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Understanding the Potential Pitfalls of Social Media

Whether it’s the professor who creates Twitter backchannels in his courses, the admissions counselor who uses Facebook to engage prospective students, or the librarian who tweets about available resources in the library, higher education professionals have come up with a variety of creative ways to use social media both in and outside of the classroom.

“Why is social media so popular in higher education? Well, this is one of those cases where we have to be where our students are,” said Deborah Gonzalez, Esq., founder of Law2sm, a legal consulting firm specializing in digital and social media. “In many ways, we see social media as being a different world, but our students see it as just a part of their world. It’s not separate from everyday … it’s just another way of them expressing themselves. So if that’s the world they’re living in, we have to find ways to engage them in that world.”

But amidst all the innovative uses of social media lurk the potential for lawsuits and other legal complications — both for the institution and the individuals using social media.

During the recent online seminar How Administrators Can Avoid Social Media Landmines, Gonzalez and Rob Jenkins, an associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College, outlined a number of social media scenarios that pose potential risk with regards to freedom of speech, privacy, accessibility, copyrights, intellectual property, and cyber-bullying.

The 90-minute seminar also included a list of do’s and don’ts faculty and administrators should consider before adopting social media. Here’s just some of what Gonzalez and Jenkins recommended:

Don’t … set up a class Facebook page over which you have no control.

Do …

Don’t … forget that Federal and state copyright laws governing use of the protected materials on the Internet apply to all forms of social media.

Do …

Don’t … act as though you represent the institution on your Facebook page or Twitter account.

Do …

Do … make sure that your institution has a clear and thorough policy regarding the use of social media on campus.

And finally, don’t … avoid using social media just because doing so comes with its own set of guidelines and potential problems. Social media, used correctly, offers many unique opportunities for reaching our students.