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UI has no specific social media policy, despite Bloom backlash

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | DECEMBER 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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Higher-education officials from across the state said it's important for college faculty to be careful with their social-media presence.

A piece written by University of Iowa journalism Professor Stephen Bloom has caught a firestorm of criticism this week from some who say it was inaccurate and overly critical of Iowans. On Tuesday, UI Associate Professor Kembrew McLeod wrote on Bloom's Facebook wall, calling Bloom a "self-important jerk" and throwing in a few obscenities.

"… [Y]our Atlantic piece sunk my opinion of you further — and I didn't think it could get that low," Kembrew wrote.

None of Iowa's three state universities have formal policies regarding public content posted on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. That leaves the lines regarding appropriate interactions among colleagues on the web unclear.

The UI caught some heat earlier this year when the school's @UIowaPolitics Twitter account posted a tweet saying, "I didn't know Bachmann was in town. Bah-dum-bum," following reports of a cougar loose in Iowa City.

Followng that incident, UI President Sally Mason said university officials might consider developing a university social-media policy.

"You know, I think we'll probably look at this opportunity to examine whether a policy would be appropriate," Mason told the DI in September. "These technologies are evolving so quickly that it's sometimes hard to figure out exactly what we should be doing, and we should be monitoring it."

That appraently hasn't happened, though. UI spokesman Tom Moore said Thursday that university policy forbids faculty from doing anything illegal but does not specifically address social media.

Annette Hacker, a spokeswoman for Iowa State University, said that university has no specific policies regarding use of social media, but individual departments may enforce policies.

James O'Connor, a spokesman for the University of Northern Iowa, also said the school has no official social-media policy, but a statement on UNI's official Facebook page states, "… We ask that you provide the same respect to others, keeping your comments civil and professional, and refrain from engaging in personal attacks on other persons posting on the site."

David Perlmutter, the director of the UI School of Journalism who has written about social media and blogging, said journalism faculty represent themselves, not the school.

"No faculty member represents the university," he said. "They represent themselves as individuals unless they've been empowered by being a higher administrator or by a higher function."

Perlmutter also said he personally does not condone incivility.
"I think 99 percent of the time, it's unnecessary to be vulgar, and uncivil, and mean-spirited," he said.
Michael Bugeja, the director of ISU's School of Journalism who also teaches media-ethics courses, said he feels social media are "a barometer of knee-jerk reaction."

"Just based on how social media is so easily shared, you're not having a private conversation with one person," Bugeja said. "You're having it with a multitude of people. If that's the case, you might want to stop the knee jerk and start thinking critically. In the end, it's not about the names we call something or someone, it's about the facts we bring to light."

Some feel the line a professional employee draws on social networks should be left to the employee in question.

"I don't think there's a clearly right or wrong place to draw the line, but I do think that it's very important for every faculty member to think about where he or she wants to draw the line," UI law Professor Todd Pettys said.


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