At the Chronicle of Higher Education today, there’s a story about the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville instituting new Twitter policies for student-athletes that include banned-word lists — hundreds of words and phrases that student-athletes are forbidden from using in Tweets.
This is the worst possible way to teach student-athletes how to appropriately use Twitter. First, it assumes that the people making the “banned word list” are savvy enough about the community they’re spying on to have every naughty keyword covered. This will never happen; the community will always be ahead of the censors. Always. Second, the lists are both overly broad; Kentucky’s list includes “fight,” which is a kick in the teeth to any Wildcat student-athlete who’s a gamer and wants to talk about boss fights. Louisville’s list includes brand names for alcoholic beverages, which for student athletes who are of legal drinking age means they’re banned from mentioning products they’re legally able to consume. Third, the only thing this really achieves is to force student-athletes into creating their own slang, or just using other terms, to talk about whatever is banned. Finally, it’ll likely just cause student-athletes to have a profile that administrators know about and track, and a “real” profile where they actually communicate with their friends, free of these absurd banned-word lists.
Also, imagine the nightmare it will be for the compliance staffs at both institutions to parse every single tweet coming from student athletes. It would be great if the athletes would pool together for one week and flood these two compliance offices with tens and tens of thousands of tweets, and simply overwhelm the office’s ability to keep track of them all.
By putting these policies in place, neither Kentucky nor Louisville are ultimately solving the problem they think they need to be solving. Instead of this approach, both departments should be using Twitter as a vehicle to teach their students about the power of these tools in a social, instant-communication world; this aspect of communicating in a modern, global society is not going to change or diminish in importance any time soon. If anything, as time goes on the ability to masterfully use these tools will become more and more important in order to succeed — it’s akin to what email was 20 years ago.
Both Kentucky and Louisville are institutions of higher learning. They should be taking advantage of this opportunity to be teaching ways to effectively communicate on Twitter rather than cracking down on the words student-athletes are allowed to say in order to make things easier on their administration. Because that’s what this is really about — these schools are cracking down on kids as part of some misguided effort to manage the workload for their compliance staff.
What these schools should be doing is running mandatory education sessions, where it is made it perfectly clear that despite the fact that student-athletes may primarily use these tools to talk with their friends, their stature as Division I athletes at high-profile institutions means the public is watching them in that arena. Then give them media training and teach them how to communicate, and teach them how to use the tools to ultimately build their personal fan bases and, therefore, the fan bases for their home athletic departments. Then, everybody wins.
What Kentucky and Louisville are doing here ultimately benefits no one.