Social Media Refresher

Ah, the joys of social media. We use social media professionally to communicate and connect to our stakeholders. As an athletic department, we use Twitter to tweet out scores, award winners, schedule changes, and other information. Twitter has been a great way for our coaches to stay connected to our kids, getting them information quickly and easily. Our athletic department uses Facebook to link news articles and post schedule changes. Where Twitter has created a good connection with the kids, Facebook has done the same for our parents and other community adults. BUT, there is a huge education piece that comes along with responsible usage of social media.

This is one of my favorite social media warning rants. It’s a poor quality video clip, but it’s fun to hear former NFL coach Herm Edwards issuing a warning to incoming NFL rookies. It’s a pretty good warning to all about double checking what we’re about to send.

For whatever reason, too many people are under the belief that the world of social media is a free-for-all. It seems like the news has a constant stream of kids getting in trouble at school or adults getting fired for their use of social media. Want a quick rundown? Google the names Ashley Johnson (North Carolina waitress), 2008 Virgin Atlantic flight crew, Andrew Kurtz (Pittsburgh Pirates mascot), Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools (Thomasboro Elementary teacher), Ashley Payne (Georgia teacher), Christine Rubio (Brooklyn, NY, teacher), or perhaps the best cautionary tale, that of Justine Sacco.

And, of course, the foolish posts aren’t held exclusively for adults.  I’ve read stories of highly ranked recruits being kicked out of prep schools, denied scholarships, losing scholarships, etc. as a result of dumb tweets.  After nine years as an AD, I’ve lost count of the number of students who have served eligibility suspensions for alcohol/tobacco possession related pictures online, and our principals speak themselves hoarse dealing with social media bullying related incidents.  We’ve been thrust into a culture where the very people who have the least amount of maturity and ability to process potential repercussions are the same group of people with the most interest in and access to forms of instant communication.

So how do we educate and combat this trend?  Great question since we obviously haven’t figured out the right way yet.  Unfortunately, it seems as if the kids only learn by either making a mistake or being around someone else who’s made a mistake.  In an attempt to drown the kids in warnings, the same messages regarding appropriate social media usage can be found everywhere.
From a website created to help potential D1 recruits,
From a website designed to help kids navigate athletic scholarships,
From universities,
From a website pushing information for sports parents,
From a website that helps students understand financial aid,
and From websites that offer to help with recruiting.
In addition, most student handbooks, including ours, now include some wording that student conduct policies are extended to internet and social media usage, too.

As an AD, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years reading into sports law cases.  In those studies, I’ve come across many cases and warnings for our coaches/teachers regarding the effects of social media posts on employment.  In response to that, I’ve borrowed pieces from many colleagues to put together the following guidelines that we post in our coaches’ handbook.

The following are important reminders and guidelines for coaches regarding the use of social media and/or technology.

  1. All social media posts should be treated as public information. As a coach, you are not granted the same liberties in social media usage as other adults.
  2. Your 1st Amendment rights to Free Speech are not protected when postings have the ability to cause a disruption to the educational process.
  3. DO NOT “friend” students.
  4. You may be held responsible for any visible items on social media sites that you had the ability to see regardless of whether or not you actually saw the information. (Again, DO NOT “friend” students.)
  5. When using text or social media messages, message your entire team at the same time.
  6. In the rare case that it may be necessary to text or message an individual, include his/her parent in the message.
  7. DO NOT use your personal social media sites to negatively comment on a student, a team, a school, a colleague, or any other connection to a school. Also remember, there is no such thing as a sarcasm font.
  8. Treat every text and every message – whether personal or job related – as if you were in the classroom or at practice. If you wouldn’t say it in the classroom, don’t post it on social media.

Is that enough?  I don’t know.  It seems like I still have to tell coaches to pull posts off of social media a couple times a year, and I still spend too much time policing our coaches’ social media presence.  I think we’re getting better, but I always feel like we’re teetering on the edge of a serious problem.  The best we can do is continue pushing out the right message and coaching our coaches to think twice before posting.

I’m interested to know what your thoughts are.  Should we be doing more to police or discourage the use of social media?  Are we already doing too much?  How do we find the balance between allowing individuals to be individuals without compromising the mission and message of our school district?  Send me your thoughts!

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