University’s Proposed Social-Media Policy Draws Cries of Censorship

A draft social-media policy at Sam Houston State University—which would force anyone with a campus-related Twitter, Facebook, or other online account to give university administrators editing privileges—led to calls of censorship by students. Now officials say they will revisit the plan.

The backlash followed the university’s release last month of a new social-media portal, called Social Universe. The original draft of guidelines for using the portal stated that any department or organization that joined would be required to release its username and password to the university, giving the college the right to oversee and edit any activity on the accounts.

Some students felt the language in the guidelines was overreaching, so they staged a demonstration against the policy late last month, says Stephen M. Green, a sophomore and associate editor of the campus newspaper. The protest took the form of a “free speech wall”—a paper banner in the main campus atrium where passersby could write anything they wanted.

Kristina K. Ruiz, a university spokeswoman, says requiring passwords was never meant to encroach on students’ privacy or right to free speech, but instead to help with account management, particularly in the case of campus emergency notifications.

The language in the guidelines, Ms. Ruiz says, was only meant to be a starting point. “When you start off with a proposal and a draft, you’ve got to start somewhere,” she says.

The social-media committee, which is still being formed, will focus on the array of issues involved with social-media use, starting with reworking the draft of the guidelines, she adds. The committee will be made up of members of student government, the faculty senate, the staff council, and include a faculty representative from each college.

Protest Leads to Protest

The student’s paper free-speech wall ended up raising issues of its own.

Soon after the students set it up, a math professor says he saw the phrase “F— Obama” written on the banner, and asked the students in charge to take down the sign because he found it offensive. When the students said the speech was protected by the First Amendment, the professor used a box-cutter to remove the offending words from the sign himself.

The student groups involved with the wall then sought out the advice of the dean, who told the students to call campus police and report the incident. When the police arrived they cited the students for creating a public disturbance and told them to take the banner down or cover all offensive language, Mr. Green says.

The students chose to take down the banner.

Students later decided to hold a demonstration to poke fun at the outcome of their previous protest. Students set up another free speech wall, this time taping over any language that could be deemed offensive. This protest ended without incident, and there have been no further demonstrations.

Ms. Ruiz says despite the incidents surrounding the Social Universe guidelines, the college is looking forward to officially open the portal in the coming months.

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