Company monitors student athlete tweets for major universities

For many major institutions, their star athletes are their brand. One company offers to monitor student athletes’ online social network activities for $7,000 to $10,000. The company is called Varsity Monitor.

Some athletes are under the Twitter microscope. Graphic by Laura Bramble.

Varsity Monitor has a very simple business plan. For many major universities and colleges, their student athletes are a major source of revenue; the services Varsity Monitor provides allow universities to keep an eye on their athlete’s online behavior. The service has the ability to monitor both private and public accounts, as well as monitor third party accounts a student athlete may come in contact with.

One of the purposes of this service is to give universities and coaches the ability to monitor their athletes for possible NCAA rule violations. The service enables them to do so through creating a keyword list. With this keyword list, the service looks for things such as profanity or anything that would hint toward a rule violation and then compiles a report on what it finds for the schools and coaches to use.

It is important to note that the service monitors all of this without ever needing to get an athlete’s password. Instead it uses terms and conditions built into the terms of service provided by many social media networks that just by signing up in many cases signifies acceptance of those terms and any changes made to those terms in the future.

Discovery of this service comes just heels on the debate over some employers attempting to force their potential employees to hand over their Facebook passwords before hiring as a way to evaluate potential employees. This service in many ways does the same thing, as it allows a university to monitor and prevent potential issues before they become a problem.

All of this reflects a larger issue over the extent to which an individual can be compelled to share information about themselves online. Many opposing these recent actions liken social media in all of its forms to being the equivalent to phone calls or letters, both of which are protected as matters of privacy. There is no such protection on Internet communication involving social media websites. The argument is that individuals who post on such sites do so to enable people to see what they are saying, and thus collecting such information or compelling them to show it is not a violation of privacy, especially if the individual willingly hands over their account information.

Much of the monitoring of student athletes’ activities on their social networks comes following a NCAA ruling against the University of North Carolina that found that a tweet by one of their star players indicated a violation of NCAA rules. The ruling also implied that universities were responsible for the activities of their athletes on Twitter and in some way should monitor what they say. As a result, companies like Varsity Monitor, UDiligence and Centrix Social, all companies that monitor Twitter along with other social media websites, saw a spike in customers.

In the case of student athletes, this issue is a bit murkier than the corporate world because each student athlete signs a contract. These contracts enable schools to use a student’s name and so forth to sell merchandise and sets the terms of their time with the school. But who is to say this does not allow in some cases for a university and college to monitor the activities of their athletes on social media websites? It all ultimately comes down to the wording of the contract.