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As access portals and other technology associated with social media continue to advance, many schools have turned to third-party firms to perform the work of combing student athletes' accounts for potentially embarrassing or harmful content.
One of the first companies to market its services to NCAA schools was UDiligence, a division of West Lafayette, Ind.-based MVP Sports Media Training L.L.C.
According to co-founder and CEO Kevin Long, UDiligence offers around-the-clock, automated social media surveillance based on keywords provided by the client school.
Mr. Long said the service diffuses privacy issues by requiring that its tracking software be installed by the students themselves, and that the company assumes no liability for any content it delivers to a client school.
“All we're doing is pulling the information that's posted to those accounts and providing it to the university,” Mr. Long said. “The schools that we've discussed that issue with have determined that they would rather have the ability to try and prevent something than worry about the potential of missing something or not acting in time.”
The University of Mississippi in University, Miss., has been a client of UDiligence since 2008.
Jamil Northcutt, the school's associate athletic director for internal operations, said the department began monitoring social media accounts of its student athletes not as a punitive act but as a means of educating them on responsible use of the medium.
Whether that monitoring places the school in jeopardy of legal action remains to be seen, Mr. Northcutt said, but the fast-moving nature of social media as a technology and cultural phenomenon leads him to believe that it is possible.
“Those issues potentially will come up soon somewhere,” Mr. Northcutt said. “This is an ever-evolving thing now. It started out as an image-protection thing for the kids. Then it became all about compliance and now we're looking at liability. We just have to try and keep up to speed.
Many colleges and universities are monitoring student athletes' social media accounts for unsavory content, but some legal experts warn that such practices could expose the schools to litigation.