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Are Universities Cyberstalking Student-Athletes on Social Media?

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Ever embarrassed yourself by posting something on social media that you wish you could undo? We have all learned that you've got to be careful what you post on social media sites. Posting an inappropriate picture or airing your dirty laundry in a post can have disastrous consequences.

The problem has become especially concerning for student-athletes at colleges and universities around the nation because they have privileged opportunities in front of them that could be taken away at the stroke of a key. Universities have become keenly aware of this potential problem, and some have implemented a solution that is raising privacy concerns.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have been monitoring their student-athletes' Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media accounts using special software called Centrix Social and UDiligence, respectively. The third-party tracking software monitors the social media behavior of the student-athletes. All student-athletes at the University of Kentucky and about 500 at Louisville are required to install the software on their computers as a condition of participating in sports.

The software uses a wide-ranging watch-list of words that make reference to, among other things, drugs, sex or violence. Among them are "Cheat Sheet," "Doobie," "Beer Bong," and "Pony" (a crack cocaine euphemism).  In addition, at Kentucky, the list contains mostly names of sports agents, which if mentioned by a student-athlete might indicate a violation of NCAA recruiting rules. If the monitoring software flags a word from the list, an email is automatically sent to a school coach or official.

Emily Juhl, a volleyball player and a junior at Louisville, says that it makes her more cautious about how she communicates and that she does not know any student-athletes who are bothered by it. However, some students are believed to not want to speak out against their university for fear of being punished.

Bradley Shear, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who has advised state legislatures about social media practice, says the practice is "clearly unconstitutional" and "unbelievably outrageous." Shear says using the monitoring software is akin to placing a listening device in a student's home or car.

The ACLU of Kentucky also calls it an abridgement of free speech. Kenny Klein, a school official at Louisville, said the practice is not an invasion of privacy because, "you're not looking for things in a private setting, only things in a public setting."

Some states are taking steps to prohibit the practice of universities and colleges being able to monitor student-athletes' online social media behavior. Senate Bill 1349, which is being considered by the California Legislature, would make it illegal for a public or private college or university to require access to private social media information from any student.

UDiligence costs $6,450 a year for universities, and Centrix Social charges $6,000 a year for its monitoring service. Schools using UDiligence include the following: Ole Miss, Texas Tech, Utah State, New Mexico, Missouri, Baylor, Texas A&M, LSU and the University of Texas. South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn use Centrix Social services.

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