Debate Heats Up Over Social Media Privacy of Student Athletes

April 10, 2013 Kevin DeShazo Social Media Monitoring Tags: , , , 0 Comments

Over the last 18 months, the debate over the social media privacy of student athletes has heated up, beginning when Maryland became the first state to introduce legislation that would protect online privacy. That bill failed, but has since been re-introduced.

Since that time, California, Delaware, MichiganNew JerseyNew MexicoUtahArkansas, Oregon, Illinois andWisconsin have all passed and signed bills to protect the online privacy of students/student-athletes. Several other states (Kansas, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Louisiana, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Hawaii, to name a few) have similar bills pending.

Even the federal government is getting involved, as they have reintroduced the Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA).

Each bill is a bit different, but they each attempt to solve the same purpose: protect the social media privacy of student-athletes. The bills make it illegal to:

  • Request or require a student to disclose the username and password of their social media accounts, in order to gain access to the student’s social networking profile or account by way of an electronic communication device.
  • Request or require a student to log onto a social networking site, email account, or any other internet site or application, by way of an electronic communication device in the presence of an agent of the institution so as to provide the institution access.
  • Monitor or track a student’s personal electronic communication device by installation of a software application upon the device, or by remotely tracking the device by using intercept technology.
  • Access a student’s social networking site profile or account indirectly through any other person who is a social networking contact of the student.

For athletic departments, this means you cannot:

  • ask/require a student-athlete to turnover their login information (something I don’t believe schools are doing),
  • ask/require a student-athlete to log onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc in front of a coach or administrator, so that the coach or administrator can then see what is on the student-athlete’s private profile,
  • require a student-athlete to ‘friend’ a coach or administrator on Facebook (or require them to let you follow their private Twitter/Instagram account)
  • use a monitoring software – internal or 3rd party – that requires the student-athlete to install software on their account that gives you access to their password-protected information
  • use Facebook friends of a student-athlete to gain access to a student-athlete’s information


Many are asking what these bills mean for firms that provide social media monitoring services for athletic departments- like us, with our FieldTrack platform. Some claim that these bills ban such services, which shows a lack of understanding of both social media and how our service works. We’ve talked with many of the legislators involved with these bills, and are fully confident in the legality of our platform. Why is that?

First, we do not require a username and password. On the topic of requiring usernames: if an individual has a public Twitter account and you ask for their username, you are not demanding access. They’ve already given access to the approximately 2.4 billion people in the world with internet access. Demanding access would be requiring that they allow you to follow them on an account that is private.

Second, each bill has some version of the following sentence:

Nothing in this section prohibits a public or private institution of post-secondary education from obtaining information about a student, applicant or potential applicant for admission that is in the public domain.

Many SIDs and compliance officials have Twitter lists made of their student-athletes and coaches accounts. Some break it down per team, some just have one all-encompassing list. It’s a way to monitor what players/coaches/staff are saying without having to follow them, and without having their tweets be mixed in with the tweets of people they follow/are actually interested in reading. They make an extra column in Hootsuite or Tweetdeck for their lists and check the list as time permits in the midst of doing their actual jobs.

For many administrators in college athletics, the first thing they do in the morning when they sit down at their desk is scroll through their Twitter list and other public social media feeds of their student-athletes and coaches to see what happened overnight. FieldTrack simply makes this a more efficient process, improving their productivity.

As one social media attorney has noted, “Monitoring the public social media posts of student-athletes is legal. In fact, it may be advisable to check up on a student-athlete’s public online posts in the same manner as his/her real world activity.” (emphasis added)

FieldTrack, our monitoring platform, only monitors the public Twitter accounts of student-athletes (and coaches/staff). Fieldhouse Media fully supports these bills. We never have access to password-protected, private information. We are also the only firm providing social media monitoring for athletic departments who is not impacted by these bills, as we are the only firm who refuses to monitor private, password-protected content.

Why? We believe in the right to privacy online. You should treat every post as if it is public, but that doesn’t mean everything is public. There are privacy settings in place for a reason. We encourage student-athletes to utilize them, specifically on Facebook where individuals can have access to sensitive information like your email address, phone number, birth date and more. We created this tutorial to help student-athletes make their Facebook page private.

As we’ve said a number of times, monitoring is a necessary and beneficial service – if it is used to facilitate and complement education. But you can monitor without invading privacy. It’s that approach that earned us a 2013 Journal Record Innovator of the Year award for FieldTrack, our social media monitoring platform.

School around the country are using FieldTrack and, coupled with our social media education/training, are seeing changed behaviors from their student-athletes. Programs using both services are seeing a 44% drop in daily inappropriate/offensive tweets. All without invading their privacy. Administrators are realizing the difference, too. They appreciate an alternative to the “creepy” methods of firms they have used in the past. Student-athletes feel the same way.

It’s unfortunate that other companies have chosen to operate invasively, creating a culture of fear and distrust. Monitoring doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It doesn’t have to be the social media police. It can be a valuable tool for both the athletic department and the student-athlete, if it is done with the right approach and mindset. At the end of the day, you have to let what is private remain private.

Have questions about these bills and/or about FieldTrack, our social media monitoring platform? Contact us.

Fieldhouse Media is an award-winning firm dedicated to helping athletics departments get the most out of their social media efforts, from educating student-athletes and staff to providing an comprehensive social media marketing strategy. To find out more about us or to join the more than 70 schools utilizing our services for their athletics department, contact us today.


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