No “LOL” matter: Should colleges censor their athletes’ use of social media?

No “LOL” matter: Should colleges censor their athletes’ use of social media?

by Ashley McKenna ’15

Social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, can be a double-edged sword: They give people the ability to voice their opinion, but not without risk. Many users don’t consider the possible consequences before posting something. A simple tweet or post from a college athlete might seem harmless at the time, but it can come back to haunt them.

social-media-sportsCase in point: During the 2011 season, Western Kentucky University running back Antonio Andrews was suspended after he tweeted critical comments about his team’s fans: “One thing I can say bout #UKfans is they loyal. No matter how sorry they team is they always support them. Can’t say that bout #WKUfans smh.” Andrews later apologized, saying the comments were directed at one person, not the entire fan base. But there have been many similar incidents involving other college athletes.

Time magazine recently reported that some colleges and universities are banning athletes from using social media altogether, while others have begun monitoring posts made by the school’s athletes. For those latter institutions, apps are available which some schools require their athletes to use in conjunction with their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. Using a preloaded list of words and terms (to which the institutions can add their own), these applications identify tweets and posts that might be deemed inappropriate or offensive—before the athlete can post them. It seems these institutions, some of which devote millions of dollars to their athletics programs, are not about to let social media slipups bring the operation down.

These developments have some observers wondering if this is taking things too far, and questioning how much control these programs should be able to exert over their athletes. What rights to privacy and free expression should college athletes expect?

For its part, TCNJ’s athletics department does not ban or monitor social media use by Lions athletes. Instead, staff from the Sports Information Office meet with each team prior to the start of the season to instruct and caution about the potential risks associated with an athlete posting his or her thoughts and images for the world to see.

Social media is all around us; there’s no escaping that. It offers extremely innovative and helpful communications tools, but each post someone makes has the potential of opening a can of worms, regardless of whether the words or images are misinterpreted.

As other institutions continue to ponder whether to monitor their athletes’ social media presence, to ban social media use altogether, or to allow the athletes themselves to be responsible for what they say, one thing seems certain: Social media users should watch what they tweet, because they never know how it might come back to haunt them.

Editor’s note:  The writer is a student worker in TCNJ’s Office of Sports Information.





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