Local/Regional News
1:17 pm
Tue August 21, 2012

Kentucky Universities Monitor Athletes' Social Media

LOUISVILLE, Ky.  -- Kentucky's two largest universities use software to monitor what student-athletes post in social-media accounts.

The Courier-Journal reports most athletes at the University of Louisville and all athletes at the University of Kentucky must agree to have their accounts monitored as a condition of playing sports. The software sends an email to coaches if it finds a word that has been flagged by the university.

Many of the 406 words flagged by U of L are slang expressions connected to drugs, sex, or alcohol. UK has a similar policy, though 370 words it flags are the names of sports agents.

UK also had the terms "Muslim" and "Arab" flagged, but executive associate athletics director DeWayne Peevy said the school was taking steps to remove them after the newspaper questioned him about them. He said the terms had been included by Centrix Social, which sold its monitoring software to the university, and the school was unaware that the words were flagged.

U of L senior associate athletic director Kenny Klein said athletes involved in golf, softball, baseball, soccer, swimming and diving, rowing, women's tennis, track, and women's basketball are required to use UDiligence, but not men's basketball and football players. Klein says the decision on whether to use the system is up to each sport's head coach. The newspaper said it tried unsuccessfully to reach basketball coach Rick Pitino and football coach Charlie Strong.

UK athletes were flagged for a wide range of postings, according to nearly 1,500 documents the newspaper obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

One student posted on March 26: "I have some OxyContin. It will make you feel good. (hash)drugs," records show. Another student was flagged for writing, "God is the only one who can heal me, help me & fight for me" - because of the word "fight."

Some advocates question whether the practice violates the students' free speech. The issue has become prominent as some states take action to prohibit schools from monitoring students' social media accounts.

"This is just an online bug, there's no difference," said Bradley Shear, a Washington, D.C., attorney and digital media expert who has advised state legislatures across the country on social media policy. "It's so troubling beyond words."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky said it also was troubled by the actions.

"When students are forced, as a condition of receiving a scholarship, to grant government officials access to all of their social networking accounts and then are subject to punishment for engaging in lawful speech that the university simply doesn't like, we believe public universities cross the line," staff attorney William Sharp said.

Both schools declined to release information about any disciplinary measures taken for flagged posts, saying it would violate student privacy.

Students who talked to the paper said they didn't have a problem with being monitored.

"I feel like it's OK for (the coach) to monitor (student athletes) to make sure they're not representing the university in a bad way," said Muhammed Saisullah, a UK junior walk-on who played on the football team in 2011. "Monitoring, I think it's pretty smart."

Klein said the practice is not unfair to athletes.

"It's not what you could say is an invasion of privacy or anything, because you're not looking for things in a private setting, only things in a public setting," he said.

Karen Ferguson-Dayes, head women's soccer coach at U of L, said the program is supposed to be an "educational tool," because some players don't realize that with Internet postings "sometimes you can't necessarily get it back."

"The way we utilize it is meant to help them, not hurt them," she said.