Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Science of Social Media: The Prevalence and Ever-Changing Nature of Social Media Is Both a Benefit to and Problem for Students and Universities

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Science of Social Media: The Prevalence and Ever-Changing Nature of Social Media Is Both a Benefit to and Problem for Students and Universities

Article excerpt

When students at Grambling State University began campaigning for leadership positions in the university's Student Government Association (SGA) one year ago, they approached university officials about using social media as part of their campaign strategy

The request made Grambling administrators realize there were no institutional guidelines or policies about using this latest wave of evolving media. With student, faculty and administration input, a social media policy was developed in time for students to stage their multimedia campaigns without breaking the university's code of conduct or, more importantly, offending fellow students, faculty or administrators.

Grambling is among a growing number of institutions taking a serious look at social media, having seen it evolve quickly over the past decade as the instant communication vehicle for students, teachers and administrators.

"The university has had to catch up, not that we are caught up in all respects," says Grambling spokesman Will Sutton, echoing officials at many other institutions. Sutton and his peers say social media is evolving faster than most institutions have enough money, people and time to fully use and monitor it. "There are students who are [on social media] all the time, except when they are asleep."

Indeed, social media now extends beyond Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and includes a plethora of new vehicles, such as Google+, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Vine, Snapchat and Instagram, among dozens of others. Institutions are chasing these new media tools to stay connected with their student bodies. They are finding that social media can be used as a valuable tool for communicating with students, especially since students are frequently connected through an iPhone, smartphone or tablet.

While the proliferation of social media has put instant communications in the hands of more people, it is also being used by those that misunderstand the power of social media and instead choose to use it with less than good intentions.

Jackson State University, for example, suddenly found its president the target of a cyberstalking incident last year from a 20-year-old non-student who was posting threatening messages on his social media page.

At Louisiana Tech, several of its students posted nude pictures of themselves on their social pages, thinking they would only be seen by a few people. However, the pages' privacy settings were not programmed to restrict access. Now, the pictures are available worldwide to strangers and friends, not to mention potential employers who are completing background checks on job applicants.

At the University of Texas, San Antonio (UTSA), for which there are more than 50 social media pages for departments at the university, campus police found one of the pages contained negative language that was posted by a student. In less than 30 minutes, the campus police page was overloaded with complaints from others reading the page, asking why the language had not been removed and why it was taking so long to do something about it.

"Students wanted an instantaneous response," says Lorenzo Sanchez, director of emergency management at UTSA. Sanchez explains that his small office doesn't have the staff to respond to everything instantaneously. At the same time, he says, the office does its best to prioritize items that appear to need urgent attention.

Why so popular?

Social media's popularity has increased for a variety of reasons, say several people familiar with the trend. …

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