Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Utah Bans Student-Athlete Social Media Monitoring Firms

Utah recently became the latest state to enact legislation that bans schools from deploying social media monitoring firms that require students verify their social media user names and/or passwords. Utah joins Delaware, California, Michigan, and New Jersey in protecting their schools, students, and taxpayers from social media snake oil salesmen who are selling legal liability time bombs. 

The Utah legislation appears to have been prompted because of a Time Magazine article that discussed the student-athlete social media policy of one Utah school.  This academic institution appeared to require student-athletes sign a social media policy that stated, "To the extent that any federal, state, or local law prohibits the Athletic Department from accessing my social networking accounts, I hereby waive any and all such rights and protections."  According to constitutional law expert Professor Phil Closius, this student-athlete social media policy was "clearly suspect".  Under Utah's new law (H.B. 100), this policy is not just clearly suspect but against the law.

What does Utah's new law along with similar laws across the country mean for schools?  In short, academic institutions need to re-examine their student-athlete social media policies and education programs to ensure compliance with all applicable state and federal laws.  Athletic departments need to understand that social media is not just a public relations issue but a serious legal matter that requires the counsel of social media law experts who understand college athletics and NCAA compliance.  Drafting and implementing improper student-athlete social media policies may create millions of dollars in legal liability. 

Consultants who sell "student-athlete social media monitoring services" to athletic departments are selling legal liability time bombs.  Deadspin has already exposed several companies as having no connection to college athletics before starting their "social media monitoring firms". Some companies that are approaching colleges appear to be making material misrepresentations to market their services.  For example, how does someone transition from being a health care recruiter to a social media student-athlete compliance and education consultant overnight? 

The bottom line is that states across the country are banning schools from being able to deploy firms to monitor and archive their students' personal digital content.  These laws may cumulatively save schools around the United States hundreds of millions of dollars in monitoring, legal, compliance, and insurance costs.

In order for social media monitoring services to properly function students must at least verify their social media user names.  Absent student verification these services are unable properly work.  Furthermore, athletic departments should not be fooled into believing these services are compliant with all state and/or federal laws.  In general, these companies also claim their services are educational tools while others claim they want to protect the online reputation of schools and/or students.  Has anyone asked those who are approaching schools for their teaching credentials?

It appears that the founders of these companies have no verifiable experience that would lend any credibility to their claims.  Consultants who are marketing student-athlete social media monitoring services to athletic departments do not understand social media, NCAA compliance, public policy, or the law; and they apparently care more about making a sale than protecting schools and student-athletes.     

To learn more about these issues you may contact me at www.shearlaw.com.

Copyright 2013 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC All rights reserved.

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