Should universities censor students on social media?

June 25, 2014

Huge increases in the use of social media by students have posed difficult ethical questions for Universities. Comments posted on sites such as Facebook are often 'stream of consciousness' thoughts, expressed with little regard to their potential impact. Sometimes, they constitute serious transgressions, including racism, homophobia, violent threats and admissions of plagiarism.  Do Universities have a duty of care to intervene for staff and student well-being?  Should freedom of speech be upheld?

John Rowe's latest research offers a concise summary of the faced by universities trying to protect their staff, , and reputation. Rowe also proposes a practical method for categorising online comments about teachers, students, classes, and institutions.

Students and teachers were shown a number of posts of varying degrees of offensiveness. These were real posts from real university-related student-run sites:

"Did u c that toby did the assignment already? He said he'd do mine as well if I want! Score!"

"That Chinese chick in our group is so lame. She is just freeloading on us cos she can't speak English. Stupid b****."

"I wish Gina would die!! Aaaargh! I think I might kill her tomorrow!"

They were asked to rank them from 1-4 (trivial to serious) and write what they thought the university should do about each.

There was a wide consensus that the most serious comments were about cheating and plagiarism and those that threatened violence, and/or were racist, sexist, and/or homophobic.

However, 'no' remained the definite answer when asked whether universities should monitor student-run sites.

Comments of this nature can seriously threaten the well-being of students and staff at university. So what can be done to protect them, while maintaining ?

Find out more about the ethical implications of university involvement by reading the full research online. It's reader-friendly and offers fascinating points for discussion and exploration.

Explore further: You're so vain: Study links social media and narcissism

More information: The complete study is available online:

Related Stories

Top Hungary court backs clampdown on internet comments

May 28, 2014

A top Hungarian court ruled Wednesday that website operators are responsible for abusive internet comments made on pages under their control, even if the questionable statements are moderated or removed on request.

Recommended for you

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

Search for Egypt's Nefertiti gains new momentum (Update)

September 29, 2015

The search for ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti in an alleged hidden chamber in King Tut's tomb gained new momentum as Egypt's Antiquities Minister said Tuesday he is now more convinced a queen's tomb may lay hidden behind ...

New finds of a living fossil

October 2, 2015

The coelacanth fish, found today in the Indian Ocean, is often called a 'living fossil' because its last ancestors existed about 70 million years ago and it has survived into the present - but without leaving any fossil remains ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.