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Policies & Best Practices for Social Networking

Departmental use of Facebook and other third-party web services to conduct University-related communication introduces a variety of legal and policy issues. This document highlights some of those issues and provides expectations and strategies for safe and effective use of Facebook and other social networking sites.

Any group or organization must gain prior approval before creating a social networking site or posting a video to YouTube (or other video server) site using the name, "Thomas University," its logos or symbols.


TU departments and organizations, faculty, and staff

TU departments and organizations, faculty, and staff must use TU-controlled services to conduct required official and other University activities. Communication that contains privacy-protected information must use only secure TU-controlled services such as TU Email, Blackboard, or Cams/Hawklink.

Departments, organizations, faculty, and staff (henceforth referred to as “organizations”) that choose to use Facebook or another social networking site should be prepared to educate employees and other participants about expectations related to the use of third-party web applications, privacy concerns and other relevant policy and legal issues.


Uses of Facebook at TU

Thomas University academic, student life, alumni and administrative departments may establish public Facebook groups to complement official communication and attempt to foster community among users.

Facebook Groups vs. Individual Networking

Facebook participants network with each other in two basic ways: they build personal networks by becoming "friends" with other participants, or they establish more general connections by joining groups and pages. Groups promote interaction based on common interests rather than personal relationships. Pages are mainly used by organizations.

Thomas University academic, student life, alumni and administrative departments that choose to use Facebook must establish appropriate groups rather than depicting, intentionally or otherwise, the department as an individual and soliciting or accepting "friends." All groups must join the main TU Facebook page.

Any Thomas University organization may apply for approval to establish a Facebook or other social networking group that represents a Thomas University entity and is entitled to use the university’s copyrighted logos and brand name in accordance with the established guidelines.


Setting Up and Administering Facebook Groups

Facebook groups can have three levels of access:

  1. open, meaning anyone can join and invite others to join, and anyone can see group information and content.
  2. closed, meaning an administrator must approve requests to join and only members can see content.
  3. secret, meaning the group does not appear in search results or in the profiles of members. Membership is by invitation only and only members can see group information and content.

Thomas University organizations should create open or closed access groups.  Every approved site must have a designated group administrator who monitors participation and content.

Seven content tools are available in a Facebook group. The group administrator determines which tools are enabled:

  1. Show related groups, which are other Facebook groups in which group members participate
  2. Show related events, which are events from related groups
  3. Discussion board
  4. Wall (for members to post notes and other content)
  5. Photos
  6. Videos
  7. Posted items (usually used to link to external web content)

With photos, videos and posted items, the administrator can allow all members to add content, or restrict it to the administrator only. A group administrator can also designate others in the group to have administrator privileges.

Administrators should thoroughly familiarize themselves with the policies regarding privacy and rights to content per social networking service. It is the responsibility of the group administrator to configure the group privacy settings in such a way as to provide maximum protection to the group’s members as defined by each social networking service.


Expectations and Guiding Principles

The following expectations and principles should govern Thomas University organization’s Facebook groups and also apply to Twitter, MySpace, and any other social networking site.

  1. The group description--visible at the top of the group page—should describe the purpose of the group site and should provide ground rules for participation, including warnings against discussing students who do not wish to participate in the group, student records or other protected personal information, and encouraging respect for others in all communication. Content on approved Thomas University sites must reflect the university’s Diversity Statement and policies regarding harassment and nondiscrimination.
  2. Inappropriate content may be removed.  Facebook has a built-in tool for reporting violations of its terms of use. Specifically, posts that attack an individual or group, or are deemed advertising or spam, can be reported to Facebook and can result in loss of privileges for the offender and potentially the group.
  3. Personal educational or health records may never be communicated via Facebook or any other non-secure third-party system. (See federal FERPA and HIPAA laws, as well as Georgia University System student privacy statutes.)
  4. As a channel of communication, the Facebook group should augment official channels of communication (such as the departmental website) rather than replace them because as noted above, Facebook is not to be used to conduct official or required University activities.
  5. Participation in the group must be voluntary, and non-participation cannot result in negative repercussions for a student or employee.
  6. Although the nature of social networking is social and extracurricular, participants’ conduct should be in accordance with general policies governing students’ rights and responsibilities as Thomas University students.
  7. Groups typically should be open to any person who falls within the definition of member as determined by the Thomas University organization creating the group.  A department may choose to open a group for at least the limited purpose of making group content available to all and not requiring group membership to see it.
  8. Official images, logos, graphics, or other copyrighted materials owned by TU are not to be used unless official written permission has been obtained.
  9. Group administrators should be aware that when starting a Facebook group for a TU organization or class they are representing Thomas University to the public and should conduct themselves accordingly.
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