Proposed social media policy draws criticism from campus community
New policy attacked for 'limits of free speech,' skirting committee approval
Published: Thursday, September 15, 2011
Updated: Thursday, September 15, 2011 02:09
--Senior Reporter McKinzie Brocail contributed to this report--
A newly proposed social media policy from the Marketing and Communication department has some student organizations, faculty and staff questioning the policy's potential restrictions on Constitutional rights and the way in which it was created.
The policy allows the university the right to remove any material from groups that might paint the university in a bad light. It immediately raised some concern among some members of the Faculty Senate.
Paul Loeffler, chair of the Faculty Affairs Subcommittee, said. "(The administration) cannot physically or financially, control all of the propaganda. I do know there are faculty and staff that feel that this attacks their First Amendment rights."
Loeffler and several other members of the university have First Amendment issues with sections of the policy that state:
"The University claims the right to remove comments and content from social media accounts if they:
- Are inaccurate, defame, or otherwise impact the University's reputation and integrity.
- Include spam, repetitive/irrelevant posting, or other activities judged to fall into these categories.
- The University claims the right to remove any material…with the right to expand this list…without reservation or obligation to defend the action."
The SHSU Social Media Policy and Procedures Manual applies to any group who uses the trademarked "SHSU" or "Sam Houston State University" as part of their profile.
The affected groups must join the Sam Houston Social Universe, created by the Marketing and Communications department. The policy does not affect personal social media pages.
Another faculty Senate member, who chose to remain unnamed, reflected Loeffler's concerns and said one of the Senate's several concerns is the policy's "broad power" to edit social media content without justification.
"I understand the obviously inappropriate behavior they wish to control, and I don't believe they have any malicious intent," they said, "but I worry about how other individuals could interpret and apply this broad power in the future. It would be easy to cross a line into censorship."
Although Loeffler said he had not yet totally read the manual in depth, his "initial impression is (the university is) overreaching, and that they are not going to be able to control all of the users."
Faculty Senators and other groups said the freedom of speech, and other First Amendment rights, are a predominant issue they have with the policy. Randall Kallinen, a Houston-based civil rights attorney, said because SHSU is a public or state school, they fall under the jurisdiction of the First Amendment.
"(The policy) appears to be unconstitutionally vague," Kallinen said. "What does it mean when they say ‘irrelevant' posting?"
Kallinen said that no matter the university's intentions, the policy is a contract, and whoever signs it must obey all of its laws.
"Whether the university is screening (the social media), or not, a rule is a rule," Kallinen said. "The idea is that it is so vague a person doesn't know what they are doing is wrong."
Not just First Amendment rights are in jeopardy, according to Kallinen.
"It provides no due process, violating Fifth Amendment rights," he said. "The policy provides no process of how something is removed. It says they can remove anything without any sort of process to challenge the ruling."
Kris Ruiz, Assistant Vice-President of Marketing and Communications, said her department began the project to develop and implement a university-branded social media platform. Ruiz said University President Dana Gibson commissioned her department to develop a social media policy in 2010.
"We chose to build the SHSU social media platform using a ‘community' approach by connecting or aggregating individual social media sites," she said. "The primary benefit of being part of a social media community is the access and exposure to a much larger base.
Ruiz emphasizes the management and content of the sites remains in the hands of the individual organizations.