The University of Michigan athletic department has “formalized its social media practices,” following a “national trend of colleges tightening their grip on student athletes’ social media practices,” according to Kellie Woodhouse of ANNARBOR.com.
In the past year, two University of Michigan football players earned their team secondary NCAA violations by inadvertently tweeting at a recruit; a third-string Ohio State quarterback became infamous when he tweeted that classes are “pointless;” and a top-rated recruit lost his chance to play with the Wolverines after he authored sexually and racially charged tweets.
The Univ. of Michigan policy is straightforward, advising students not to post when they’re emotional, not to use offensive language or slurs and not to tweet during class. If athletes violate the policy they can be reprimanded or, worse, face suspension.
Some colleges go much further than Michigan, forcing athletes to allow school officials access to their private accounts, banning players from using a long list of words on Twitter (such as University of Kentucky), or forbidding the students from using Twitter altogether. Many schools have hired third-party companies to monitor athletes’ posts around the clock.
Read the current agreement: University of Michigan social media agreement for athletes.pdf
Read the guidelines: University of Michigan social media guidelines for athletes.pdf
Are universities crossing the line?
These actions being taken by universities have already begun to see kick back by state legislatures such as California and Delaware. Social media is a new forum for speech that everyone is struggling to understand how to control. Everyone seeking to limit the reach and use of social media need to remember that social media is an avenue for protected speech. Users must also remember they will be held accountable for their actions and opinions. It seems universities have taken it upon themselves to protect their investment and make sure that athletes are aware of the power of their words.
So the question is, “Is it proper for universities to limit the speech of athletes by putting parameters on their social media use?”
This is an over-excerise of authority and I think universities will continue to see increasing backlash for these kinds of activities. Athletes voicing their opinions via social media is protected speech under the first amendment and should be protected accordingly. Therefore, athletes should have the right to voice opinions as they see fit but they need to be prepared to deal with the consequences that follow. I do think its a concern that athletes and students alike are posting recklessly. However, universities should invest their resources into training athletes about appropriate social media use as opposed to instituting rigid policies.
Although universities are not bound by the National Labor Relations Act as it relates to their athletes they should use the National Labor Relations Board‘s guidelines and rulings as guidance when adopting a social media policy.
A Lesson for Students
Students should take a lesson from these policies. Your social media use matters and can be the difference between success and failure. Not only is it important to athletes who find themselves in the public eye but to the job or internship-seeker who will be throughly searched online. Although you should retain the right to post whatever you want, make sure you are careful with what you post and the privacy settings you use. Your online reputation always proceeds you make sure you put your best foot forward.