Sunday, January 24, 2010

University social media policies

Several of us watched a web conference last Friday produced by the University of Florida on Social Media: Some Legal Considerations (if you want a sampler start viewing at 1:15). I very much appreciated being invited to attend, but I have to admit I went in thinking that it was going to be a thou shall not type of session. I was not disappointed. To say it was negative would be an understatement.

During the session there was some handwringing about the laws not keeping pace with technological innovation. I fully understand that the laws have not kept pace. For the most part, however, it's not the laws that are creating problems for our universities. If people break the laws (FERPA, HIPPA, public records, piracy, sunshine...) then the laws should be enforced. Just like they are enforced for those who break these laws in the physical world.

My concern is with the policies we've been creating for social media that go above and beyond what we expect of people in the physical world. For example, I proudly wear my NC State hat when I am out and about the community. When I run into people they know I work for the university. In conversations I don't preface my every comment with, "Now realize, I'm speaking for myself and not my university, blah blah, blah..." I don't say, "Ooops, before I speak please let me remove my NC State wear." Yet, I am not supposed to participate as myself in social media spaces if I cross-the-line into my professional responsibilities. If I participate in a networked social space I am only supposed to do it through an official channel. In effect, I've been removed from the public discourse in the few areas where I might actually offer some informed thought.

The biggest problems facing our universities are not the laws governing cyberspace. The laws are not preventing us from participating in public conversations. It is our own policies that are the problem. They are killing us. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow*, the biggest threat to our future is not that people might do something inappropriate in social spaces; the biggest threat is obscurity. Our current policies are taking us well down that path. We need to fix them so that the new default is to engage. Abstaining from the conversations is not an option.

* For me -- for pretty much every writer -- the big problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity. Cory Doctorow


Bud Gibson said...

It's interesting to me that universities actually believe they can control their faculty. In sum, it's simply impossible. People conform to these policies in part as a self-sustaining justification for mediocrity. I'm not allowed, therefore I'm no good or not as good as I could be. From the administrators' end, it's more you're no good, so you're not allowed, allowing them to sustain a sense of superiority.

I say bullshit to all of it.

Kevin Gamble said...

It really is bullshit! Thank you Bud.

Did you watch any of the web conference? It really is quite amazing. No one is asking, "Where is the university's place in this new world. What do we want for the university? Nope-- it's completely CYA mode.


Suddenly Fourty said...

Perhaps it is because in 'social media', everything is in writing and can be stored for future reference. Compare that to your corridor chat sample where everything is verbal.

Kevin Gamble said...


Yes, that would be true. Plus it would be copyrighted.


Floyd Davenport said...

The program was depressing... we need to revisit our goals... maybe the primary goal shouldn't always be "compliance".

Kevin Gamble said...


I think you might enjoy an invite to the wave where this is the topic...