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Social Media Policy Set Forth to Protect University, Administrators Say

Staff Writer

Published: Monday, August 29, 2011

Updated: Monday, August 29, 2011 11:08


"Think twice before posting: everything is public; privacy does not exist in the world of social media."

These words of caution are from the Howard University Social Media policy effective May 24, 2011. The policy, put out by the Office of University Communications, is mostly what many would view as common sense in the technology world today; "Get the facts straight before posting them on social media. Review content for grammatical and spelling errors," states Section B of "What You Should Do" under the Policy Procedures heading.

Some things, however, may not be as well-known to students, such as "Do not use Howard University's name to promote a product, cause, political party or candidate," according to section C, "What you Should Not Do" under the same heading.

 

Fallon Smith, junior Public Relations major, thinks the new policy is "a great step." "I can see why the school would want to protect itself. It looks bad when other people search for things about Howard and they come across something crazy," says Smith.

Quentin Cantlo, Howard University's Chief Information Officer, explains that there really wasn't a particular incident that led to the policy being updated. It was "decided last year to formally begin process of identifying every existing policy and modifying or updating to make them current, and make them transparent," says Cantlo. These mandatory policies needed to be put into place and/or updated because some of them had not been updated since the 1980's.

This was especially so in the case of the new Social Media policy (Policy Number 700-001) and the Acceptable Use of University Information Resources, Data, and Communication Services Policy (Policy Number 700-002). "When the University policies were last updated, social media and other internet realms were not nearly as much of a consideration."

Now, Cantlo estimates that "over 11,000 students and over 5000 employees currently use Howard University's systems. Add in suppliers, vendors, outside constituents, parents, and board members that also deal with HU systems, and you have close to 20,000 people who interface with the university via technology at any given time. Therefore, a "formalized group of senior executives" is reviewing all of the schools policies and updating them. "This was on the school's charter for 2011, and the whole process started in April of this year," says Cantlo.

But with so many users, how can the policy be enforced?

"Without going into specific details, Information Systems and Services can tell where things are being posted from--right down to the user IDs and IP addresses," said Cantlo. The University is taking steps to ensure the safety and propriety of its systems both internally and external. "There are several individuals who are assigned to monitor what is on social media" on a full-time basis both internally and externally.

When asked if she felt such monitoring constituted a violation of privacy or freedom of speech, Fallon Smith disagreed. "I don't think it is an invasion of privacy because people can still say what they want as long as they don't identify themselves with Howard when they say something [inappropriate] like that." says Smith.

The policy states that a violation of what is set forth in the policy "in the form of misrepresentation of Howard University or commentary, content, or images that are defamatory, pornographic, proprietary, harassing, or libelous, or that can create a hostile work/learning environment will result in discipline as set forth by the Faculty Handbook, Student Code of Conduct, Employee Handbook, Personnel Guidelines, or other pertinent personnel policies." This leaves a bit to the imagination.

Mr. Cantlo explains that the reason the policy is less than specific is because a "range of sanctions may be applied." This may include any and all sanctions mentioned in the various guides above. "There is a set of paper work that goes on," says Cantlo, "that will be reviewed and determined by an administrative committee. This may mean a formalized body of faculty deans and admin who evaluate each situation with student, and the same for faculty. Really it will depend on the situation." This may include up to expulsion for a student in violation, or termination for a faculty or personnel member in violation.

The Chief Information Officer feels that people should take this new policy very seriously. "This is no joke. The policy will be enforced 100 percent to whatever degree deemed appropriate by the deciding committee," he says. "I've already seen it done with a few people, employees have been terminated and students have been expelled. "

The purpose of the new policy, along with others like it, is to help ensure that the behaviors of students and employees while operating on social networks and other affiliated sites are appropriate and ensure safety and well-being of all--especially the university.

 

"With anything new [in technology] that is released, people around the world always try to violate or break in, then the creators always have to improve security to help protect it once they see where those improvements are needed. The same thing is happening here."

So far, says Cantlo, the majority of the feedback that he has received from those who have read and understood the new policy feel that the updates are appropriate and necessary. "If you look at any leading university, they are doing the same thing. Stringent policies for employees and students are important."

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