The phenomenal growth and use of social media in the past decade have irretrievably changed the way individuals communicate and interact with each other. The evolution from essentially a passive information source to a fully interactive medium has been transformational, particularly for younger generations. The ability to self-publish via blogs and online public forums has allowed students to explore modes of free and open communication and representation. While there are undoubtedly many positives arising out of the use of social media, irresponsible or inappropriate usage can have significant negative consequences.
Many institutions are anxious about their students using social media to post offensive, insulting and ridiculing comments about faculties, management, and other students. Such comments posted on widely accessible forums for other students or faculties, can damage reputations, create personal distress and compromise academic integrity. Institutions have been struggling to balance freedom of speech and the right to expression, with reasonable expectations of responsible and respectful behaviour by students, as well as the protection of faculties, management and student well-being.
There are many benefits of the use of social media at an institution. Group work is facilitated enormously by the capabilities provided through social networking, and communication generally between faculties, students and their peers can be enhanced by the appropriate use of social media. It can also be utilised to get more structured evaluation and feedback from students. Many institutions have their own groups on social networking sites, which are used to distribute information and handle queries from both existing and prospective students. This is managed and moderated by authorised officials of the institutions, and the institutions clearly take responsibility for controlling the posts and other content.
In addition to the institution's official groups, several other chat groups created by students are also common. The purpose of creating such groups are for fun, sharing of stories and experiences amongst students, but they are also a ground for offensive and inappropriate comments. When such unruly incidents happen, institutions should consider the opinion of both faculties and students before taking any action. If both of them share a similar view on this point and majority of faculties and students believe a post is offensive or insulting, institutions should necessarily involve themselves and take legal actions, if required. However, if one of the communities has a disparate opinion then institutions should have a collective meeting and should arrive at a conclusion which is acceptable to both the communities before taking any action. If both communities believe a post is not offensive or insulting, then the institution need not intervene.
It is necessary that institutions do not overstep the mark and display too much sensitivity towards student criticism. Also, institutions should not monitor the social media groups run by students. Instead, they should only respond when a complaint or report is lodged and should get involved only in the most extreme cases. This can ensure a healthy usage of social media amongst the concerned stakeholders.
- By T R Kumaraswamy, Research Analyst at QS I∙GAUGE