Twitter: universities beware?

The University if Iowa in the noted States recently apologised to Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann for a tweet that was made from a university-based Twitter account referring to her as a ‘cougar’ (a term suggesting she is an older woman dating younger men).

It is not clear whether the university thought that it needed to apologise for reasons of common courtesy, or for reasons of political discretion, or because it might be thought that there was a legal liability risk for libel. But the event indicates that universities may feel a responsibility for what gets said from their servers on Twitter. And as Twitter is not exactly a tightly controlled environment, this may raise all sorts of other questions about a university presence on social networking sites.

The sexist comment about Bachmann (about whom many other more legitimate things could be said) should not be condoned. But is it really sensible to self-censor on Twitter? Or necessary?

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8 Comments on “Twitter: universities beware?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    I expect that there will be a massive test case very soon on this very issue. The argument that are being used at the moment are like taking the forest owner for what’s printed on paper because he’s the one with the deepest pockets.

  2. kevin denny Says:

    I don’t think it is a sexist comment at all. It may be untrue or inane but the word has, like it or not, entered into common currency with a widely understood meaning, like toyboy or geezer for example. Dating a younger man, however foolish, is not against the law. If somebody called me an old git, I might be offended & send my heavies around but I wouldn’t regard it as sexist.
    Anyway, why Iowa feels the need to apologize for such a harmless remark is beyond me. People need to get a life.

  3. no-name Says:

    Hmm. Some might be thankful that TCD has removed an embarrassingly juvenile post from the website of the School of English, though not before it went viral around Ireland, at least:

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2011/0916/1224304193491.html

    Without censorship, the value of degrees earned by hardworking students, with the help of worthy staff, is undermined. Who would pay to attend such a school? Who would take pride in such a professional association? Those in the School of English who do not feel their jobs beneath them must feel relieved by the censorship, not to mention the students who paid a fortune to attend, what is (or at least was) considered a prestigious school.

    • Vincent Says:

      For Gods sake that’s exactly the kind of stuff you encourage and it’s not censoring it needs but editing. This has shown a God sent opportunity to exhibit the wares of one of two departments where comedy is part and parcel of core activity. And whichever University is the first mover on such a site provided it’s done well, will have presence online, somewhat like PhD Comics http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?n=1439 This was a precious stone set within base metal and not very well polished. But there could be Gems instead.

    • Jilly Says:

      are you referring specifically to overseas students (since these are the only ones who could be said to pay ‘a fortune’ to study at Trinity)? If so, why?

      • no-name Says:

        Jilly: it doesn’t matter if I was thinking of overseas students. EU fees are dear and non-EU fees are substantially greater. It is a fortune for EU students and therefore for overseas students as well. The suggestion that the amount is negligible is offensive to the many who are struggling to pay fees, whether independent students or students whose parents might be sacrificing much in order to contribute to the cost of the fees.

        If you genuinely think the fees are negligible, will you be pledging the full amount towards scholarships?

        • Perry Share Says:

          I must have missed the offensive ‘negligible’ word in Jilly’s post – where was it? €2000 is a lot of money but in the Irish context it is debatable as to whether it is ‘a fortune’.

          • no-name Says:

            You are correct to spot that the word “negligible” does not appear in Jilly’s post. Jilly’s assertion is that only overseas students pay a fortune at TCD. Giving the benefit of the doubt that the phrase “overseas students” is meant to denote non-EU students, this implies that she does not think EU fees amount to a fortune and that amounts less than a fortune are irrelevant for the discussion (i.e., negligible).

            If someone describes an amount of money as “a fortune” and someone wealthier responds that it is not so, one may safely conclude either that the wealthier person is being ignorant or that the wealthier person is being offensive.

            You express that 2,000 euro is not a fortune in the Irish context. Would two times 2,000 euro be enough to qualify as a fortune for you? Three times the amount? In fact, the EU fee for the masters courses at Trinity appear to exceed 7,000 euro at the moment for EU students. Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine what sources of news one could have access to if one can seriously entertain the idea that even 2,000 euro is not a fortune in the Irish context. On the other hand, if this is your judgement, it follows that you would not find Jilly’s implicatures offensive.


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