Student athletes at various universities are finding out that they have no expectation of privacy with regards to their use of social media. A recent revision in the handbook of the University of North Carolina states:
“Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings. The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes’ posts.”
These students are often required to ‘friend’ either a coach or compliance offer to give the school access to content behind the social media sites own privacy-wall. Once this has been granted the school can monitor all public and semi-public posts by the student on that site, or use a social media monitoring service as provided by UDiligence or Carsity Monitor to automate the task for them. This granting of this access is far from voluntary in most cases, as if the student refuses to give access to their social media, the school can refuse to provide access to sports.
This practice brings up obvious First Amendment concerns. Bradley Shear, a DC lawyer is concerned at the implications for free speech and how far the slippery slope extends downwards.
“I can’t believe some people think it’s OK to do this,” he said. “Maybe it’s OK if you live in a totalitarian regime, but we still have a Constitution to protect us. It’s not a far leap from reading people’s Facebook posts to reading their email. … As a society, where are we going to draw the line?”
Two years ago North Carolina defensive linesman Marvin Austin became the subject of an NCAA investigation into improper conduct after he tweeted about expensive purchases. Incidents like these have led to some schools pursuing aggressive policies with regard to social media.
But avoiding an uncomfortable moment is not a good enough reason to squash free speech, Spear says. Plenty of settled case law in the U.S. sides with students’ rights to express themselves publicly, he said, including numerous cases involving student newspapers. Public displays of protest are also protected: A landmark 1969 Supreme Court decisions known as Tinker vs. the Des Moines School District said school officials couldn’t prevent students from wearing armbands protesting the Vietnam War as long as they weren’t inciting violence.
It also seems likely that the social media themselves will be far from enthused by the school’s policies. Faced with the possibility of extremely negative consequences if they use social media, many students will feel they have little choice but to abandon it entirely.