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Online and Social Media Communications Policy

The University recognises the benefits and opportunities offered by social media and other online communication tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Zoom, Skype, as well as University-provided tools such as Microsoft Teams, Moodle and myWBS. It also recognises the benefits of online messaging channels such as WhatsApp, Messenger, and direct messaging functionality on social media platforms. These benefits include the ability to communicate in near real-time with our community, to understand the views and opinions of our audiences, and to better promote inclusion and prevent discrimination amongst our community.

However, alongside the benefits of these tools are also a number of risks, including potential legal, ethical or reputational issues which could ultimately result in significant harm to individual members of our community, and the University and its ability to provide a safe and supportive work and learning environment. The lines between personal and professional social media usage often become blurred, and content can circulate quickly, and rapidly get out of control.

Scope

The University acknowledges the right to academic freedom and freedom of expression – indeed, this is included within the University’s charter and statutes. However, conduct on social media and in online communications is treated the same way as any other conduct for the purposes of University policies and procedures. Staff and students are expected to be aware of the standards of conduct required by the University and our community[1] and to maintain these standards, as set out in Our Principles and Dignity at Warwick Policy; and that this applies equally to inappropriate behaviour via social media and other online communications.

Social media and other online communications tools also present a high risk in relation to the sharing of personal data. Staff and students must ensure that their communications on these channels comply with all the requirements and policies relating to our expected behaviours and the sharing and accessing of data, as well as data security and data protection[2].

Staff at the University of Warwick may occasionally wish to use social media and other online communication tools for personal use at their place of work, by means of University computers, networks and other IT resources and communications systems. Students may also use University computers, networks and other IT resources and communications systems for personal use. The social media policy applies irrespective of whether the communication is on University-owned or personal equipment, and whether staff or students are communicating on a personal or a professional capacity.

The purpose of this policy is to set out the required standards of behaviour of staff and students, at all times, when using social media and other online communication tools.


Online behaviour

You must:

  • be responsible for what and how you communicate online. Consider your language and phrasing as well as comments on photographs, videos or any other content before posting them;
  • treat others with respect and dignity, and ensure that you avoid using language or other content which could be deemed to be offensive, threatening or humiliating to others, or incites hatred of any kind;
  • recognise that whatever you do online is extremely easy to share - intentionally or otherwise, and very rarely deleted. Do not assume that online content will remain private, even if originally shared in a closed profile or group, such as a WhatsApp chat or on Facebook Messenger. Content can become public quickly and it is important to consider before posting whether you would want the University community, your friends and family, future employers, and the wider public to see what you’re doing at the time or in the future;
  • make sure that you have the facts straight on what you are posting/sharing and that you have appropriate permissions when writing about other organisations or institutions;
  • understand that forwarding and sharing content is often construed as support, unless you make your own view clear alongside the forwarded material;
  • include a statement within your profiles, if you use them for both personal and professional interest and activity, that states that the views are your own and not necessarily those of your employer or colleagues;
  • not breach any intellectual property rights that belong to someone else (read advice on the use of our University of Warwick logo and brand). There are many complexities to sharing information on social media involving copyright and intellectual property, you are advised to make sure you understand these (this article is a good place to start), and to speak to the social media team if you are unsure;
  • not engage in, promote, or encourage others to engage in illegal activity, or engage in any activity that promotes terrorism;
  • protect yourself, your privacy, and the University’s confidential information by being careful with what you share and the passwords and security settings you use (follow the working practices on protecting information);
  • follow University advice on avoiding phishing attempts: not clicking links in posts, updates and direct messages that look suspicious and looking out for URLs contained in generic or vague-sounding direct messages and reporting them if you are concerned.

Staff may also need to comply with social media guidance issued by relevant regulatory bodies (for example, the General Medical Council).


Breaches of the Social Media Policy

The University does not directly monitor student and staff social media accounts as part of its own social media activities. However, the University does monitor mentions of the University and other topics of relevance, so that it can respond directly to those raising questions or concerns about the University. Activity by staff and students or any other affiliations [1] may appear as part of this monitoring. The University also uses Twitter lists and keyword searches to identify posts from University departmental or staff accounts with a view to helpfully supporting those posts via institutional accounts.

The University will be required to conduct further enquiries when it is made aware of alleged inappropriate online behaviour or where a potential breach of this policy or any other University policy or Regulation is reported. This may include using comments, videos, photographs or any other online material which have been posted or shared on social media sites as part of this investigatory evidence and, if appropriate, any subsequent disciplinary process. Serious breaches may result in the potential dismissal of employees, expulsion of students or a termination of an individual’s association with the University. It may also be required to report activity to the Police.

Anyone concerned about a potential misuse of social media by a member of staff or student may report this by making a complaint.


University Support

If you are setting up a social media account, the Social Media Framework provides you with guidance. In addition, you can seek support on your personal or professional social media activity or any issues you face online via socialmedia@warwick.ac.uk.

While social media has many personal and professional benefits, unfortunately it also has the ability to cause great distress, upset and harm to users. The anonymous nature of social media accounts and lack of joined up legislation in the industry often means that it’s hard to identify the responsible parties, and staff and students that are subjected to hate speech, discrimination, harassment or bullying, trolling, and other negative online communications can feel scared, isolated and powerless. Issues can escalate quickly, and can often return unexpectedly as new users see and share the content.

If you become involved in an issue on social media:

  • do not engage in conversation. Engaging and responding often draws more attention to the content due to algorithm design, and means more people will see and become involved;
  • follow the advice in the above policy to help keep yourself safe and your data secure;
  • take care of your mental health and wellbeing – contact the Wellbeing Support Services if you’re a student or the Employee Assistance Programme if you’re a member of staff to discuss the issue and the impact it has on your wellbeing;
  • report inappropriate online behaviour you see to the University or to relevant authorities (such as the Police, web administrators, or to the platform on which the communication occurred). Make use of the Report and Support system, where you can report anonymously or speak with advisors;
  • talk to your friends, family and colleagues about the problem offline. The fast paced nature of social media often leads to problems escalating quickly, and it can be hard to consider solutions to the issue in isolation. Even if you believe that you acted inappropriately yourself, having a conversation in real life will almost always help the matter.
  • speak to the Social Media Team for advice, support and guidance: socialmedia@warwick.ac.uk.

Equality Impact Assessment

The University of Warwick recognises its responsibility to ensure that no-one is discriminated against or disadvantaged in relation to a protected characteristic which include: age, disability, sex, trans and gender reassignment, maternity, paternity and adoption, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation. For further information, please refer to the University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion website.


[1] Staff, registered students and individuals who are working for, representing, or have an official association with, the University

[2] University’s Principles, Dignity at Warwick Policy, Equality and Diversity, Regulation 29:Freedom of Speech, Regulation 27: On-Campus Residential Accommodation Regulations, Regulation 23: Student Disciplinary Offences, University's Data Protection Policy, Regulation 31:the use of University Computing Facilities, Information Data Compliance, and Working Practices for Protecting Information at Warwick, Staff Disciplinary Policy