Western Kentucky University Monitoring, Attempting to Silence Some Student Social Media Chatter (#WKU)

A rash of recent news coverage and editorial comment in The College Heights Herald, Western Kentucky University’s student newspaper, alleges a somewhat creepy campaign of administrative social media oversight and intimidation.

WKU has apparently been monitoring student tweets and Facebook status updates, even attempting to “shut down several Twitter parody accounts and is sending students to Judicial Affairs for tweets they consider negative against WKU.”  Specifically, “Corie Martin, director of WKU’s Creative Web Services, told the Herald she checks the WKU hashtag daily and sends information she deems inappropriate to Judicial Affairs.”

Additionally, WKU forced a temporary shutdown and a slight makeover to a Twitter account parodying the school’s president Gary Ransdell.  As Ransdell later posted on a WKU Facebook account: “We, at WKU, have become particularly conscious lately of some who are misusing social media and using some poor judgment. So my message here is ‘Be smart.’ Use social media thoughtfully; always remember what you send is permanent and can be viewed years from now. Employers do their homework. They can and will track ways in which prospective employees have used social media. We, at WKU, track such things as well.”

Along with this stated educational objective to social media oversight, officials mention a responsibility to protect members of the WKU community from online racism and cyber-bullying.  But such noble aims have been drowned out by an overly broad monitoring and enforcement effort, including a social media policy in the student handbook that Student Press Law Center attorney advocate Adam Goldstein chides as “not in the vicinity of constitutional.”

In an editorial response, headlined “Students Deserve First Amendment Rights,” the Herald notes, “It’s unreasonable to think that every day is perfect for 21,000 students at WKU. Students complain about busy-work assignments. They can’t find a parking space near where they needed to be five minutes ago. They aren’t happy that WKU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are in the shadow of 20-loss seasons.  Life happens, and students are likely to share some unpleasant or frustrating experiences.  They should not be threatened with repercussions.”

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