February 21, 2018  

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Southern Miss Plans to Unveil New Guidelines for Social Media Use

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University of Southern Mississippi senior Perri Jackson checks her Facebook page during a break from classes. (University Communications photo by Van Arnold)

As the social media universe continues to expand at an incredible pace, so too does the potential for abuse, misuse and unforeseen embarrassment.

At The University of Southern Mississippi, significant steps have been taken to point out the dangers of social media use and provide guidelines for students and employees on the Hattiesburg campus, as well as the Gulf Park campus in Long Beach and the Gulf Coast Student Service Center.

Between Oct. 22-27, Southern Miss will launch a social media blitz designed to raise awareness about social network conduct through a series of promotions and activities under the banner “Civility.”

“Our students and staff are right to be targeting the importance of social media behaviors,” said Southern Miss President Martha Saunders. “I am encouraged by their initiative and concern for civil discourse.”

Nearly two years ago a committee comprised of Southern Miss administrators, faculty, staff and students began working on guidelines to address social media use on campus. Dr. Rebecca Woodrick, director of equal employment and affirmative action at Southern Miss, said the university community saw the need to be proactive in addressing social media use.

“Our goals are to increase awareness of best ways to use social media, among both our employees and our students, while avoiding some obvious pitfalls,” said Woodrick, who served as the committee’s chairperson. “Chief among these would be the ease with which communications in cyberspace can be misunderstood or misused and the tendency to believe that what we say and do is shared only with our ‘friends.’ ”

Some highlights of the guidelines include:

  • Emphasizing, with both students and employees, that cyberspace = public space
  • Emphasizing that civility should be practiced in cyberspace communication, just as in face-to-face communication
  • Reminding employees and students that there are no longer any geographical boundaries, therefore how an employee or student presents himself/herself in social media can have a positive or negative impact on his/her reputation

Woodrick notes that the guidelines pertain to employees only. However, she emphasizes that students can benefit from the proposed standards by adopting the principles set forth. Southern Miss Student Government President Erick Brown says the student population should heed the message being trumpeted by the social media committee.

“Social networking guidelines make an important statement about this university’s commitment to creating exemplary citizens as well as exemplary scholars,” said Brown. “These efforts are congruent with similar guidelines found in many areas of the Southern Miss community, and I think it’s a good move to make.”

Like most Southern Miss students, Brown has a Facebook profile which he tries to monitor closely for unacceptable images or commentary.

“There have been things posted by others that I might not find suitable,” he said. “It happens to everyone at some point and I believe that teachings in social media etiquette could reduce these occurrences.”

The social media blitz begins on Saturday, Oct. 22 when Southern Miss takes on Conference USA rival SMU in the annual Homecoming football game, set for 7 p.m. at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Among the promotional events scheduled that day and beyond:

  • Oct. 22– Southern Miss Creed (http://www.usm.edu/success/creed-southern-miss) played just before kickoff
  • Oct. 22– 2,200 wrist bands handed out to students attending game with slogan: Do You C? Civility
  • Oct. 22-27– Civility posters in residence halls and academic buildings; 5,000 push cards mailed to student campus boxes and also distributed on the Gulf Park campus in Long Beach
  • Oct. 24-27 – Civility push card distribution from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Fleming Education Center on the Gulf Park campus in Long Beach
  • Oct. 27– Tent set up in Shoemaker Square on Hattiesburg campus for T-shirt distribution and remaining wristbands; distribution will also take place in the Fleming Education Center on the Gulf Park campus; students will read Creed and be video-recorded as electronic signature for T-shirt; Civility stickers placed on students’ shirts
  • Oct. 27 – Lunch and learn at the Gulf Park campus sponsored by Department of Student Services and Campus Security. Guest speaker will be Tammy Morris Rutland, who will discuss topics associated with cyber bullying and cyber crime.

Rusty Anderson, director of Career Services at Southern Miss and a member of the social media committee, said presentations have already been made to students during “Preview” sessions and “Golden Eagle Welcome Week.” Additionally, residence hall programming is ongoing with 5,000 Student Government calendars being distributed with the Creed and Civility page prominent.

“Our efforts are to proactively increase the awareness that cyberspace is the same as public space and what actions we take online are no different than if done in person,” said Anderson. “Technology often gives the student a false sense of privacy.”

University employees will have full access to the guidelines via an online training module in early November. Instructors will have guidelines for teaching the use of social media by the start of the 2012 Spring Semester.