The Washington State Cougars football team is winless and in last place in the Pac-12 Conference, including a 52-26 beatdown by national powerhouse Oregon. However, the team does seem to think it can beat one challenger off the field- Twitter.
Last week, coach Mike Leach banned his players from using Twitter, telling reporters,“Twitter is now banned around here, so don’t expect anything on Twitter… if after today you see anything on Twitter from our team — and I don’t care if it says, ‘I love life’ — I would like to see it because I will suspend them.”
If Coach Leach could get his pass-happy team to start tackling, maybe he wouldn’t have to worry about what his players are saying online. But Leach isn’t alone in his opposition to social media- Louisville basketball coach Coach Rick Pitino bars his players from using Twitter during the season. In fact, online monitoring for student athletes is now a growing business, though many universities, including Washington State, refuse to actively monitor students.
Nosey Without Being Nosey
Schools obviously don’t want to create an atmosphere of oppression and fear among students. As Jeremy Foley, the athletic director at Florida told the New York Times, “I’m not a big believer that it’s our responsibility to monitor that 24-7. If there’s an issue, we’ll deal with it. We’re trying to run a business here. We’re not trying to be Big Brother.”
However, last year the NCAA suspended the University of North Carolina football from post-season play for one year and took away 15 scholarships after one athlete’s Tweets kicked off an NCAA investigation. The NCAA suggested in its findings that universities have a duty to initiate social media monitoring if there is a “reasonable suspicion” of rules infractions. The problem now facing universities is how to protect a student’s privacy while making sure Twitter or Facebook posts don’t cause trouble for an athlete or the athletic department.
What’s a University to Do?
Instead of active social media monitoring, a smarter policy would be archiving social media content in a way that allows for easy searches and review of social media content when necessary. That would satisfy the NCAA’s demands that schools review public information from student-athletes in cases where rules violations may have occurred, but allows students to carry on with their lives online.
To achieve this balance, schools need a solution that preserves all content in their original, unaltered format on an ongoing basis. It might be tempting for administrators to rely on screen captures or printouts of social media content, but this is never a complete picture of online activity. Nextpoint captures complete posts or tweets, all associated metadata, and any links and attached content such as video files. In addition, ongoing preservation captures posts that may be deleted, changed, or otherwise disappear from social media sites. An online archive stored in the cloud also keeps costs low, as opposed to buying expensive software that alerts staff every time a student tweets a word like “free” or “drugs.”
It’s not just a forensically sound approach, but also allows for a less intrusive approach to monitoring that doesn’t impinge on students freedom until a potential problem is brought to light. It would also allow Coach Leach to spend less time worrying about social media monitoring and more time practicing tackling.