Friday, February 01, 2013

Monitoring is Bad, but Catfishing is OK?

Fresh from the Twitter headlines, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon is receiving acclaim for attempting to prevent the next Manti Te'o event by "catfishing" his own student-athletes.  Let us give a certain amount of praise for both transparency -- telling a group about the scheme -- and innovation to provide a good social media lesson -- I'm sure this was an eye-opening exercise.

But in light of a growing wave of pushback from privacy and First Amendment advocates toward university's monitoring certain populations of students -- both student-athletes and student group leaders -- does Brandon do a disservice by his public exercise?

Let's remember, it violates almost anyone's terms of service to create fake accounts, or use Facebook's term "inauthentic accounts".  According to online media reports, someone in the Michigan staff directed individuals to make fake profiles and engage in let's say, provocative, conversations.

According to CBS Sports, that assertion is wrong.  Instead, Brandon used a consulting company. The Toledo Blade includes more details, including speculation of which company may have done the work.  Perhaps this will save Brandon and others from losing their internet privleges.

The damage control is in full force as reports now surface that Michigan says it didn't "catfish."

Were Brandon the chief of Michigan's police, we would call this a sting operation.

Or to use the Cold War espionage term, a honey pot.

I highly encourage educating all -- not just student-athletes (or students only) -- on the need to be careful online.

The lesson here is trust no one.  And that is a bad way to prepare young adults for the future business world.

For Brandon, did he similarly think speaking to a group in Toledo, Ohio, about the plan wouldn't result in major news?  As of this post, @DaveBrandonAD has not made any posts regarding those made by @KyleRowland of the event.

There's some back and forth among UM athletic administrators, and some comparison of stories and quotes.  Here's an important bottom line:  If you were misunderstood, if you never used the word "catfish" in the presentation, it will mean much more if the person who gave the speak explained that.

Perhaps there is another lesson as well.  University administrators, no matter where they speak and no matter what the forum, are in public.  Maybe Brandon spoke off the cuff.  Could have thought he was just speaking among friends.

Isn't that the heart of lessons we want to impart to our students?  Be aware of yourself while in the public eye.

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