Be careful, if you are one of the estimated 1,100 student-athletes and employees at Ohio State, because you are being watched by big brother and big sister. No, we aren't talking about physical spying or cameras everywhere (although the latter is likely at all athletic facilities to begin with), rather we are talking about OSU hiring an outside firm to monitor all players, coaches, and other employees in the OSU athletic department via social media.
Yes, that's right. If you are a student-athlete or employee everything you say and do on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook is being monitored.
Who knew that actual companies exist that offer specialized social media monitoring? Well in the case of tOSU it's a company called JumpForward that is in charge of their social media monitoring.
Now, some may be suspicious of anyone monitoring their every move, but OSU athletic director Gene Smith assured The Lantern that that isn't what's happening in these cases and that the student-athletes are aware and consented to the monitoring. However, if you believe what Smith is saying then the hire of this firm is less about "monitoring" and more about "compliance and education."
However, there are some interesting key words on the Jump Forward website as to what they say they offer clients:
JumpForward’s Social Media Monitoring Solution, a premium add on to the Compliance Toolbox, helps collegiate institutions protect their brand name by monitoring student athlete activity on social media websites for content that is improper, damaging, illegal, or unethical.
The interesting parts of that language is easily the words "improper, damaging, illegal, or unethical." Interesting because two of the four can be left wide open for interpretation. Perhaps that's where Smith's emphasis on education comes in?
According to The Lantern, this is what Smith means by education:
“I don’t think you should restrict, I think you need to educate. If you do it the right way, (social media is) a great tool, it’s a great tool. That’s our biggest challenge,” Smith said.
The biggest problem, he said, is typically with first-year students.
“You’re taking the values from the environment that you grew up in and you’re trying to assimilate those into a new set of values and new behaviors and that takes a little time, you know? I don’t care where you’re from as a first-year student, that takes a little time,” Smith said.
“And we’re not the best at teaching you the rules in week one, you know, you almost need like a two-week seminar, seven hours a day on here’s how you operate at the Ohio State University. We talk about orientation — you don’t learn everything in a short orientation at the Ohio State University or neither do our athletes about the athletic department.”
Obviously there are issues surrounding how some use social media, otherwise companies like this one wouldn't be offering this service, yet some have a fear that this monitoring tool could be used to stifle one's free speech and lead to punishment because your coach or the athletic department don't agree with what you have to say.
To that end all you need to do is point to the incident of Cordale Jones from last year. You know, the one where Jones tweeted out a complaint about having to go to class when everyone knows he is at tOSU for football only:
“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are pointless,” was his actual tweet.
The need for an English class or three aside, that was just plain stupid to put out for public consumption and there's a great example of educating student-athletes on being smart with social media, but the troublesome part? He was suspended for the Nebraska game last season because of his speech.
So, if you whine about having to go to class you get suspended? What college kid wants to go to class every day and every class? I don't know of a single one that wants to do that. Jones no longer has a twitter account - no doubt due to this incident of stupid speech.
But that's not the point, the point is that this is all a new feature of college athletic department's compliance component and while one can understand educating your players about using Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, etc. in smart ways, it's tough to understand how you can curb one's free speech rights.
What are your limits? Just because you say your goal is education and not punishment doesn't mean it can't be used as the latter. Now, if someone is tweeting out use of illegal drugs or underage drinking or something else illegal that's a different story, but unless you're setting concrete lines that you will not cross there should be a healthy skepticism towards any type of monitoring.
Just because you become a student-athlete shouldn't mean you give up your rights to speak freely, just like any of the rest of us in this country. Whether or not you see this as a slippery slope or just an athletic department trying to be smart about the money they make and invest in the student-athlete it's clear this isn't going to be going away anytime soon.
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