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University’s social media crackdown draws major online backlash

Social media experts say university's Twitter crackdown will draw negative attention from across social sites

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A host of negative tweets targeted WKU Feb. 27.

A Kentucky university is aggressively fighting parody and criticism of school officials on Twitter and other social media sites, which students and free-speech advocates say is a constitutionally questionable attempt to silence any negative comments.

Western Kentucky University’s president has used Facebook to lecture students about social networking etiquette, and officials persuaded Twitter to briefly shut down a parody account dripping with sarcasm and criticism with posts marked “#wku.”

Officials deny charges of censorship, but observers say the school appears to have immersed itself in the policing of social media deeper than many others around the country.

Read more about social media controversies in higher education…

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WKU junior Autum Calloway, a psychology major from Russellville, Ky., said she will tweet about things going on around campus. But she chooses her words carefully.

“I don’t ever criticize the school on Twitter because I don’t want an ordeal made,” she said, noting friends have been scolded by officials for postings deemed to be poor representations of the school.

To be sure, it’s common for universities to monitor cyber-chatter. But WKU president Gary Ransdell has jumped into the fray himself, taking to Facebook to scold students about inappropriate posts. And officials say they’re considering a new handbook policy that would be aimed at preventing online harassment.

Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil-liberties group based in San Francisco, sees it as an attempt by WKU to immerse itself into the flow of ideas on Twitter and Facebook. Students may wind up choosing their words more carefully—like Calloway—to avoid running afoul of the rules.

“If you don’t know whether what you’re going to say is going to get you in trouble, you’re better off just not saying it and not getting in trouble,” he said. “And there you have it right there, speech is chilled.”

Any new policy also raises the question of whether a school could limit what students post when they’re off campus and not using school equipment.

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3 Responses to University’s social media crackdown draws major online backlash

  1. jrooney2

    February 27, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    Though there is clearly a free speech issue here, I also wonder why the school is not trying to communicate with students about the source of their criticisms. If students dislike a school or aspects of it, the school should try to find out why and work on fixing the problems. There will always be unhappy students, but policing their public opinions will alienate them, not educate them. Maybe the best approach would be to use Twitter as a way to build community rather than polarize it.

  2. susanragland

    February 28, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I’d like to add as with most things, there are many points of view on this current “crackdown” at WKU. Many administrators of colleges and universities certainly don’t want negative comments out in the universe; On the other hand, individuals do not like the feeling of being censored. It seems that a policy might include limiting use of trademarked logos and banning libelous comments or other illegal statements. Other than that, policy-makers should evaluate the line of censorship and where the policy falls in relation to that line.

  3. luz zenaida negron

    February 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Nowaday, communication and electronic media is also a tool of speech and learning. Students make free choice in attending particular college or university, therefore, at beginning they should be happy. Hurtfull comments are unnecesary as for all concern proper education, excellence and security is the most important issues of education and professinalism. Also, if you are educating yourself to be a professional it also applies to all aspects of life including open means of communication. If you are unhappy and concern, please go to your administrator and work for the best of all.

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