Many schools have decided to regularly monitor their athletes’ social media use—and several private companies have popped up to help those schools at the task.
Kevin Long is the CEO and creator of UDiligence, a service that monitors Facebook and Twitter posts made by college athletes.
After a sports team or an entire athletic department signs up for Long’s service, athletes are instructed to install an app on Facebook and Twitter. A computer program then filters through the players’ past and current posts and tweets, searching for over 400 keywords such as “stripper” and “shotgun.” When even a photo caption or comment contains one of the keywords, it is added to a list of alerts that is sent daily to the athlete and periodically to the athletic department.
Big-name institutions such as the University of Texas at Austin, Louisiana State University, and the University of Florida have signed up for the service, which launched in 2007. Long said that three Ivy League schools have contacted him about the service, though none have signed up yet.
These days, business is booming for UDiligence.
“As more and more incidents [occur] where athlete posts things that end up in the media, it certainly has increased the interest in making sure athletes are responsible about what they are posting,” Long said.
According to Long, UDiligence has seen a significant increase in the number of inquiries since the NCAA’s decision to rebuke UNC.
Rights advocates have raised concerns that monitoring services such as UDiligence may chill students’ speech. Moreover, some have raised doubts about the effectiveness of such services. Once something has already been posted on a social network, it is impossible to completely retract, as somebody else may already have taken a picture or saved a copy of the offensive text or photo.
According to Bradley Shear, an attorney who writes a blog about social media law, lawyers have at times dissuaded universities from signing up for such services due to liability issues. If a student were to write a post online about committing a crime, the school could be blamed for negligence if it failed to take action after seeing that information via social media monitoring.
Nevertheless, UDiligence and other products like it are increasingly popular.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
In keeping with the rest of the Ivy League, the Harvard athletic department at present does not rely on the aid of one of these services or enforce any across-the-board rules regarding athletes’ social media use.
The absence of departmental policies puts the onus on coaches to determine protocol for their teams.
Harvard football coach Tim Murphy has chosen to educate rather than monitor. Instead of policing the online action of his 100-plus players, a daunting logistical feat, he reminds his players that they represent more than themselves, and he turns to examples of social media use that have hurt other programs to drill his point home.
He said that he is no fan of social media use. “From my standpoint, the less you put out on social networks, the better,” he said in an interview with The Crimson during the football season.
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