Controversial social media rules spark student backlash

SHSU student groups might have to change their names in accordance with new school policy.

Sam Houston State University’s controversial social media policy is perhaps the only thing that could unite the campus’s College Republicans, College Democrats, and the Young Democratic Socialists: The groups have joined together to protest rules that could affect their presence of Twitter and Facebook.

SHSU, a 17,000-student public campus in Huntsville, Texas, rolled out a new policy for university-related social media this semester, creating a “social media universe” that student groups can join on popular social sites where students communicate and announcements are made and discussed.

The school’s policy stipulates that any student group that uses the university’s name or abbreviation must join the official SHSU social media universe or change their name.

For example, SHSU Lovers of Liberty, an on-campus group, would have to opt in to the school’s “social media universe” or change its name to something that didn’t reflect university affiliation, making it difficult — if not impossible — to draw followers on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites.

The student backlash to the new policies culminated Sept. 22 when the disparate campus political groups sponsored a “free speech wall” and invited students to write anything they wanted on the wall – a protest against what students and free speech advocates have called a trampling of constitutional rights.

“The social media policy is in theory optional, but if it means this level of control over the name of an organization, that goes too far,” said Adam Kissel, vice president of programs for the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has tracked strict internet stances in higher education. “Student groups should not be subject to a university’s special rules just because they won’t join the official online community.”

SHSU’s social media rules were designed so unofficial campus groups that did not speak for the school were not mistaken for official SHSU spokespeople, Frank Holmes, vice president for university advancement, wrote in a letter published by The Houstonian, a student newspaper.