Monday, January 28, 2008

Odd Response by YouDiligence Owners

a couple of weeks ago, I posted this piece about YouDiligence as monitoring tool that would allow colleges and universities to monitor what their student-athletes post on the web about anything.

I have receive three comments to the post that quite frankly, I didn't expect. One was trying to correct my understanding of how the software operates and made this statement:
Second, let me ask you a question. If a student goes running though the halls screaming "Let's kill all the kikes and niggers", is it censorship to take this student aside and have a discussion with them? I believe it is educators' duty to confront this student.

Now let's consider that the student is screaming these words in Chinese. It should not change the need to have a discussion with this student. All YD does is give educators the power to understand within the public forum, the world of the web. In the case of Chinese student, opaqueness comes from the language. With the web, it is the sheer amount of data out there that creates the opaqueness.
Well, actually pulling a student aside for racial slurs and talking to him is not censorship. But mandating that he talk to someone about his speech is. Monitoring his speech is not censorship per se, but you are one step closer. but it goes futher. The only speech that the university could monitor is public speech, but that speech is protected--even it is racist, uneducated and otherwise offensive. That is the point of free speech.

Then there is this:
Lastly, it is the University's interests that are being served. Over time, a University's reputation and endowment will be much better served by good respectful citizens than by inappropriate, rascist assholes. If users are revealing themselves as such within public spaces, why shouldn't a University have the right to say "we do not want to be associated with a person who behaves as such"?
Yes, the university's interests are being served, possibly at the expense of their free speech rights. A public university may not take any action against any student for the content of that student's speech absent a clear contractual obligation by the student otherwise (and no a student Handbook doesn't count). Something like an athletic scholarship that was clear in its langauge would suffice. But since an athletic scholarship, even if it has a morals and behavior clause, is not likely to be specfic enough, but I am willing to concede it is possible.

Sure, a public university can choose not to associate with a student (and most readers of a Facebook page would never impart a student's words with the stamp of university authority). But the university cannot, absent something significantly more, dismiss a student for racist or stupid language. Nor can they punish a student.

As a tool, I would suspect that YouDiligence is rather neutral in its approach. My guess is that it works like a web search tool, looking for specific combinations of schools names, mascots, players, students and other terms it is programmed to seek and if present notify the designated person. In and of itself, the tool is probably not much more than specific type of search engine. Harmless enough. But is is not the tool that is the problem, but the application of the tool. Univesities of late have not exactly proven themselves as defenders of the freedom of speech and thought. Just take a look at FIRE's Website.

The second comment said this:
We would like to clarify that the person who wrote this post is not part of the company that built, owns and operates YouDiligence(TM) . The opinions of the person expressed while in spirit do match an important part of the mission ( efficient reputation management) -the tone and words used in no way reflect the opinions of GlobalNI Inc. The fact is that people who conduct themselves in certain ways in public are with or without YouDiligence(TM) risking personal and professional consequences- the technology is neutral and defensive not invasive. Additionally there is much false information posted about high exposure individuals and Youdiligence(TM) is also designed to give people situational awareness and empower them to manage exposure that may harm their personal or professional interests. Athletes are not the only people who are exposed.
First, no where on the post or my blog do I indicate that I am in anyway associated with the program or its designers/owners. Similarly, I am not sure if the second comment was referring to the first comment or not. (so if someone from GlobalNI Inc. wishes to clarify I will post those comments in their entirety).

By freedom of speech, as I have said, I do not mean to indicate that the speaker is free of the consequences of their speech to either their personal or professional reputation. A person must be associated with their words and deeds. But the problem I have with this kind of service and its application is the potential for a student-athlete to be punished by the university for their speech. The university cannot (again absent a contractual clause otherwise) punish a student for his/her speech. that does not mean the student can't otherwise be held accountable.

Finally, MVP Sports Media Training posted this comment:
We at MVP Sports Media Training, have the exclusive rights to market YouDiligence(TM) to the collegiate and education markets would also like to get on the record that the person who made the initial post is not part of MVP. Additionally, the initial post includes tone and words that do not reflect the opinion or mission of MVP. We are about helping student-athletes proactively protect their reputations and athletic departments project a positive image. YouDiligence(TM) can be an effective tool to assist with both in the new media era. We welcome further open discussion and debate about this topic.
Again, I don't know if MVP is referring to my original post or the first commenter. As with GlobalNI, I am willing to post verbatim anything MVP sends to me.

I know that image management is an important part of any athlete or athletic department's mission. However, having said that, the Athletic Department is still part of the university community and a public university cannot discipline a student or student athlete for the content of that student's personal Facebook account. As for managing the reputation of a student-athlete-certainly, I will grant that YouDiligence will enable a school to monitor what others might be saying about their student-athletes to manage the reputation. But it is the monitoring of the student-athelte themselves by the school that is troubling. This is from the YouDiligence materials:
YOUDiligence, searches MySpace and Facebook for any potentially damaging material. YOUDiligence automatically notifies you by email should it find questionable written material posted by one of your
. What you decide to do with that information is entirely up to you.
It is the last statement is what is troubling?

Perhaps MVP could clarify how it intends the product to be used? What does it envision the University doing with the infromation they receive? Managing reputation is one thing, policing the online thoughts of a student-athlete is a far different thing.

Again, I will be happy to post verbatim anything MVP sends my way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for conrtibuting to the discussion about YouDiligence. MVP was referring to the reply to your initial post, and wanted to clarify that those comments did not reflect our position in any way and were not made by anyone at MVP.

As to your follow-up regarding the how it is intended to be used...

To be very clear, YouDiligence DOES NOT go into closed sites or behind friend only areas or try to become someone's friend to access their private network. It only searches the PUBLIC AREAS of social networking sites.

We developed the concept for YouDiligence after we had spoken to a number of athletic directors and sports information directors. Most of them were trying to figure out how to best handle athletes' posts on social networking sites. The one similar theme they echoed was that manually searching the sites was taxing on staff or coaching hours, and was incredibly inefficient. It only captured a moment in time, a snapshot of the the activity. YouDiligence simply automates that process -- it's a time saver and incredibly effective and efficient -- providing publicly available information in real-time to decision makers.

Some schools will undoubtedly decide to speak with their student-athletes about the problems we alert them to, and that's there prerogative. Other schools may feel that same problem doesn't rise to a level of concern for them. That's what we meant by the statement that what you do with that information is up to you.

In the end, YouDiligence is only part of the equation. The rest includes being transparent and letting your student-athletes know you are watching their sites for potential problems, letting them know what the school and athletic department expects of them regarding behavior as they are high-profile representatives of the university, team, and athletic department, as well as talking to the student-athletes and educating them regarding the potential dangers of posting things in the public space of social networking sites. This includes but is not limited to having future employers search for and find this damaging material during a pre-hiring process. There are hundreds of stories available online about this happening.

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to clarify the intial post.