Kansas adopts new social media policy that limits free speech for professors

Well, this is a bit scary.  Kansas’ Board of Regents, which governs its university system, just revised its social media policy:

A revised social media policy approved by the Kansas Board of Regents allows a university to suspend or fire an employee for making statements on social media that are “contrary to the best interests of the employer.

In other words, you can be fired for what you tweet.  It is important to note that schools “must follow the principle of academic freedom” when enforcing such policy.

This idea is nothing new – indeed, government employees can be fired for ill-advised tweets, as can their counterparts in the private sector.  What is frightening about this new policy, however, is its breadth.  This started because David Guth, a journalism professor at Kansas University, made this astoundingly inappropriate tweet after the Naval Yard shooting last year:

DavidGuth

I don’t necessarily think its inappropriate for governments to act like their private-sector counterparts in terms of setting appropriate limits on things that cannot be tweeted by employees.  By appropriate, I mean anything directly threatening or tweeting confidential information.  The problem I have with a policy like the one adopted is how broad it is.  Who defines the “best interests of the employer?”  Does that mean the best interests of the Governor?  So, what if a professor tweets something against the Governor or the party of the Governor?  Can they be fired?  That’s downright scary.  A policy like this could pretty easily be seen as having a chilling effect on free speech, and that is clearly a major problem.

We are still in the “brave new world” of social media interactions, and I think it’s safe to say that employers, both private and public, are still struggling to determine the appropriate balance of free speech and protecting their own interests.  That being said, as far as I am concerned, employers should always err on the side of free speech.  This policy is scary to me.

What are your thoughts?  Let me know in the comments!

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