College Students and Social Media: What to Know Before You Post

Social media is a great way for college and university students to stay in touch with friends and family, share news and experiences, and even connect with like-minded people from all over the world. However, there is a dark side to social media that college students need to be aware of before they start posting.

Social media is so pervasive and questionable behavior on the different platforms has become so normalized that many students may not even be aware that they might be violating their school's code of conduct when it comes to using social media responsibly. Other students may know very well that they've crossed the line, but they may not understand or be aware of the consequences of what will happen to them if their college or university finds out.

Schools have strict codes of conduct when it comes to social media and how their students should behave online. Violation of those codes can result in harsh penalties from the school that range from stern warnings to expulsion.

What Do University Codes of Conduct Cover When It Comes to Social Media?

At their core, university or college codes of conduct are sets of rules that students must adhere to in order to maintain their enrollment at the school. These rules cover a wide range of topics, from academic honesty to sexual harassment. As the student code of conduct at the University of Southern California states, the university "is primarily an academic community. As such, the university seeks to maintain an optimal learning environment. To achieve this objective, the university exercises certain disciplinary and discretionary powers. It protects its educational environment by establishing and maintaining standards of conduct for its students as individuals and as groups."

Colleges and universities extend these disciplinary codes to cover your social media activity. If you're using social media to connect with other students or promote your university experiences, it's important to be aware of your school's rules.

Most universities have adopted codes of conduct that specifically address the use of social media by students. These codes are designed to protect the safety and well-being of all members of the university community, as well as the reputation of the university itself.

Some common elements of university codes of conduct regarding social media include:

  • refraining from posting illegal or harmful content
  • refraining from posting confidential or proprietary information
  • respecting the privacy rights of others
  • adhering to copyright and trademark laws; and
  • complying with all applicable federal, state, and local laws.

Some universities also require students to disclose their affiliation with the university when making posts on social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. This is usually done to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. For example, if a student is tweeting about a professor as part of a class assignment, they would need to make it clear that they are a student at the university and not speaking on behalf of the school itself.

What Are the Different Types of Social Media-Related Offenses?

There are several types of social media-related activities that college students could get involved with, either by accident or intentionally, that could lead to disciplinary charges. As the University of Memphis's Social Media Handbook states, "student policies apply to social networking. Adhere to the student handbook (especially regarding academic honesty and student code of conduct) and ... all applicable student policies and standards of conduct." Avoid the following kinds of social media activities.

Misusing School Logos

Schools use their social media policies to protect their intellectual property, including the goodwill attached to their name and logo. The social media policy at Columbia University's Medical Center, for instance, prohibits anyone associated with the school from using any school, department, or program logo on social media. Using your school's logo may be a way to get views and likes but could also lead to disciplinary charges.

Associating Your Personal Views with Your School

Schools also use their social medial policies to protect their reputations from controversial social media statements and views. For example, Columbia's policy, like social media policies at other schools, prohibits mentioning your school title or similar connection unless you include that "[m]y posts represent my personal views and not those of" the school. Avoid connecting your personal views with the positions and policies of your school.

Disclosing Confidential and Proprietary Information

Schools also use their social media policies, like the policy at the University of Dallas, to protect confidential academic, health, and personal information protected under laws like FERPA and HIPAA. Teaching assistants, students in clinical programs, and resident assistants may all have access to confidential information that they must avoid disclosing on social media. Social media policies like the one at the University of Dallas also protect proprietary information like business practices, student lists, and research results. You could face school discipline for posting on social media anything private or having commercial value.

Discrimination and Harassment

Schools also use their social media policies to prevent unlawful discrimination and harassment. The social media policy at the University of North Georgia, for instance, prohibits students from posting anything that would "bully, intimidate, or harass any user" or to "do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory." Social media misuse may contribute to Title IX sex discrimination, harassment, and stalking charges, for instance.

Graphic Content

Social media policies like the one at the University of North Georgia may also prohibit posts that are "hateful, threatening, pornographic, or that contain nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence." Any such post could lead to disciplinary charges. Posts directed at an individual or group, though, could further run afoul of the school's policies against cyberbullying, revenge porn, discrimination, and harassment. So, too, could sharing intimate photos, video, or audio of another student.

Hacking, Identity Theft, and Other Fraud

Computer and network use policies, like the one at Ohio State University, also routinely prohibit social media and other electronic activities that misrepresent and defraud. Posts that pretend to be another person or from another source, for instance, or activities that get into another's social media account, onto their private social media group, or around another's security, could lead to disciplinary charges. Simply interfering with another's use of their social media messaging, accounts, and sites, through spamming, catfishing using fake identity, or other deceptive practices, could lead to discipline.

What Are the Penalties for Social Media Code of Conduct Violations?

Colleges and universities don't take social media violations lightly. They're a clear violation of their codes of conduct, and the schools will take steps to impose penalties on the offenders. If a student is found guilty of violations, schools have a wide range of sanction options, ranging from stern warnings to written reprimands, loss of privileges, school suspension, or even outright expulsion from the school.

If the penalties go on the student's permanent record, the negative effects can be long-lasting. It can be difficult for a student to transfer to another school if they've been expelled, and if they do manage to graduate, they may have trouble finding employment.

Getting in trouble for social media violations at your school or university can have long-lasting consequences for your life. If you're facing accusations by your school, you need to reach out for help. Dealing with a school's disciplinary process is not something to be taken lightly or something you should handle alone. You need to reach out for help from attorneys who have experience dealing with the college disciplinary process and know exactly what to do to help you have the best chance of protecting your future.

Reach Out for Legal Help

If you've been accused of social media-related violations at your university or college, you need to reach out for legal help. The repercussions could get you into serious trouble with the school and ruin your future plans.

Joseph D. Lento and the team at the Lento Law Firm have years of experience helping students who've been accused of social media crimes. They know what to do to help you build the best defense possible.

Contact Joseph Lento and the rest of the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. Your future depends on it.

Contact Us Today!

If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.