Legislation says universities can’t monitor social media accounts

Schools cannot use social media monitoring software, according to new legislation.

Protecting the social media privacy of college students and university employees once again proved to be a bipartisan issue May 16, as the North Carolina House passed a bill that would prohibit colleges and universities from demanding passwords to Twitter and Facebook accounts, along with all other social networks.

North Carolina, with the passage of House Bill 846, joins a lengthy list of state legislatures that have effectively ended the brief higher-education practice of requesting social media log-in information for student and employee background checks.

The North Carolina legislation — which passed with a vote of 76-36 — makes exceptions for criminal investigations and employer-held devices. One state lawmaker, Rep. Paul Stam, spoke out after the vote, saying the new privacy law would prohibit schools from scouring social media accounts when they have good reason to do so.

The law, like similar state laws that have passed in legislatures across the country, would also make it illegal for universities to install tracking or monitoring software to keep tabs on students and campus employees.

Oregon legislators passed a bill through the state’s Senate April 21 barring community colleges and universities from asking prospective students for their social media log-in information as part of a school’s application process.

The Oregon bill passed unanimously, and now goes to the House.

Wisconsin lawmakers could follow suit, as legislators from both sides of the aisle advocate for a bill that would disallow employers, landlords, and universities from requesting social media log-in information from tenants or aspiring college athletes.

Civil libertarians were recently alarmed by a section of the University of North Carolina’s student-athlete handbook that demanded the school’s athletes must choose an administrator or coach to monitor their social media accounts throughout the academic year, a policy that prompted action across the country.

Oregon legislation wouldn’t stop colleges and universities from examining social media information – tweets and Facebook posts, for example – made publicly available. The law would, however, put a stop to the practice of combing through an applicant’s social media information kept out of the public eye, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison said in a statement that it would comply with any social media privacy laws, but would keep a close eye on links and comments posted to the school’s official social platforms.

The university said it would retain “the right to remove any content for any reason, including but not limited to, content that it deems threatening, profane, obscene, a violation of intellectual property rights or privacy laws, off-topic, commercial or promotion of organizations or programs not related to or affiliated with the university, or otherwise injurious or illegal. Users are fully responsible for the content they load on any of UW-Madison’s social media sites.”