges — to their social media accounts.

The university released a new social media portal called Social Universe was deemed to be a one-stop portal for social media users at the university. The original policy draft indicated that any department or organization  that joined with a university e-mail account would be required to surrender their account passwords to the university, thus giving the university the right to oversee and edit activity on all accounts.

Essentially, this meant that any student, staff, faculty, department or student club with a Facebook, Twitter or any number of other online accounts that was registered with a university e-mail address could be monitored, edited, censored or even deleted by the university.

The students cried censorship. They staged a demonstration against the policy that included a “free speech wall”. That resulted in campus police citing students for creating a public disturbance… a situation which rolled itself into a second “free speech wall” later on.

In my humble opinion, if this university truly wanted to craft an effective social media policy, it would involve its users. By this I don’t just mean having reps from the student union sit on a committee, but I mean a large-scale public conversations over a period of time with all social media users at the institution.

Writing social media policies is tricky business. As this university found out, social media belongs to its users, not any one service or organization.

Policy makers are used to having all the authority when it comes to developing procedures, processes, and behaviour guidelines. Social media, social networking, flash mobs convened via Twitter and text and other forms of social interaction using technology have changed all that.

Power to the people has a whole new meaning in the era of social media. Policy-makers need to involve people, not tell them what to do. The old ways aren’t working any more, so find new ones that will.

Related article: Anatomy of a social media policy


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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