Should universities be allowed to force student athletes to have their Facebook and Twitter accounts monitored by coaches and administrators? “No,” says a bill recently introduced into the Maryland state legislature. The bill would prohibit institutions “from requiring a student or an applicant for admission to provide access to a personal account or service through an electronic communications device” — by sharing usernames, passwords or unblocking private accounts, for example.
Maryland’s Senate Bill 434 would apply to all students but would particularly impact college sports. Student-athletes’ social media accounts are frequently monitored by authority figures for instances of indecency or impropriety, especially in high-profile sports like football and men’s basketball. In one example, a top football recruit reportedly put his scholarship hopes in jeopardy last month after a series of inappropriate tweets. The bill’s authors say that it is one of the first in the country to take on the issue of student privacy in the social media age, according to The New York Times.
Bradley Shear is a Maryland lawyer whose work frequently involves sports and social media. In a recent post to his blog, Shear explained his support for Senate Bill 434 and a similar piece of legislation that would further extend students’ right to privacy on social media. “Schools that require their students to turn over their social media user names and/or content are acting as though they are based in China and not in the United States,” Shear wrote.
But legally increasing student-athletes’ option to social media privacy could also help shield the schools themselves from potential lawsuits. On his blog, Shear uses the example of Yardley Love, a former University of Virginia women’s lacrosse player who was allegedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend, who played for the men’s lacrosse team.
If the university was monitoring the lacrosse teams’ social media accounts and missed anything that could have indicated potential violence, it “may have had significant legal liability for negligent social media monitoring because it failed to protect Love,” Shear wrote.
On the other hand, if the school was only monitoring the accounts of its’ higher-profile football and basketball players, Shear wrote, then that could have been considered discrimination and the university “may have been sued for not monitoring the electronic content of all of its students.”
Do you think universities should be allowed to force their athletes into allowing coaches and administrators to monitor their Facebook and Twitter accounts? Let us know in the comments.