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SNHU says making clubs share social media access isn't to stifle free speech, but campus Republicans are skeptical

By TODD FEATHERS
New Hampshire Union Leader

September 19. 2018 9:30AM




MANCHESTER — A new social media policy for clubs at Southern New Hampshire University has some students questioning whether the university is violating their First Amendment rights.

For the first time this year, SNHU is requiring the presidents of all official student groups to disclose the login and password information for all their social media accounts. Some members of the College Republicans are skeptical about administrators’ promises that they won’t alter posts or use the login information to monitor the private messages club members send on social media.

“I believe that it’s an infringement on free speech for campus, especially for a political organization like ours,” said Dan Passen, a SNHU senior and state chairman of the New Hampshire Federation of College Republicans.

He added that the College Republicans often use the direct-messaging function of their accounts to discuss strategies or events that could be controversial or depart from SNHU’s nonpartisan positions.

SNHU decided to require club leaders to disclose account logins in order to avoid the information being lost when the students leave the club or graduate, university spokesman Lauren Keane said in a statement.

“SNHU will not regulate what student clubs/organizations say on social media,” she wrote. “This request was made for the sole purpose of ensuring a smooth transition each year. Many pages were created for numerous clubs and organizations over the years, and because logins and passwords have not been passed down, accounts are now sitting idle, preventing new members of those clubs from utilizing already existing pages with an established following.”

Keane pointed to the SNHU Music Club Facebook page, which has been idle since last fall; The Style Club Twitter page, which has been idle since 2013; and the Field Hockey Club Facebook page, which has been idle since 2013.

The new rules apply only to the official student organization social media accounts, not those of individual members.

The University of New Hampshire does not require its student groups to similarly disclose account information, spokesman Erika Mantz said in a statement.

One SNHU club leader, who asked that his name not be used, said the loss of account information is a real frustration, year-to-year, and he doesn’t worry that the university might regulate clubs’ posts.

“I think it’s a good policy in general because you’re already part of the campus and you represent the campus so you should have to fall under the professional responsibility standards,” the student said.

Other club leaders did not respond to requests for comment.

Passan, however, was not reassured by the university’s promise it would not “regulate” what student groups post.

He pointed to communications between students and administrators, some of which were shown to the Union Leader, in which administrators reserved the right to delete posts in extreme circumstances.

Keane wrote that SNHU’s top priority is student safety and the university would “work with the student groups to remediate” posts that are deemed to contain discriminatory, obscene, unlawful, threatening, harassing, or defamatory language, images, and video.

“SNHU would not alter or delete posts without working directly with the student club’s leadership,” she wrote.

tfeathers@unionleader.com


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