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Athletes’ social media use monitored by Athletic Department

By Haley Goldberg, Daily News Editor
Published October 29, 2012

This fall, Denard Robinson, Trey Burke and other Michigan athletes using Twitter have a new follower — the University’s Athletic Department.

The Athletic Department issued a social media policy this fall which outlines guidelines for using social media as a student athlete and the disciplinary process if postings violate state or federal law, institutional policies or NCAA rules.

As stated in the Social Media Policy — which student athletes signed this fall, along with other compliance forms — the Athletic Department must be notified of all social media accounts operated by student athletes. If additional accounts are “added or changed,” athletes must inform the University’s Compliance Services Office, according to the agreement, which was obtained by Annarbor.com.

The group works to keep the University’s athletic program “consistent with the letter and the spirit of NCAA, conference and University rules and regulations,” according to the Compliance Services Office page on the Athletic Department’s website.

David Ablauf, the University’s associate athletic director, said the department has had a social media policy in place since 2006, but this year marks the first formalized policy the athletes have signed.

“We decided that social media is such a huge part of today’s society that this year we were going to look at our policy and re-write it,” Ablauf said. “We had our leadership team within athletics review it and we all agreed to the formalization of this new policy, so we decided to put it into play this fall.”

Ablauf explained that the penalties for violating the policy will be handled by the Athletic Department, and will vary on a case-by-case basis. Examples of prohibited behavior include using offensive language, posting after sporting events when emotions can be heightened and writing anything that could be interpreted as endorsements for products or services.

“There’s different degrees to the penalties we’ll have for different student athletes,” Ablauf said. “Sometimes, if you make a mistake on social media it may be a conference with your coach, or your coach and a sport administrator. It may be a conference with the athletic director depending on the severity of the situation … it could be all the way to the point of suspension from competition.”

The policy requires that players provide their Twitter handles and Facebook account links to the Athletic Department and public relations groups within the department monitor the accounts, Ablauf said. He added that they do not request password information or “behind the scenes access” to any social media accounts.

Ablauf said the policy seems to have worked well so far, and there haven’t been any social media gaffes with student athletes this fall. He hopes the policy will also educate students about the importance of building their own brand via social media.

“We try to use it more as an educational process. We want to educate them about what is good and what is poor in terms of how you handle yourself in social media,” Ablauf said. “Whether you believe it or not, the companies that will look to hire and employ you in the future are looking at your social media activity.”

The new policy comes in the wake of several incidents involving athletes on Twitter. Last spring, wide receiver Roy Roundtree and linebacker Kenny Demens violated NCAA recruiting rules by tweeting their support to a new University commit, linebacker Mike McCray, before National Signing Day.

Ablauf said Roundtree was not aware that he was in violation of NCAA rules, since the new recruit was a friend of his.