Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2012


Public colleges and universities increasingly are using Facebook, Second Life, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media communications tools. Yet public colleges and universities are government actors, and their creation and maintenance of social media sites or forums create difficult constitutional and administrative challenges. Our separate experiences, both theoretical and practical, have convinced us of the value of providing guidance for public higher education institutions wishing to engage with their constituents-including prospective, current, and former students and many others-through social media.

Together, we seek to guide public university officials through the complex body of law governing their social media use and help them engage their constituencies through social media in ways that both advance their institutional missions and promote public discourse. Social media may conflict with a university's ability to convey its own message without disruption or distortion. Higher education institutions should give sustained consideration to how these other government departments or agencies generally resolve First Amendment jurisprudential issues.

To that end, this Article first examines current and likely future uses of social media in higher education and then provides both a map of the complex terrain of First Amendment doctrine and practical guidance for navigating it. As part of that guidance, we examine how different social media policies and practices affect public universities' attempts to maintain civility and decorum in the forums they create. Our ultimate goal is to assist and encourage social media use that improves the governance of public universities and colleges, promotes their institutional missions, and fosters public discourse with and among their constituents.



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