By Ryan Buxton | LSU Student
As social media sites continue to pervade the lives of college students and the world in general, LSU is looking to make the grey area of the Internet a little more black and white.
Vice Chancellor of Student Life and Enrollment Kurt Keppler says the university is creating a social media code of conduct that would protect students and faculty members against online bullying, threatening and slander.
The code is still in early development. Keppler seeks a committee to research the issue and examine how other universities have responded to digital incivility, anticipating that truth and falsehood to play a role in the policy with repercussions for accusations that can be proven untrue.
"You aren't allowed to go into a crowded room and say there's a fire," Keppler said. "Is that any different than sending a Tweet that's absolutely ridiculous and you have 5,000 followers and they react?"
Until more research is done, however, he's not sure of the best way to take action.
The hardest part about developing a specific conduct code is that case law still is adapting to the Internet and there are ambiguities on what is and is not appropriate, Keppler said.
"What's unclear is what is [the university's] role and where does harassment and all that start and stop on things like Twitter and Facebook and blogging. And no one knows," he said.
Though the plans for this policy remain vague, Keppler says his current vision is that the university would only get involved if someone reports the code has been violated, meaning administrators wouldn't be monitoring students' online activity.
"We're not trying to be Big Brother," he said.
If a report is made, Keppler said students would have the right to a hearing and investigation in which they can make their cases.
And even if a student is found to be in violation of the policy, there is only so much action the university can take.
"We're not going to fine somebody. We're not going to imprison somebody. All we're going to do is say you might be suspended or put on probation. We can only deal with their role as a student"
Because of that, there are also questions about what happens when the malicious activity is on a University computer versus someone's home computer, and Keppler said he doesn't yet know the answer to that.
Students' First Amendment rights will be a priority as the University develops this code more concretely, according to Micaela Degruy, a master's intern with Student Advocacy and Accountability, who is researching the code.
"The policy will be to protect students, not to limit their freedom of speech by any means."
Mass communication freshman Danielle Palmer doesn't believe students' social media use is the university's responsibility.
"You're a college student now. You're an adult. It's not the university's place to get involved with your personal life."
If students don't like the idea of administrators policing online activity, they should work to fix problems like online bullying themselves, said Sarah Beth Vosburg, a political science graduate student.
"If you don't act like a kid, you won't need the university to be your mom," she said.
Keppler said he values student input on the topic and will be reaching out to Student Government for feedback once the committee for the policy is formed.
"I don't have an idea of what I want the outcome to be. I just want to make sure we're thinking about what we could do better to make this [clearer]," he said.