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June 05, 2007

Facebook at Nottingham

Writing about web page

Browsing Nottingham’s web site the other day I was interested to observe a few things:-

  • The Registrar there (Paul Greatrix, formerly of Warwick) has his own blog about all things Registrarial, called Registrarism, and linked to from the Registrar’s department home page.
  • The Registrar’s department home page also has a warning to students to think carefully about their Facebook publishing:-

You also need to remember that you remain subject to the University’s regulations covering acceptable standards of behaviour; IT facilities usage; harassment and bullying. In the event of a serious breach of these regulations, on Facebook or elsewhere, the University will not hesitate to take action which could lead amongst other things to withdrawal of your IT access, and to a fine or suspension (or even in the most extreme case to expulsion) under the University’s Code of Discipline for Students. So, do think carefully before posting comments about others.

And the page also includes a link to the Nottingham Students’ Union web site which has their own version of the same warning:-

University Staff members have brought to the Students’ Union’s attention that there are a number of groups on Facebook that are bringing the University’s name into disrepute. The University has advised us that they may consider disciplinary action against students who have created or are members of offensive or defamatory groups.

It raises an interesting question: to what extent can a university take disciplinary action against someone for publishing web content outside the university? The AUP for IT equipment usage doesn’t apply in such circumstances (assuming a student didn’t use university equipment to publish the content); a university could conceivably try to sue its students for defamation, perhaps, but it would be something of a nuclear option. Could a university throw a student out for bringing its name into disrepute even if it was done entirely outside of the university? Do students sign something when they arrive at university to say that they won’t do this? Or if the student posts something on Facebook (or wherever) which could be seen as harassment or abuse of another individual, does the university have the right to punish that behaviour? If so, where are the boundaries of a university’s powers to react? Is it only when the behaviour in question affects other staff or students or the institution? This social networking stuff is a great big can of worms.

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