New Oregon Law Protects Student-Athletes’ Social-Media Privacy

By Bryan Toporek — June 24, 2013 2 min read
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A new Oregon law prevents postsecondary institutions from demanding the usernames and passwords of prospective student-athletes’ social-media accounts.

The law, signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber on June 13, applies to all prospective students, not just student-athletes. It specifically restricts colleges and universities from taking (or threatening to take) “any action to discipline” or to prohibit a prospective student-athlete from participating in any curricular or extracurricular activities for refusing to hand over such information.

Under the law, postsecondary institutions are also prohibited from forcing a student-athlete to access one of their social-media accounts within the presence of an administrator.

In other words: As long as a prospective student-athlete’s privacy settings are set in a way that prevents the public from accessing their social-media posts, they’re free to tweet or post whatever they want. A school can’t punish them for posting objectionable content, so long as it’s not freely accessible to anyone who checks their social-media account(s).

If, however, the prospective student-athlete has his or her social-media account(s) open to the public, colleges and universities are allowed under the new law to conduct investigations “for the purpose of ensuring compliance with applicable law, regulatory requirements, or prohibitions against student misconduct.”

Say, for instance, that a prospective student-athlete tweets about successfully getting away with committing a crime. If he or she has a Twitter account that isn’t locked away from the public and a school catches wind of those tweets, the school can act accordingly based on that information.

The new law only applies to postsecondary institutions, as it specifically excludes kindergarten, elementary, or secondary schools.

Just because the law prohibits colleges and universities from demanding access to personal social-media accounts doesn’t mean that student-athletes should feel free to post carte blanche, however. No matter how restrictive someone may have their privacy settings on a social-media account, the best rule of thumb on social media is to assume that anything you tweet or post could eventually be seen by the public. (One of their friends or followers could easily do a screen grab of that content and share it, if so desired.)

Think back to the five Massachusetts high school students (including two student-athletes) who were banned from participating in extracurricular activities after sending racially derogatory tweets back in May 2012. Or the high school football star who was expelled in January 2012 for vulgar content on his Twitter account.

The moral of the story: If you have an unquenchable thirst to use explicit language, that’s best done offline, regardless of the privacy settings on your social-media accounts.

Blog programming note: I’m headed on vacation to Hawaii starting tomorrow and won’t be back in the office until Monday, July 8. Gina Cairney, our excellent Web team intern, will be blogging in my absence.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.