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An Effort To Help Guide Best Practice on Social Media

Guy sitting down holding smartphone to log in to Twitter.

Social media has changed the world. It has drastically altered the way people communicate—anyone with Internet access can now publish their own content, talk to someone on the other side of the globe, share and access news the moment it happens, and access entire communities of people with just a few clicks.

These developments are incredible, but they can also be used recklessly and with the intention to cause harm. Unfortunately, SUNY campuses have experienced this first-hand, and as a result of such behaviors, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher last year developed a Social Media Responsibility Task Force task force to determine the best policies to have in place on campus to preserve both safety and the freedom of speech for students, faculty, and staff.

The Cause For Action

Social media was expanding in 2013-14, offering new tools and apps to communicate in different ways. Yik Yak, popular on college campuses at the time, allows people to post anonymous status updates that people can anonymously comment on and either “up vote” or “down vote.” Online anonymity is a complicated beast: it can allow individuals to seek the answers to difficult questions, find support from a community, or access emergency hotlines without having to reveal who they are, but it can also be abused. Detaching one’s face and name from a hateful or harmful message makes it easier to send that message.

Evidently, a student at SUNY Canton found it easy to post a threat to the student body on Yik Yak under the guise of anonymity in October 2014. The incident provoked a lockdown on campus and an investigation that ended with the student being indicted, and later sentenced to serve time, for transmission of a threatening communication.

A year later in December 2015, a student at SUNY Oneonta posted a threat of gun violence against the school on Yik Yak. Students notified campus police, and before the threat had the chance to take place, police were able to use information provided by Yik Yak to find the student and make an arrest.

Trying to Define Responsible Use of Social Media

The goal of the task force was to provide a set of guidelines for safe, proper use of social media platforms throughout the SUNY community. A combination of campus faculty, staff, and experts in digital media, the task force was able to put together a series of recommendations for best practice social media behaviors across the SUNY system. What they came up with

  1. Universities should treat social media primarily as a positive tool and not try to restrict its use.
  2. Students should be made aware that social media can be an important tool in building a supportive community and that a permanent, public digital footprint is created from their participation.
  3. Campuses should incorporate social media policy into their existing campus social policies and student codes of conduct, following the same consultative and transparent procedures that developed the earlier policies.
  4. Campuses should make their communities aware that reporting concerns regarding social media content so that it can be assessed and addressed by the institution works in the same way as reporting concerns in a non-digital setting.
  5. Campuses should make available training resources to faculty and relevant staff in appropriate use of social media. System Administration will work with campuses to encourage innovation and the sharing of tools, programs, and content.
  6. Campuses should collaborate in developing training programs and policies dealing with social media, integrating where possible with their code of conduct. In addition, campuses within the system should know what other campuses might be available to assist with monitoring social media activity in the aftermath of a campus critical incident.
  7. Campuses should utilize social media as a proactive tool for notification of emergency situations and adopt policies for such use. Leveraging the same medium where a social media threat is made to address the threat ensures communication with the same potential audience.

These recommendations are just the beginning. As changes to our online communications and networking options occur so frequently, we must do our best to stay aware of these changes and the effects they have on our behaviors.

To learn more, you can read the entire Social Media Responsibility Task Force Recommendations.

Written by Jenna Colozza

Jenna was a student assistant with the SUNY Office of New Media when an undergraduate student at SUNY Geneseo studying English literature.

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