UF's guidelines on social media note valuable uses


Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 6:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 6:54 p.m.

A University of Florida faculty member who posted Facebook photos of himself doing jello shots with underage students five years ago helped lead to UF's decision to formulate guidelines on the use of social media.

UF Chief Privacy Officer Susan Blair cited the incident last week in introducing a draft of the guidelines to the Faculty Senate. The guidelines would apply to students and employees, covering the use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter as well as text messages.

The guidelines warn against using social media to make threats, false statements that could harm a person's reputation or obscene statements. Much of the policy reminds employees about existing regulations and laws protecting student and patient privacy, warning against posting evidence about violations of the law on social media.

"These are guidelines, they are not policies," Blair told faculty senators. "They are here to remind you about existing policies."

The guidelines advise employees that they should spend a minimal amount of work time using social media. They also apply to employees outside work hours and while using personal accounts when the use of social media affects their responsibility as a member of the UF community, according to the draft.

Mathematics professor David Groisser questioned whether the policy on obscene material would apply to using four-letter words on social media, which he said was legal and should not be regulated by the university. Parts of the guidelines appeared to be mandating personal behavior, he said.

"This seems to be overstepping the bounds of what a university, what an employer can ask of its employees when they're acting in their personal lives," he said.

An initial version of the guidelines was more restrictive on the use of social media, essentially advising against nearly all uses, said Jeanna Mastrodicasa, assistant vice president for student affairs at UF. She said student affairs gave feedback to show that there were legitimate uses of social media.

She cited the uses of social media by UF's housing and recreational sports departments as showing positive uses. Housing uses Facebook to interact with students and applicants about issues such as fee deadlines, while recreational sports announces times for activities on Twitter.

Some people are more comfortable exchanging information online than face-to-face, but the flip side is that online communication lacks nuance and comments can appear negative, said Reynol Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania who studies social media.

He advises against draconian restrictions that fail to recognize benefits of social media, favoring policies that encourage a civil discourse. Few universities have social media policies and those that do generally have them apply to specific areas, he said, such as patient privacy in hospitals.

Mastrodicasa is among the UF officials who have their own personal Twitter accounts, where she posts information about UF as well as her role as a Gainesville city commissioner. While she sometimes offers personal opinions on political issues, she said she wouldn't do so if those issues involve UF.

"I think when anybody is using social media representing the University of Florida, I think it's good to always be cognizant that you're representing the university," she said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176.

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