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The Battle Over Student Social Media Accounts

social media icons, facebook, twitter, instagram
By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

It's pretty obvious that schools will want to monitor their students' social media activity. From preventing online bullying or harassment to ensuring that students don't tarnish a school's image, administrators have an interest in keeping an eye on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram belonging to students.

But when can that policing of posts go too far? Perhaps when you're asking female volleyball players what male football players will think of their Instagram posts and kicking them off the team because of them.

The "Biased Image" of an Athlete

Shalom Ifeanyi sued the University of Cincinnati and her volleyball coach Molly Alvey for racial discrimination, sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation after she was dismissed from the team for Instagram photos that were "too sexy." According to the suit, Alvey pointed out a photo on Ifeanyi's Instagram during a meeting in June last year, asking her, "When football players see this, what do you think they see? They see your breasts. It's seductive." Ifeanyi removed the photo, along with others, at Alvey's request. Even so, she was dismissed from the team just 10 days after that meeting.

Ifeanyi's lawsuit claims she was held to a different standard than her teammates. "I feel like I'm being body shamed because I'm not flat chested," Ifeanyi wrote in a text message to Alvey. "I'm not trying to show my boobs coach, I can't make them go away. In these pictures I just got my hair done and really liked my makeup and thought the pictures were pretty. My teammates have swimsuit photos that are more revealing than me in a tank top."

She also claims she was singled out because of her race. "There's a history of black women because of their bodies being sexualized and that's what appears to be happening to me," she wrote. "I can't help the way I'm built. I am not trying to argue, I just feel like I have to be flat chested or real skinny in order to post."

Settlements and Social Media Policies

The university settled Ifeanyi's lawsuit last week, agreeing to pay her $40,000 although the school admitted to no wrongdoing as part of the settlement. The lawsuit and settlement are just the latest battlegrounds as schools struggling with policing student-athletes on social media. Many schools are implementing social media policies for students, especially for athletes, some of whom may face in-season Twitter bans or restrictions on the kinds of topics they can discuss. And while some high schools are cracking down on student-athlete social media posting, others are dismantling their disciplinary schemes.

At the moment, schools may be fine with students on social media, as long as they don't take it too far. And schools might be able to police their students on social media, as long as they, too, don't take it too far.

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